More than privilege, it’s criminal conspiracy
It is the elephant in the room that Malacanang, President Aquino himself, and even the media try not to notice. It is also the reason that our highest officials pussyfoot and drag their feet in addressing an ancient and gnawing problem. To this day, the President refuses to create a fact-finding body even as a lame first response. We can only surmise that he refuses to acknowledge that a problem exists, much less one that thrives on a more profound and sinister level.
But exist it does. The people have known all along and openly speak about it, although not so much through the media where desk editors and the free-flowing lobby money of government officials might decide what are fit to print or to air, but, rather, among themselves, amid breakfast banter, in private luncheon meetings and over more private dinner fare, where candor soars miles higher than what circulates in newsrooms and government offices.
On the issue of perks and privileges brazenly granted by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to high-profile convicts and criminals in its custody, most of the focus was on the display of ostentatious comfort and wealth. Even on such, the BuCor insists it did nothing wrong.
These perks and privileges are not enjoyed by lieutenants, pawns and foot soldiers. These are custom-built and provided for the criminal masterminds, the brains and the brainiacs. The BuCor beneficiaries are former politicians, bank robbery and carjacking syndicate heads, and drug lords. They are political benefactors. They are not petty thieves. They are the big bosses.
The inordinate focus on perks and, by and large, the myopia of elected government officials are understandable. On one end, they typically dwell only on the superficial. Given the propensity of the Filipino voter, few, if any, were elected based on their intellect, so the shortsightedness is expected. On the other end, there is a far more profound, if not sinister, truth. The kitschy aspects of the controversy not only creates multicolored glare and glitter that obfuscate intelligent discourse but also effectively hides behind its tasteless, albeit blinding, sheen a darker reality that officials would rather not discuss.
To appreciate the difference, allow us to cull from reports on the superficiality of the responses to the revelation that crooks enjoy unwarranted comforts. Against these, we will simply restate what the public knows only too well but is hardly given enough ventilation for fear that the darkest truths are yet unacceptable.
Recording studios, marble-appointed boudoirs, home theater systems, hookers without borders, even stripper bars inside the penitentiary make for excellent copy and provide endless gossip on the luxuries enjoyed by criminals inside compared to the despondence of innocents outside. But these are not half as important as the other amenities provided by the BuCor. Internet access, telecommunications equipment, computers, cell phones, tablets and an inventory of illegal drugs, high-powered armaments and ordnance are neither perks nor privileges. These are tools of the trade.
Is it any wonder then that political funding through bank robberies, carjacking and the illegal drug trade persists even as their masterminds are behind bars?
Among the President’s officials there are indications that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima knows exactly what is going on. Recently she transferred several high-profile crooks and criminals from the national penitentiary to where she could keep a closer eye on them. It was not so much a matter of denying them the comforts they enjoyed as a question of denying them their tools of the trade, so that they might desist from plying it. The state has both a right and a duty not simply to impose penalties and punishment but also, as a matter of self-preservation, to protect itself and the public from continuing criminality.
It is unfortunate that De Lima is one-off, a rarity in the Aquino court, branded a maverick, even sometimes labeled a renegade. It is unfortunate that she does not enjoy the same trust and confidence that Mr. Aquinoís untouchable “KKK” does. Remember the Luneta hostage crisis where the findings of a especial board that she headed needed to be rechecked by a Malacanang factotum, only for its recommendations to be eventually watered down.
Malacanang’s propensity to protect its personally picked hierarchies then is the same that overwhelms the “daang matuwid” (straight path) today. It is undeniable that the government hierarchy is decadent. But the issue is not simply a matter of tasteless perks and privileges provided by the authorities to pamper criminal masterminds. The issue involves a brazen criminal conspiracy by the highest government officials in perpetuating criminal activity.
Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a consultant to the Joint Congressional Power Commission. He authored a book on energy governance tool kits and teaches finance, investment mathematics and corporate strategy.
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