POSTSCRIPT / September 15, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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We need stricter rules on guns and uniforms

NOBODY’S SAFE?: Who is the parent whose heart will not bleed for the innocent kids of Negros congressman Jules Ledesma who were kidnapped on their way to school the other day on a busy street in San Juan?

Whether it was ransom or some other reason behind the kidnapping of Cristina Julieta Victoria, 10, and Julio Carlos Tomas, 5, the crime was an affront not only to the sensibilities of the community but was also a defiance of government.

Just a few days ago, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo proudly announced that the end was near for big-time kidnappers. Now this.

If the children of top officials and of wealthy families who can afford security details can be kidnapped with impunity, who is safe?

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RULES ON GUNS, TOGS: Witnesses said they thought the gangsters who accosted the vehicle bearing the children and sprayed it (and nearby buildings) with gunfire were policemen. That initial confusion added to the difficulty of reacting properly to the situation.

With the recurring involvement of military and police types in kidnapping, bank robbery and similar gun-related major crimes, we reiterate some suggestions we have made before.

Anybody who openly carries a gun must be presumed to be a soldier, a policeman or a licensed private guard. But he must be (1) on official mission and (2) in proper uniform.

Anyone not in uniform who is seen toting or brandishing a gun will be presumed to be an outlaw and may be shot outright if he resists arrest. The uniform for on-duty private guards must be starkly different from those of the military and the police.

Government agents on mission but not in uniform, such as NBI and AFP intelligence agents, must not draw their concealed weapons until needed. They must train themselves for this rule.

Civilians (those who are neither military, police or uniformed guards) who have permits to carry firearms outside residence must not display the weapons so as not to be mistaken for persons impersonating soldiers, policemen, licensed guards or government agents.

The licensed weapons of these civilians with permits to carry are to be taken out, drawn or displayed only when extremely needed under situations that will be defined in administrative orders.

Nobody who is not military, police or an on-duty guard will be allowed to wear the restricted uniforms or any facsimile thereof. The uniforms of military/police trainees (including ROTC), security guards, and the like must be redesigned so as not to be mistaken for military/police uniforms.

The cloth used for military and police uniforms may not be produced, bought/sold and tailored except for authorized military or police use. Wearing restricted uniforms when not on duty or when not authorized must be penalized severely.

The basic idea behind all this is that when we see somebody toting a gun, we should be able to determine immediately if he is a soldier, a policeman, an on-duty agent, a licensed guard or an impersonator who must be acting with criminal intent.

In the case of the Ledesma kidnapping, witnesses and lawmen who happened to be there would have been able to react with dispatch if there was no confusion as to the status of the gunmen.

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MALAYSIANS ARE SMARTER: We’re tempted to conclude that Malaysian officials are smarter than their Filipino counterparts. Imagine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes being sucked with eyes open into a trap laid out for him in Kuala Lumpur days ago.

Joint statements, like that one Reyes issued with his Malaysian opposite number Najib Tun Razak during his visit in Kuala Lumpur, sometimes have tricky nuances that bind the parties in subtle ways.

For instance, in the Reyes-Najib joint statement, the two parties said, “Malaysia and the Philippines would like to see that the issue (of deportation of Filipinos) should not be sensationalized to the extent that it would jeopardize the existing good relationship between both countries.”

“There is this issue of the deportees, and so we felt that this is as good as any time to visit,” Reyes told reporters after holding talks with Najib.

If the Agence France Presse report on the matter is correct, we think it was careless of Reyes to have used the term “deportees” and “deportation” and thereby implied admission of the fact of deportation.

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EVERYBODY’S DOORMAT: The Philippines should not accept the official act of deportation, which is the sending back of foreigners to their country of origin. Now if Sabah, as we claim, is Philippine territory, there could not have been deportation.

There are many terms in the dictionary that could have substituted for “deportation.” Reyes should have had the sense, or at least the vocabulary, to look for another word to use both in his remarks to media and his joint statement with Najib.

We also deplore the acknowledgment by Reyes that the issue has been (or almost) sensationalized — presumably by Philippine media? Apparently, the general is willing to say anything to please his hosts.

This supine attitude is one of the reasons why we have become the doormat of the world, including pipsqueak neighbors that have just emerged from the swamplands.

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ON WITH UNCLE SAM: Still on the nuances of diplomacy, we think our government should be careful about distinguishing between an anti-terrorism campaign under United Nations auspices and one waged merely under the Stars and Stripes.

If US President George W. Bush orders an attack on Iraq (and finally settles the score with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein) to wind up the unfinished business of his father George Sr., he must do so with UN cover.

Invading another sovereign state on the pretext of waging a global campaign against terrorism may not sit well with many nations, including some US allies. But an obsessed US president may not care about the distinction.

As for the Philippines, obviously it will go where President Arroyo will take us — and that is to come out to provide support to the US war machine.

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FRAPORT ON RETREAT: We’re amazed and we admire the fighting spirit of the Chengs who control the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco) that is finishing and preparing to operate Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Considering that some $500 million has been reportedly sunk into the controversial project, we understand their tenacity, especially of their vice president Moises Tolentino Jr. who is carrying on the propaganda fight almost single-handedly.

Unfortunately for the Chengs, their main associate and financier, Frafort AG of Germany, does not seem to be made of the same stern stuff. Faced with a political storm back in its home state of Hesse, Fraport appears ready to throw in the towel.

Fraport is desperate to sell its problem to the Philippine government for $300 million (make that $400 million, counters Malacanang!). If the government does not have the money, Fraport is even willing to lend it whatever is needed.

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GO DOWN FIGHTING?: The only thing Fraport wants in return, we were told, is for it to be allowed to bid for the management contract for its baby, the state-of-the-art Terminal 3.

To lay the basis for its obvious desire to work with Fraport, Malacanang is busy making life difficult for Piatco to force it to give up. Part of the pressure tactics is to rake up supposedly illegal provisions in the contract and audit the other businesses of the Chengs.

A bloodied Piatco (the Chengs) may also decide to follow the way of Fraport and try to sell its problem. But who will offer to buy its share of the contract? Or, true to the fighting spirit of Tolentino, will the Chengs go down fighting?

If they decide to hang on, the last battles will be fought eventually in the courts. Then the picture might change a bit as Fraport, already pressed for time, may not want to sit out a protracted legal battle.

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ENRILE MUST PROVE IT: Meantime, who is this shadowy Alfonso Liongson, a highly paid Piatco consultant whose expertise is not running airports but running errands?

For expediting contracts and deals related to Terminal 3, Liongson has reportedly been receiving some $200,000 per month for his services, or a total of $2.1 million so far.

We commiserate with presidential public relations man Dante Ang who former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile has suggested might be hiding the elusive consultant. Liongson is said to have gone abroad when his name started to crop up in the investigations.

But as pointed out by the President’s PR man, if Enrile has proof that Ang is hiding Liongson, the former solon “has a moral and legal responsibility to present himself before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and substantiate his allegation.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 15, 2002)

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