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    Catch the arsonists

Note: The word “carnap” is not found in the English dictionary, it being a coined word unique to Filipinos. It is, however, found in Philippine laws, as in Republic Act 6539, or the Anti-Carnapping Act, which defines it as, “The taking, with intent to gain, of a motor vehicle belonging to another without the latter’s consent, or by means of violence against or intimidation of persons, or by using force upon things.”

“Carnapping will not proliferate or spread without someone registering the vehicles and without other people letting the business grow.” No truer words have been said of the crisis in car thefts that have plagued the country for years and of late claimed the lives of two legitimate car dealers. Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was referring to government officials and employees who work in cahoots with carnapping syndicates to register what are truly un-registerable vehicles. Only when the criminals have someone shuffling the papers around the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and other concerned agencies can such an impossible feat be done.

The question is why government is only now running after such hooligans in office. Their existence has been known for years and, as Robredo himself said, crimes such as carnapping would not have proliferated in the first place without their activities. It is a well-known fact that corruption is endemic in the Philippines, and that such corruption extends from the lowest rungs to the highest echelons of government. If that is so, then past administrations and even the present one – which has been in office for almost a year already – have much to answer for. Crimes have been and are still being committed under their very noses, and practically nothing has been done about it.

To be fair to the Aquino government, it is this administration that has been unearthing – or allowing the unearthing of – many of these cases, and it is left with the burden of trying to address these. But sometimes it feels like it is being overwhelmed by all these discoveries, and it seems to be putting out “small fires” when it should be running after the “arsonists” themselves. In the case of carnapping, while it would be difficult to find and arrest the carnappers themselves, it would be easier to identify and arrest those in government who are helping them and are perhaps even at the centre of the operations. After all, in Robredo’s own assessment, without these people, carnapping would have a hard time thriving.

The way the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) have been conducting themselves, it would be a miracle if the peace talks between government and the communists would ever get off the ground, much less end with a peace agreement. The two forces have a knack for declaring ceasefires only to violate them themselves or beat the cessation of hostilities to the draw by acting against each other on the eve of the implementation.

This happened in December last year when government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) declared a 19-day holiday ceasefire (from December 16 to January 3) as token of their intent to engage each other in peace negotiations again after years of suspension. The NPA ambushed a group of Army soldiers in Northern Samar on December 14, followed by the arrest by the military of NPA leader Pedro Codaste in Agusan del Sur a few days later. In Davao City, another NPA leader Erwin Brigano was arrested on January 1.

The same thing happened during the unilateral ceasefires declared by both sides to pave the way for the resumption of peace talks in Oslo, Norway on February 15. Ambushes, arrests, military operations – you name it, the two sides have done it in what may only be called attempts to derail the talks. Both sides claim their actions are not violations of the truce, that they have merely been continuing to operate against certain threats, but really, the timing is such that no one can be blamed for thinking the worst.

So why are AFP and the NPA so unwilling for their respective fronts (the Philippine government and the NDF) to proceed with the talks? We’d like an answer to this question, for on it depends the achievement of peace in the country.

Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.

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