Another high-profile politician cheated death the other day. Former congressman and former governor of Pangasinan Amado Espino Jr. was ambushed by still unidentified men in such a brazen fashion. His convoy was littered with bullets shot from long firearms. Miraculously, he survived, wounded, not dead, yet still in the ICU. Five of his bodyguards and drivers died protecting him.
Lawlessness in a nation under a rule of law — this comes at a tough time where one of the pillars of the Philippine criminal justice system has clearly crumbled. The Senate investigation on the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law revealed illegalities and unauthorized shortcuts taken by persons deprived of liberty in our penitentiaries, tolerated and benefitted from by corrupt officials from the Bureau of Corrections.
As the hearings continue, the country is witnessing the opening of a can of worms in what Sen. Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa said is the most neglected government office. What more in agencies where corruption is more prevalent, well-known and tolerated? Perhaps, Filipinos have gotten tired talking about the Bureaus of Internal Revenue, and Customs. Thanks to the near-release of former mayor Antonio Sanchez, a new bureau cropped up — a new flavor of the month. Now, we have to deal with the report that Janet Lim Napoles almost got freed for a supposed rape charge.
Espino is a storied politician. As a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, let’s say he has had a lot of brushes with authorities in his time as governor and congressman. Accusations of his involvement in jueteng, drugs and black sand mining in Pangasinan did nothing to deter his leadership considering that right now, the incumbent governor and congressmen are both his sons.
Espino has established a strong foothold despite the cases against him, and despite being identified as part of Duterte’s narco-list. However, this may have meant that he has a lot of enemies throughout his career.
This is a common story in Philippine politics, one that does not see any change in the near future. For starters, we must be thankful that he had a platoon of bodyguards who literally gave their lives for him. But at the same time, we must ask why there is a platoon of bodyguards for each politician. A stroll around the House of Representatives will show a number of bulky individuals in short-sleeved barong hanging out to wait for their VIP employer.
Some legitimize having private armies by incorporating a security agency, registering it with the Philippine National Police (PNP), obtaining a license to operate, and legally registering firearms for them. This practice has not been recognized yet in Republic Act 5487, or the Private Security Act of 1969 — an old law that is due for updating. The only limitation in this law is that security agencies were limited to having 1,000 maximum security guards to avoid the formation of a credible force that may potentially overthrow the government during Marcos time.
House Bill 518, or the Private Security Agency Act, was filed by Rep. Michael Edgar Y. Aglipay of DIWA partylist in the 18th Congress. Notably, his sister, former representative, now Department of Justice (DoJ) Undersecretary, Em Aglipay-Villar, filed the same bill in the 17th Congress, but it did not hurdle the House Committee on Public Order and Safety, where it remained pending until the closure of Congress. This House bill seeks to amend the archaic RA 5487 to include more definitions to security products, lessen bureaucracy in registering agencies, and to grant more discretion to the PNP in revoking licenses of agencies found to be functioning as private armies of politicians.
It was earlier reported that the getaway vehicles used in the ambush of Espino were located, in which long firearms used were discovered. In first world countries, this must be, metaphorically speaking, the smoking gun. Firearms should have a code that would allow them to be traced to its registered owner. Bringing it into forensic examination should produce a ballistics report that may link it with the shooter. The same with the vehicles — registration details must reveal who the current owners are. But something tells me this will go for naught.
Now that it is budget season in Congress, the legislators must question the concerned departments on how to apprehend the violators of the laws they craft and enact. The person with the most interest has to be the son of Espino, incumbent Rep. Jumel Anthony Espino. Given the schedule of departments for plenary deliberations, the DoJ has already finished and the Departments of the Interior and Local Government and National Defense are lined up next.
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