It’s good to be back on this page after nearly three weeks away. My wife just returned last Sunday from a six-week visit to the States, which quickly unblocked my temporary writer’s block. My faithful readers should be so lucky as to be in a marriage like ours (36 years and counting) where such things can still happen.
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We’re glad that Senators Richard Gordon and Bam Aquino, from both sides of the aisle, have joined various Mindanao officials, as well as Human Rights Watch, in opposing a proposal by Central Luzon police officials to issue ID cards only to Muslims. This plan is reportedly already being implemented by the town of Paniqui in Tarlac.
The proposal, after all, is patently unconstitutional. Section 5 of the 1987 Charter states that “no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.” Freedom from compulsory self-identification cannot be arbitrarily withheld from this or that social class or grouping.
In order to avoid violating the Constitution, it would be far better to institute a national ID card system that covers everyone. Such universal coverage would not be discriminatory, and would also provide better security protection because nobody escapes its reach.
Over time, a properly designed national ID card can also replace the plethora of government-issued identification schemes we have to live with today, leaving only one’s passport and perhaps driver’s license. Eventually the ID card might also be usable for non-government transactions, such as purchasing goods and services.
One such proposal is already wending its way through Congress, authored by the perennially prolific former President and now Congresswoman Gloria Arroyo.
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Earlier last week, the National Police Commission (Napolcom) announced its decision to strip local government executives in Mindanao of administrative authority over police units assigned in their areas. Perhaps not surprisingly, virtually all the executives affected were Muslims, in areas with large if not majority Muslim populations.
This has raised a predictable outcry. In particular, the governor, both congressmen, and most of the mayors in Lanao del Norte called the action “sweeping, unfounded and baseless.” They pointed out that, even through the fiercest of fighting in Marawi in nearby Lanao del Sur, they’ve been able to maintain peace and order as well as inter-faith harmony in their own province.
On the presumption of regularity in performing official duties, we think that Napolcom may be entitled to the benefit of the doubt when they unfavorably lumped the two Lanao provinces together. And it’s not unreasonable to seek to centralize policing authority in a region as recently fraught with violence as Mindanao has been.
Nonetheless, the outcry from the Lanao del Norte leaders illustrates the dangers of painting with too broad a brush. This is especially true if the picture is as complex as the Muslim community’s ethnic, religious, and political history, now interlaced with the dangers of imported jihadism. We cannot tread too carefully when grievances of all sorts are bubbling just under the surface.
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Right after Napolcom’s controversial decision, it was the turn of the PNP itself to arouse the ire of Mindanao politicians, by exiling two abusive Mandaluyong cops to duties in Marawi. This time the criticism came from the ARMM governor and Lanao del Sur’s provincial crisis committee, joined in by an unlikely ally: Defense Secretary Lorenzana, who said, correctly enough, that “we don’t need problematic cops in [places like] Marawi.”
Such punitive transfers are nothing new to the PNP, following a similar exile last year of hundreds of erring Metro Manila cops to Basilan. It’s practically a standing inside joke by now in the organization: Mindanao is where you’re sent for punishment if you’ve been a bad cop.
These days, however, with so much unrest down south, and, at the same time, with everyone there looking forward to a federalist solution to longstanding demands for autonomy, those jokes don’t go over so well anymore. Treat us with more respect—this is essentially what Mindanao’s leaders are saying.
If those errant cops are being exiled, as General Bato has maintained, to give them a chance to “reform themselves,” we would point out that punishment, not self-reform, is what’s due them, no different from anybody else. And even if reform were a valid objective, it shouldn’t come at the expense of compromising the quality of police service, especially in Marawi, Basilan, or any other similar hot spots in Mindanao.
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To close this resurrected column, let me congratulate General Dionisio Santiago on his new appointment as chair of the Dangerous Drugs Board, the policy-setting and oversight body for the country’s anti-drug initiatives.
General Dionix used to be AFP chief of staff under former President Arroyo, and then headed the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. More recently, his name has never been far from President Duterte’s lips whenever the discussion turned to drugs.
The new DDB head has promised to work to amend the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, as well as evaluate government’s drug rehabilitation programs.
With less than 300 addicts having been processed to date in the sprawling 10,000-bed mega-rehab facility in Fort Laur, such an evaluation is clearly overdue. We’re confident that the general is the right man for the job.
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