"...and the two Abus -- namely, Edris and Abante..."
Hey Wally and Beaver! June needs you!
This pattern of abject failure for oath-sworn public officials to do their jobs right and still avoid repercussions goes all the way back to Ipil in 1995, when the police, military and intelligence communities were roundly criticized for allowing 200 heavily armed men past every checkpoint, with nary a paid turncoat to spill the beans in advance. Now that's keeping a secret! But no one ever pays a price ---no one in authority, that is.
The jail break game had been going on for so long, was so well established, the public so inured Mr. Soliven so practiced in his useless high dudgeon, that the deep penetration assets (why do I love saying those words so much?) functioning as Abu Sayyaf role players were advised that they'd have to cool their heels for a little while, but then they'd be sprung and relaunched anew --- maybe under a black burka in high-priced Abu Dubai (I can tell a lot of those girls liked to cross-dress -- it's how Janjalani made his big escape from jail).
But then the big double cross came, when it was time to wipe the slate clean. Slaughtering over twenty of them imprisoned Abu, including poor little Robot in his wheel chair. "He can hold and fire a gun can't he?" one official responded to reporter's question. Yeah, but he was never going to go anywhere, so what's the point?
July 24, 2003, The Philippine Star, Op-Ed, The hunt for al-Ghozi, by Max V. Soliven,
The police used to dismiss Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi as "a mere bomb-maker", but, by their bumbling, they have made him a legend. And made themselves look sick.
Every new revelation about "who" got that murderous Jemaah Islamiyah thug out of Camp Crame, unfortunately, reinforces the image of police ineptitude, carelessness, corruptibility and sleaziness. All that finger-pointing is a waste of time. If they get the culprits in the end, fine. Priority at this stage has to be given to recapturing (or even gunning down) al-Ghozi before he strikes again -- here or elsewhere in the region. The police must know that if he does, the blood of his victims will be on their heads.
I know that all the chatter -- al-Ghozi this and al-Ghozi that -- has surely exhausted our readers, compounding our national embarrassment with a growing emotional ennui. Enough is enough, some of them must already be saying in exasperation: Let's get on with the nation's business. Deplorably the hunt for al-Ghozi is the nation's business, superseding for the moment, even the hunt for a presidential candidate.
Like Banquo's ghost in Hamlet, the al-Ghozi spectre simply won't go away. It will haunt the President's State of the Nation Address (SONA) next Monday afternoon in the session hall of the Batasan. It already haunts the subconscious of every Filipino who ventures out to ply our endangered streets, particularly those who take vulnerable public transportation, or goes to the mall and the public market. Out there is a bomb-manufacturer and terrorist cell organizer, surely busy today reactivating his JI network, and probably their terrorist links with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (we must remember this despite the prospective "peace talks"). Moreover, two Abu Sayyaf prisoners also bolted with him, and the ASG, too, is a leading terrorist organization, officially listed worldwide as such. Thank God for small mercies. In the excitement over al-Killer, observers and media are not making much over the other two.
A few days ago, President GMA was interviewed in Malacañang by a ranking TIME magazine editor and we can expect a blockbuster of a report in next week's issue of that magazine. But the issue which came out yesterday, TIME's July 28 edition, has already expressed its verdict. In its "Notebook" section, the headline stated: "Terrorism Released."
Get it? Not "escaped", but released.
Wrote correspondent Simon Elegant, with inputs by Nelly Sindayen in Manila and Zamira Loebis in Jakarta: ". . . Metro Manila's Camp Crame prison may well be the least secure high-security facility in the world. According to police director Eduardo Matillano, al-Ghozi's cell was so badly constructed that the door could be bent open by hand. A former Abu Sayyaf member working as janitor gave al-Ghozi details of the best escape route. Before dawn, when al-Ghozi slipped out of the cell and walked out of the prison, one contingent of guards assigned to the nominally high-security block had fallen asleep while another detail has been dispatched outside the prison on a shopping mission. Even then, guards could have reacted quickly to a tip-off from another inmate, but they ignored the information about the break."
The newsweekly quoted Today, which wrote in its usually pungent style an editorial (July 17) declaring"the police forces of the Philippines are a joke".
But TIME, commented, "No one in Asia is laughing about al-Ghozi being at large. The 32-year old is the chief bombmaker for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) the regional grouping of Islamic radicals blamed for the devastating blasts in Bali last October as well as a slew of other explosions. According to academic Zachary Abuza, author of a new book about al-Qaeda in the region: "At a time when they've been lying low and licking their wounds because a number of top JI commanders have been arrested, an escape like this is a wonderful gift for their internal propaganda.
"Who is going to trust intelligence or anything else with the Filipinos now?" This is what TIME quoted Abuza as asking. The magazine's conclusion was equally cutting: "Evidence has mounted recently that JI is continuing to plan bomb attacks from Thailand to Indonesia. Now the organization's master bombmaker is back, rested and ready to roll. The region might pay in lives for the negligence of one Manila prison."
Even the article's opening paragraph was uncomplimentary, by the way. It led out with the wry comment: "It is the locating, identifying and capturing of terrorists that is supposed to be the hard part of the war on terror. As soon as a suspect is in custody, the tables are meant to turn as interrogators get tough on the terrorist. However, in the Philippines last week, as self-confessed Indonesian bombmaker al-Ghozi and two Abu Sayyaf kidnap-gang members strolled out of a supposedly high-security prison cell on July 14, we were reminded yet again that this war is only as effective as the most hapless institution drafted into the fight."
* * *
Tuesday night, I had a heart-to-heart talk, one on one, with the man who heads that "most hapless institution", Police Director General and Chief PNP Hermogenes E. Ebdane, Jr.
The unfortunate General Ebdane had been given a reprieve by the President (for which she was roundly criticized, mind you). She told him to "fix" the problem. The Chief Executive had not fired him nor demanded his resignation.
The general was unhappy, the trite expression of Victorian vintage used to be "bloody but unbowed", but there he was: Stuck with that can of worms. He said he hoped to recapture al-Ghozi (what else could he say?) He went over ground that was surely painful to him.
I asked him what time the PNP discovered that al-Ghozi et al. had flown the coop? He replied that it was actually a janitor (no, another janitor, not that Moro rebel the PNP has foolishly used as a "utility boy" and who certainly had run messages back and forth for al-Ghozi). At 6 a.m. that Monday morning, this janitor had rushed down to the officer of the guard to breathlessly report that al-Ghozi and the two Abus were not in their cells. His raising of the alarm was rejected by the officer concerned, who retorted that probably al-Ghozi had merely been moved to another room or cell in the building for "interrogation". Would you believe?
When, finally, it was discovered (or was this merely an act?) that truly al-Ghozi was gone, the "escape" was not reported to the President herself until 1:20 in the afternoon! (This is even slower than the Manila Post Office, one wag quipped upon learning of this disgraceful time lapse).
The PNP has "traced" al-Ghozi's escape route all the way to Mindanao, that's what Jun Ebdane told me. Perhaps, he, indeed, sped over to Mindanao -- either that or it was a false spoor, deliberately laid, to give the impression he had gone to Mindanao. The Keystone-cops approach which characterizes our Philippine National Police makes one doubt PNP reports, including the "hot tips" by which all the 63 special tracker teams are now operating. Anyway, if you have a "hot tip" (there's a P10- million reward, remember), on al-Ghozi, and the two Abus -- namely, Edris and Abante -- call the Hotline: 722-1204 or text to PNP 2920.
A great deal more was revealed at our meeting, but this is confidential and will only surface later.
In the meantime, keep alert. The trouble is that every other guy you encounter looks like al-Ghozi. "Tus ojos son un arma de la revolucion" (Your eyes are a weapon of the revolution) was the slogan on every wall when this writer first went to Fidel Castro's Cuba many years ago. Your eyes are a weapon, indeed, against terrorism and its evil perpetrators. The problem now, sad to say, is whom to tell. Who among the policemen can we trust?
* * *
Two Cabinet members whose names I won't reveal at this time were also sent over to me by the President -- last Monday -- to discuss the problem. They didn't say so in so many words, but it seems the reason GMA had not replaced Ebdane was because she didn't know (to be sanguine about it) whether "the next PNP chief, whoever it might be, could really be trusted". Of course, if I had the temerity to quote her on this, she would certainly and immediately deny such a sentiment -- which is why she sent two friendly Cabinet members to inform me in a roundabout fashion. This way she has complete deniability.
It is unfortunate that our President seems no longer sure whom she can trust, whether in the police organization, or in any organization under her command, or in her government ministries. This makes her look pathetic. However, from any viewpoint, the realization of this may be the beginning of wisdom for GMA, who has during her Presidency been trusting too many of the wrong sort of people.
There are so many intriguers within the police establishment that it makes your head swim – so many lusting to take over Ebdane's job, or for promotion to more powerful positions. It's no surprise that immediately after the al-Ghozi "escape", there was a great clamor for Ebdane to go -- I've already said he ought to have irrevocably resigned based on the principle of "command responsibility". Much of the noise, though, was also encouraged by those who wanted to grab his job.
Last week, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Defense Secretary and short-termed Executive Secretary Renato de Villa, former PNP Director General (now Secretary of Transportation and Communications) Larry Mendoza, Chief Superintendent (General) Reynaldo Velasco, the National Capital Region commander, went to the office of Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo in Malacañang, with a petition that the President junk Ebdane and appoint Velasco. Obviously this has not happened. The only prospective "replacement" who';s not pushing himself forward for the job is Chief Superintendent Edgardo "Egay" Aglipay, the PNP Head of Operations, although I have it on good information that the President earlier had Aglipay in mind to head the "Hunt for al-Ghozi" operations. This got derailed.
Jun Ebdane is very, very lucky he's been given a "second chance", instead of being cashiered. Well, he had better get al-Ghozi. I wish, though, Jun would stop issuing directives like: "Shape up, do the work, and get the job done. There is no more room for laxity or sloppiness. Failure is not an option. And I will not hesitate to let the axe fall where it must."
Admittedly, he is no Shakespeare, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, or Tony Blair, but he must in his Memory Book have accumulated every bromide and rusty catchphrase in captivity. Sadly, our police generals have demonstrated they are not resolute men of action, neither are they men of words. We'll settle for them to "luck out" and get al-Ghozi back, or blast him to his reward in paradise with the 22 virgins and other delights so richly promised by the prophet.
Time, however, is running short. The SONA is on Monday. I wish there were a way to help the President out of her embarrassment -- which is no fault of hers (I insist on saying) -- but she's got to live with it. Those who work for her have let GMA and the Republic down. Let's not mention the adjective "strong" anymore. Even that is embarrassing.