Gangster’s paradise

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2017 - 4:00pm

It’s all over but the wriggling out of criminal indictments. The Philippine National Police Internal Affairs Service now has the unenviable job of teasing out the true details behind the deaths of Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr., his wife, brother, sister and 11 of their security personnel.

Survivors from the Parojinog camp claim there was no firefight, no “nanlaban” or resistance, and the fatalities were summarily executed. They might find some comfort in the fact that many people actually believe it was a rubout.

Even without human rights groups protesting about the conduct of the raid, people are naturally suspicious about search warrants being served at 2 a.m. Suspicions are also raised when no police raider is wounded while 15 are dead on the other side.

Now, whether ordinary folks disapprove of the Ozamiz raid is another story. My guess is President Duterte’s dizzyingly high approval ratings will rise further in the next survey, especially if the PNP makes good on its threat to go after more narco politicians.

Remember, the administration kept getting flak for the drug war focusing only on the hampaslupa. Now that it’s going after the big fish, it needs new tactics. Cops can’t just barge into the heavily guarded homes of their mayor, vice mayor and provincial officials, drag the targets into vans and kill anyone who tries to grab police guns while trying to escape. The raiders need court-issued search warrants.

* * *

Which brings us to the question: how did someone with the Kuratong Baleleng notoriety of Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. become mayor of a major Philippine city?

Until the raid, the Parojinogs had become like the Ampatuans at the height of their power in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It seems there’s a Parojinog here, a Parojinog there, Parojinogs everywhere in the local government of Ozamiz, and expanding to the provincial government of Misamis Occidental.

It was the same in the ARMM and specifically Maguindanao, where villages, towns, bridges and public buildings were named after an Ampatuan. The 2009 massacre in Maguindanao ended the infestation of Ampatuans, but who knows, the clan might yet rise again. 

Ozamiz locals interviewed since the heyday of Reynaldo Sr.’s dad and Kuratong founder Octavio Parojinog Sr. narrated stories that have become depressingly common in this country. The Parojinogs gained notoriety through the criminal activities of the Kuratong Baleleng. But the clan apparently knows that those who don’t share go to hell, so its members spread around their blessings.

By the time Octavio was killed by cops in 1990 and his two sons took over the family enterprise, the patriarch had built the foundations for a political power base backed by Kuratong muscle.

It is said that all the cops who were part of the team that killed Octavio later died at the hands of the avenging Parojinogs.

* * *

Other politicians like that kind of muscle. Reports in the past years say that since the 1970s, the Parojinogs had been hired to do the dirty work for many politicians. In turn the clan received payments not just in cash but also in kind, including support for their future career shift to politics.

The Ampatuans also enjoyed the support of the central government in Manila for about a decade for keeping the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other ARMM troublemakers in check. The Ampatuans were Malacañang’s SOBs in an area teeming with badass gunmen. Soldiers and cops used to whisper that if they found a Moro bandit decapitated or with an ear missing in the ARMM, it was likely the handiwork of Andal Ampatuan Jr., now the principal defendant in the Maguindanao massacre.

When the Ampatuan mansions were raided following the massacre, their armories contained guns still in crates bearing markings of the Department of National Defense. Undoubtedly, the weapons were genuinely government-issued.

The Parojinogs aimed high; Reynaldo’s brother Renato ran for a congressional seat in 1998 under Joseph Estrada’s Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino. Reports at the time said Renato was persuaded to run by Erap’s gambling adviser Atong Ang. Renato lost to Fidel Ramos’ former health chief Hilarion Ramiro, but brother Reynaldo aimed lower and won as barangay chairman in 1997. The Ozamiz Association of Barangay Councils picked him as president. You can see why Dirty Rody wants to annihilate many of the current barangay officials before holding the next village election.

* * *

After gaining a foothold in politics, the Parojinogs saw their power and fortunes expand exponentially. Never mind if Renato and Reynaldo Parojinog plus the branches of Kuratong Baleleng had been implicated in bank and armored van robberies, extortion, illegal gambling and other organized criminal activities.

If the Parojinogs ran unopposed in Ozamiz, it was likely because people didn’t want to incur the vengeful wrath of the clan. And being unopposed can make someone feel invincible and above the law. It makes it much easier to engage in hugely profitable illegal activities such as drug trafficking. The slain mayor’s daughter Nova Princess, the vice mayor of Ozamiz, is still facing graft charges in connection with her job in government.

The feisty vice mayor’s complaints about the deadly raid were weakened by that video footage leaked to the media, showing her grappling with arresting policewomen for a packet of white substance she had taken from her bag, and then putting something in her mouth that she appeared to have swallowed.

* * *

Politics and crime are locked in an incestuous embrace in this country. Election campaign finance is a black hole of money laundering.

How many jueteng lords, notorious smugglers and drug coddlers have successfully entered politics? This country is a gangster’s paradise.

President Duterte’s list of narco politicians wasn’t plucked out of thin air. But how can you neutralize the narco politicians?

Duterte has made no secret of his dilemma: how do you pin down top-tier drug dealers? They rarely handle the drugs personally so they can’t be charged even with drug possession. Also, no one bothers to trace their dirty money. In the rare occasions that they are pinned down with solid evidence, they could bribe a judge and leave the country, or the case could drag on for a generation before final conviction is handed down.

Such weaknesses in the system have allowed even Maute terrorists to turn to drug trafficking for fund-raising.

All this should not mean that the nation has to be silent on human rights violations in the war on drugs. Some opposition members are making the right noises.

From the general reactions to the death of the Parojinogs, however, the subliminal message is discernible: good riddance.

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