FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - April 17, 2018 - 12:00am

It was not the assault many of us might have expected, considering the verbiage that preceded it. In the wee hours of Saturday, the combined forces of the US, the UK and France sent in a total of 105 precision-guided munitions to hit three targets in Syria.

Most might have expected a broader attack, perhaps fierce enough to topple the Assad regime that repeatedly brutalized its own people. The attack should have at least eradicated the Assad regime’s air power, many thought. But when it finally happened, the attack was small and confined.

Many factors, largely political, conspired to keep the attack within tight confines.

The US Defense Department, sharing the same attitude as their French and British counterparts, did not want a larger action. They were conscious of the fact that the Russian military had installed modern anti-missile defense systems in Syria. Those state-of-the-art defense systems could take down attacking missiles if they were used. The Russians chose not to use them.

The attacking missiles were, therefore, met with only token resistance from Syria’s antiquated anti-missile defense system. None of the attacking missiles were prevented from hitting their targets.

Instead the world was treated to the awesome precision of modern munitions. The main target sat right smack in the heavily populated areas of Damascus. Several missiles hit the suspected chemical weapons laboratory without damaging surrounding buildings.

The reason the allied defense officials were reluctant to mount a larger attack was to avoid escalation of the confrontation with the Russians. Thousands of Russian military personnel were in Syria to man the defense systems and train their counterparts. A larger attack could have taken Russian (and Iranian) casualties, provoking escalation.

The Russians, too, were unprepared for an escalation of the conflict. This could be the reason they kept the modern anti-missile defense systems inactive during the assault.

The Iranians have thousands of military personnel on the ground. But while they might angle for escalation, they did not have the modern weapons systems to matter in this confrontation. Nevertheless, the missile attack obviously tried to avoid taking Iranian casualties as well.

The missile attack was meant to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons on his people. It does not punish him, however, for using barrel bombs that kill indiscriminately and demolish entire residential blocks in one cruel blow.

In the end, the much ballyhooed punitive attack kept the political status quo. The real major players here performed a precise choreography. The western powers got the punitive assault they wanted. The Assad regime remained securely in place to continue with its wholesale murders using conventional weapons.

There was no major loss of face for anybody. The missile attacks simply reassure the western powers that they did not stand idly by while communities were gassed.

This calls to mind the noisy but relatively bloodless military maneuvers that accompanied the coup attempts against the Cory Aquino administration. There was a lot of gunfire but few casualties. One wit during that time so aptly described the action as “acoustic warfare.”  

It also reminds us of the arranged “Battle of Manila Bay” between the assaulting force commanded by Admiral Dewey and the Spanish fleet commanded by Admiral Montejo. To avoid the enemy losing too much face, a few cannons were fired before the Spaniards dutifully surrendered. Spanish colonialism lost an outpost; Dewey had a boulevard named after him.


On June 6, 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an opinion prohibiting automatic deductions on pensions of PNP retirees for the benefit of private lending entities. This opinion reiterates the PNP Memorandum Circular No. 2013-009 allowing automatic deductions only for payment of loans incurred when the retirees were still in active service.

The PNP Memo is consistent with the provisions of Republic Act 8367 that prohibits automatic deductions on loans incurred after retirement.

Immediately, PNP chief Ronald de la Rosa issued an order implementing the DOJ opinion. That order has been so flagrantly defied. He should not leave office without ensuring this order is obeyed.

In fact, he should cause the filing of charges against the savings and loan associations continuing to peddle loans to retired police officers on the assurance these would be serviced through automatic deductions from pensions. Even as these private lenders lower their lending risks by using the automatic deductions, they impose high financing charges on the hapless borrowers.

Some of the lenders involved in this racket often impose charges not made clear to the borrowers when they took the loans. They are akin to loan sharks preying on the poor retirees. They are vultures preying on retirees who lack in financial literacy.

Many of the retirees victimized by the savings and loan associations embedded in the police community have no other source of income apart from their pensions. Saddled with high financing charges, they often have nothing left in their pensions to live by.

The savings and loan associations should not be able to access the automatic payroll deduction system for loans to retired personnel. They are free-riding on the system. Graft is clearly committed here.

No doubt, there are insiders cooperating with the private lenders and presumably benefitting from that cooperation to keep the racket active despite de la Rosa’s direct order. They should be charged.

If Bato de la Rosa could not stop the racket, then his successor Oscar Albayalde should perform the task. Effective action is necessary to protect the pensions of our police retirees.

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