Friday, July 17, 2009

What’s Dick been smoking?

By Jojo Robles - low down - manila standard today

‘‘Senator Gordon wants to pardon the Abu Sayyaf,” the post on the online message board reads. “Maybe he should get kidnapped in Basilan first before he makes such a [expletives deleted] offer again.”

The post reminds one of a wag’s definition of a conservative as a liberal who’s been mugged. Indeed, Senator Richard Gordon’s immodest proposal could only have come from someone so far removed from the ground that he can actually consider granting amnesty to the members of a lawless criminal syndicate even before they can be made to answer for their heinous crimes.

Even if the suggestion had come from one of those professional bleeding-heart, human-rights activist groups, it would have to be dismissed outright. And it is to the everlasting credit of these groups, in fact, that virtually none of them has even dared to propose something as outrageous as Gordon’s cockamamie amnesty plan.

But this is Gordon, the former tough guy of Olongapo who once ruled a city that grew up around Southeast Asia’s biggest US naval base with an iron hand. And wasn’t the senator’s father, the former Mayor James T. Gordon, himself gunned down at Olongapo’s city hall more than 40 years ago, something that should have convinced the son that punishment should follow crime?

There is nothing in Gordon’s previous public record that would have prepared us for his amnesty plan, except possibly for the fact that he wants to become president next year and may need some votes from Basilan and Sulu. Or maybe that picture of him holding an Aeta child in the aftermath of the Pinatubo eruption and his relatively recent conversion as head of the Philippine Red Cross has pushed him over the liberal edge, where criminals are victims and poverty is the root and justification of all crime.

But why would Gordon want to pardon the Abu Sayyaf, which has made a mockery of government’s efforts to stamp out the barbaric business of kidnapping for ransom and which has embarrassed this country throughout the world? Here’s what Gordon said: “Time has its way of mellowing the minds of people… and the likes of [Abu Sayyaf leader] Radullan Sahiron are becoming mellow in their activities and they’re the ones who could agree to entering into some peaceful program so that they will lay down their arms.”

According to Gordon, the older bandits can convince the younger ones who have inherited their gruesome livelihood to lay down their arms and stop preying on anyone who they think can give them ransom money. He added that the bandit elders would consider amnesty, “especially if there is socio-economic assistance for them.”

What has Gordon been smoking that has made him as mellow as the Abu Sayyaf gangsters that he now proposes to pardon? And isn’t the offer of “laying down their arms” (which sounds like the Abu Sayyaf is some sort of freedom-fighting movement) in exchange for amnesty and economic assistance just another form of ransom payment to these brutal criminals?

* * *

If Gordon is really serious about pardoning the Abu Sayyaf, perhaps he should talk to all those people who were victimized by the kidnap-for-ransom gangs first. And they aren’t just the foreign tourists or aid workers like Eugenio Vagni, who also proposed (right before he left the Philippines, naturally) that we should forgive the bandits.

For every Stockholm Syndrome-sick Vagni, after all, there are dozens of small local traders, professionals and even children who have been abducted for ransom by the gang in the Basilan-Sulu area—many of them abused, tortured, raped and beheaded for some cash. Gordon should ask these people if they are willing to pardon the likes of Abu Sabaya and Al-bader Parad before opening his mouth again on the matter.

Then there’s the military and the police in those two provinces, whose members have been pursuing the Abu Sayyaf for years and losing their lives and those of their comrades because Sahiron and his ilk provide protection to the violent henchmen of this criminal syndicate. How will the military and the police respond to a blanket amnesty offer to the Abu Sayyaf?

While he’s at it, Gordon can even consult the Muslim secessionists in Mindanao and see if they would accept a plan to pardon a group that has been giving the Islamic separatist movement such a bad rep. Gordon will discover that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will have nothing to do with the kidnappers in Basilan and Sulu—and would be deeply offended if the bandits were offered amnesty while legitimate Moro rebels can’t even make any headway in their peace talks with the government.

No, amnesty isn’t the solution to the problem of the Abu Sayyaf, unless Gordon wants to incite and inflame an entire country that wants to see them brought to justice for their many crimes. If pardoning criminals stopped crime, then the Abu Sayyaf is a real terrorist organization dreaming of a separate Islamic fundamentalist state.

Because the Gordon proposal, at heart, is the logical conclusion of the belief that the Abu Sayyaf does what it does for some purpose other than to make money. Regardless of its origins as a network of terrorists funded by Al-Qaida, the Abu Sayyaf is now merely a criminal organization that funds itself by abducting anyone who looks like he or she could raise some money to pay for their “board and lodging.”

Bring the bandits to justice first. Help the impoverished communities that harbor them and who benefit from their ransom payments, so that the Abu Sayyaf will become anathema to its network of family and friends.

But don’t give them blanket pardon just because they’ve “mellowed” and now want lots of aid so they won’t kidnap people anymore. That’s just plain [expletive deleted] stupid, Dick.

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