This is a Year of the Dragon, long-held as a very auspicious and compelling period for many. According to the Chinese astrological calendar, the black water dragon is a much more liberal counterpart of its more vicious reptilian cousins, bringing on a year of growth and progress awash with optimism and at the same time, unpredictability due to the wily nature of the beast.
However, the liquid element is said to make 2012 a strong water year, the kind that sends Sendong-like rain falling from the sky, running over rivers and dams to overflow.
Considering the facts and assessments from last year, I would have to agree to such notion, not because astrology is my cup of tea, but because of these factors:
1. More large-scale natural disasters will happen around the country.
The real tragedy of tropical storm Sendong is not the magnitude of its destruction. Just like typhoons Ondoy, Pepeng, and Pedring, and countless others before them, catastrophic events will continue well into 2012 under similar circumstances.
People were caught in surprise yet again by, ironically, usual factors such as poor foresight and preparation. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has claimed that both government and the people of Northern Mindanao failed to consider the volume of water that the storm dumped on the region. Such a calamity could ravage an unbeaten track far from the normal path of typhoons.
Aside from poor foresight and preparation, there was lack of consolidation in casualty prevention. There was also illegal logging, aside from insufficient monitoring equipment in key areas. Unfortunately, the chronic presence of these elements and the fact that they have been repeatedly acknowledged in the past could have averted disasters.
As I’ve said in the past, painful questions must be answered and all appropriate measures derived from such soul-searching should be taken with no delay. Was the NDRRMC able to study the effectiveness of its follow-through measures? Was it able to clarify the culpability of local government? What efforts must be taken then, to mitigate effects caused by mining, logging, and urbanization problems? How can the government effectively streamline and cascade alerts from the very top to the grassroots level? Has the Public-Private Partnership concept been adapted to put muscle and realistic communication and implementation procedures in fantastic powerpoint presentations?
The poor souls cowering under the bridge will certainly not be reached by warnings circulated by tweets and Facebook posts.
Juan dela Cruz must assess himself, too. Did he change his plans after Ondoy? Have these plans worked during Pedring? Are there changes anew after Sendong?
What about earthquakes that cause more destruction and casualties? Damages caused by a few seconds of tremor are usually far more bigger than that of a night-long heavy downpour. The damages brought about by a powerful earthquake are long-lasting and geographic-changing. Whether it be a typhoon or an earthquake, our casualty count is usually higher than those of other countries because of our dense population.
2. Mall incidents will continue.
The mall has taken over our traditional plazas. From the looks of it, malls will continue to play a crucial role in the economy as an important gathering place for the public. The Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) puts the retail workforce at about 5.25 million people. Meanwhile, an estimated 80 percent of Pinoys go to a mall at least once a month. It’s not hard to see how breaches of security and related incidents will continue in these crowded venues.
What will happen when a growing number of mall operators cut security costs, decrease security personnel and change the deployment of guards? While non-security personnel are being used to perform security-related tasks, security guards are now acting like receptionists at the doors, with hardly a care for every beep emanating from their hand-held metal detectors. In light of the SM Pampanga shooting and other copycat incidents, such deterrent measures become exercises in futility.
The mall is full of deadly weapons. You don’t need to sneak a butcher’s knife past the security guard if you can buy them from the inside. You can frisk the thousands who enter to high heavens. But in no way will you alter someone’s plan to jump from the third floor or kill an estranged lover. The question is, have the malls changed their policies and response procedures after these incidents?
3. Peace and order issues will escalate in Mindanao.
The indefinite stay of more than a battalion-size of American soldiers in the Southern Mindanao plus the USD200 million defense contract for “security” of the American interests indicate that Mindanao is the next privatized war theater of the United States. US President Obama made it clear that Asia is the frontier. The Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist organizations justify the continued and increasing presence of American troops who are serviced by several private contractors. The Spratly issue with China provides strategic reason for US to give vintage naval ships to the Philippines and a squadron of F-16 fighter jets to Indonesia.
This is further exacerbated by the dynamics being played out among the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). American interest in Mindanao will serve as a catalyst and in some cases, a binding medium as their intrusions in the south may give birth to an unholy trinity in the form of a merger between the three players aforementioned. This in turn, will justify strengthening American presence in the region.
As the 2013 election beckons, expect more kidnappings. Data from Ace And Associates shows there is an increase in small and big scale kidnap-for-ransom incidents 6-8 months before and 4-12 months after elections. Extortion activities are already in the rise. These scenarios are real as shown by increased presence of foreign security consultancy companies in Mindanao.
The mining industry will continue to suffer as raids from unpaid and doubled-crossed bandits interfere with operations. Many mining sites may be shut down by provincial governments and if not, continue to be subjected to large-scale extortion activities. Small-scale mining industries will continue to thrive since their blackmarket operations involve local government and police officials. The weekly patongs go directly to the pockets of protectors.
Have you ever heard of landslides in large-scale mining open pits managed by professional mining companies? The irony is that these are the very ones being shut down by the local governments that tolerate small-scale mining.
4. There will be tremendous growth in the private security industry.
As a number of foreign investments flow into the economy, more assets or facilities need to be secured, more security guards will be deployed, and more agencies contracted. Unfortunately, many of these security agencies are functioning as private armies to serve the businesses of a particular businessman or politician.
Though growing by the numbers, many of these agencies are owned by the same people. Currently, there are around 440,000 security guards employed by estimated 4,200 agencies, clearly exceeding the combined number of military, police and coast guard personnel in this country.
Is it a good or a bad thing to have security guards outnumber the armed forces? What are the implications of these increasing numbers as some industries, including the retail industry, strive to cut down on security costs and personnel? Is the 1,000-guard limit per agency effective in curbing the rise of private armies?
5. Trafficking of women and children will increase.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has tagged the Philippines as having heightened human trafficking activities involving commercial sex, along with China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia. Aside from sex, trafficking also include forced labor and the sale of organs. In Mindanao, the smuggling of women and children into prostitution and sex entertainment is worsening with most of the victims comprising poor minors. Davao City has been named as both a receiving and sending area for such activities, with an estimated 6,000 prostituted women and children in the city.
The government is not organized to handle this growing menace because these matters are the least of its concerns. Weak anti-human trafficking laws are also making it difficult to deter these activities. Certain provisions such as prohibiting the disclosure of the suspects’ identities may allow perpetrators to repeat their crimes or expose them further to an unsuspecting neighborhood. Corrupt and powerful entities have also been identified in these crimes, which include even one Department of Labor and Employment officer for facilitating child exploitation.
Weak legislation and the connivance of public officers in special points such as airports, passport issuance and in the deployment of overseas workers make human trafficking a flourishing enterprise.
Does the government have the teeth to make laws stronger and to clamp down on erring government officers and syndicates?
6. Media killings will rise.
One unfortunate fact is that as elections draw near, more provincial media entities tend to sprout all over the provinces like mushrooms. Along with it, incidents involving them, rise too.
Why do I say this? If a media person is killed, we have to ask certain questions. Was the killing associated to being part of the media? Or is it because they are exposing corrupt business and government practices? Have they gotten into conflict with other politicians or other entities? What about other personal and family motives on the killings?
No matter the nature or the motive behind incident, the media will tend to classify someone with a media outfit as a part of the media, regardless of that media’s other businesses, interests and advocacies.
Advocacies are fine but the truth is, there will be more killings because more people will have more enemies arising from conflicts not related to media issues. There will be more mining sites, more plants, more issues against the environment, more political development, and the upcoming elections are bound to produce conflict behind the scenes.
When political campaigns fuel the rise of media activities, you can be sure that these people will be sucked into the vortex of election-related violence.
7. Increase in crimes
The Philippine National Police puts the total crimes against persons in 2011 lower by 30.42 percent (59,860 from 86,036 in 2010). Meanwhile, total crime against property last year has dropped down to 17.88 percent (97,671 from 118,943 in 2010).
The PNP said the total of 248,378 crimes committed in 2011 was lower by 23.36 percent compared to the previous year.
Yet, of these crimes, about 1,700 comprised riding-in-tandem crimes with 2,089 victims. These crimes are rampant in Central Luzon, Central Visayas and the National Capital Region for the past two years.
According to the PNP, the National Capital Region posted the highest number of index crimes (murder, homicide, physical injury, rape, robbery and theft) among the country’s regions, particularly of crimes committed against persons and property.
The crime level in the NCR’s Eastern Police District (EPD) rose by 19.99 percent from last year. Annual statistics from the EPD’s District Investigation and Detective Management Division (DIDMD) showed 3,846 criminal cases from just 3,077 last year.
Crimes perpetrated against persons (murder, homicide, physical injury and rape) and property (robbery, theft and carnapping) also rose. The total non-index crimes (illegal drugs, crime against women and children and hijacking) also rose by 8.9 percent.
Though the total numbers may imply an overall decrease of crime in the country, the steady increase of criminal incidents in the NCR and certain parts of Metro Manila is simply disturbing. These numbers show that we will have a crime-infested year in particular areas of the nation.
With a perceived improving economy this year as the US and Europe reel southward, our poverty rate directly increases with the population growth. The obvious question is, “Will this be followed by an increase in the crime rate?” Well, what do you expect?
The more nagging question, however, is, “What changes to basic issues such as poverty and education can be made so that reduction of crimes can be achieved over the long-term?’
8. Increase in Cyber-crimes
But the Philippines have not yet passed the Cyber Crime Bill. We have antiquated laws that do not cover the mutating cyber crimes happening every hour. Our Department of Justice officials are still swamped byTuwid na Daan cases that they are slow to prepare Mutual Legal Assistance request for other countries involved in cyber crimes. The Cyber Crime Unit of PNP’s CIDG still faces technical, legal, and operational challenges.
Let’s rally behind the PNP and other lawmakers who are pushing for the Senate to pass the Cyber Crime Prevention Act of 2011. It is time for the country to be at pace with the fast evolving cyber world.