How do you solve a problem like Baseco?

August 15, 2019

BEFORE the press conference held in Manila City Hall on Tuesday, I was able to have a chit-chat with some policemen and politicians regarding Baseco.

This was while we were waiting for Mayor Isko Moreno’s slated presentation to the media of the staggering number of guns and other illegal items seized during the simultaneous anti-criminality operations (SACLEO) conducted by the police there over the weekend.

Based on what I gathered, it appears that Baseco had turned into an ‘autonomous republic’ and has gained notoriety as a haven for criminal elements, illegal drugs and all sorts of illegal activities, where the only law recognized is dictated by those running the barangay affairs.

Gen. Vicente Danao, Jr., chief of the Manila Police District (MPD) and Maj. Jhun Ibay, chief of the special mayor’s response team (SMART), spearheaded  recent  simultaneous anti-criminality operations (SACLEO) that resulted in the seizure of 159 live ammunition, 13 handguns, three shotguns, a submachine gun,  46 assorted homemade guns, two hand grenades, two rifle grenades  and 15 illegal gambling units consisting of video karera and fruitgames machines.

Danao acknowledges that the problem that is Baseco cannot be resolved overnight and said he is thankful that Moreno gave the green light for them to operate fully and with the help of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the backing of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the entire Philippine National Police (PNP), they were able to mount the operation which is no joke, considering that Baseco has 50,000 residents and spans a total of 39 hectares.  Danao said the SACLEO over the weekend entailed the participation of at least 2,000 uniformed policemen.

Baseco is currently reputed to be home to real bad guys. In fact, Danao said these gangsters now even kill one another and this could be for different kinds of reasons such as double cross, rivalry and revenge.

Maj. Ibay meanwhile, shared that they were able to confiscate IDs signed by an official of the previous city administration and which are being used by unscrupulous individuals as a source of self-vested authority in Baseco.  The ID holders, he said, collected P15 daily from each of  the thousands of tricycle drivers so the latter can be allowed to ply their route inside the Baseco area.

A veteran councilor, on the other hand, said that based on his experience as a long-time politician, it has been ‘customary’ to pay an ‘entrance fee’ to certain individuals if one is to campaign freely in Baseco.

The councilor said he himself paid P250,000 just to be allowed to campaign in the vote-rich Baseco and put up his campaign materials there. He said those who do not pay up are not only disallowed from campaigning inside Baseco.  Their tarpaulins and posters, should they be able to sneak them in,  are also torn down.

And then, there is also the reported politically-motivated killings. I recall that when Mayor Fred Lim was running for reelection in 2013, he was able to hold an event in Baseco without the imprimatur of those said to be considered as ‘lords’ who run the show there. It did not take long when the organizer of the said event got killed. He was shot dead.

In June 2017,  Jugie Omandac, a retired officer from the Philippine Marines (PM), was ambushed in broad daylight in Intramuros.  He, at that time, was already in the thick of preparations to run for barangay chairman in Baseco.

During the two most recent presentations of drug suspects who were rounded up in various police operations in separate places in Manila, these suspects were asked where they get their illegal drugs from and consistently, they would answer ‘Baseco.’

DILG undersecretary Epimaco Densing III, apparently awed by the seized items in a single barangay in Baseco, said that at hindsight, it would seem that the barangay authorities in that area are not doing their job.

Densing praised More-no, Danao and Ibay for their resolve in stripping Baseco of its notoriety and said the move on their part is very significant.

According to Densing, he is surprised that none of the barangay officials under whose jurisdiction Baseco falls are in the press conference and this, he said, is an evidence  ‘na wala silang pakialam...hindi ginagawa ang trabaho.’

Potentially, he said there is the possibility of administrative liability on the part of the chairman— or in this case chairwoman- for non-cooperation.

Depending on the level of non-cooperation, the case may be elevated to the Ombudsman and the barangay officials who failed to perform their duties may not only face suspension but even removal from office, after due process is accorded to them.                                                                                                                                    Densing stressed that barangay officials are supposed to be apolitical ‘dahil kung sino ang nakaupo, dapat ay sumunod sila.’

Oh well. That is so much easier than done. Unless stiffer penalties await barangay chairmen, requiring them to be apolitical is next to impossible. Or, should I say, impossible?

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