Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Appointing a reconstruction czar in Yolanda-hit areas

Former Senator Panfilo Lacson.
Has anybody ever heard of the name Ping Lacson?

There's never a day when that name crops up in almost all the front pages of newspapers, not to mention interviews with known local and foreign broadcast networks.

A couple of days ago, President Benigno Aquino III has named former Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson to oversee the massive reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in  the provinces of Leyte, Samar, Bohol, Cebu, Iloilo and Negros provinces, to name a few.

As top honcho of the rebuilding efforts in the heavily devastated regions of Eastern and Central Visayas, (perhaps, including Zamboanga City) Lacson will ensure that the public funds totalling P40.9 billion that was set aside for this purpose will not end in the pockets of some corrupt local government officials who are suspected of making a practice of amassing wealth in preparation for the next elections. Bad experiences in the past have re-awaken the senses of the Aquino Administration. Consequently, President Aquino couldn't just gamble on anybody to head the rehabilitation efforts in areas devastated by super typhoon Yolanda.

Who is Lacson, anyway? During the time of former President Fidel V. Ramos, Lacson was head of the Presidential Anti-Organization Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), under the tutelage of Vice President Erap Estrada. When Estrada became president, Lacson was appointed head of the Philippine National
Police (PNP).

As head of the PAOCTF, Lacson was embroiled in a long messy  legal battle when he was suspected of masterminding the massacre of at least 18 members of the dreaded Mindanao-based "Kuratong Baleleng Gang" along Commonwealth Avenue in Diliman, Quezon City many years ago.

If my memory serves me right, I was then assigned to cover the Central Police District as a reporter. When the news broke out at dawn that day, I immediately rushed to the CPD Criminal Investigation Division in Camp Karingal, Quezon City. The incident happened in Quezon City, which was then under the law
enforcement jurisdiction of the Central Police District (CPD) . Like a bloodhound, my instinct dictated me to track down the CID chief --a certain Chief Supt. Sales--who was already sitting in his office, reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee that early morning.

During the one-on-one interview, he had disclosed to me the number of fatalities, who were all suspected to be engaged in multiple robberies and kindap-for-ransom activities in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country. But there was an unexpected turn of events when at least two agents of the Criminal Investigation Service (CIS), a part of the first group who rushed to investigate the crime scene, saw that most of the fatalities were handcuffed as they lay in a pool of blood inside the L-300 van that was riddled with Armalite bullets.

The case dragged on for many years until Lacson and his boys were finally acquitted of the crime. Reports said the killing was justified when the suspected Kuratong Baleleng members had traded shots with the authorities as they pursued them along the Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Despite the ghosts that haunt Mr. Lacson, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy in 1971, he ran for the Senate and won. He was re-elected and finished his three terms in office. During his tenure, Lacson never used his P200 million pork barrel funds, a feat that earned him the admiration of his peers and civil society groups in the country.

Some sectors have doubts on Lacson's capability to pull the plug on his new assignment owing to his lack of experience on disaster and infrastructure developments. However, cabinet members of the Aquino Administration have expressed full support for him as the new Reconstruction Czar in Yolanda-hit
areas in the Philippines. I'm sure it will be a tough battle that Lacson may undertake, knowing that the murky waters of politics in the local government level is infested with crocodiles.

Will he make it? That's a multi-million dollar worth of question that people should think about until June 2016.

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