MANILA, December 9, 2003  (STAR) By Jaime Laude - The challenge posed by the upsurge of kidnap-for-ransom activities in Metro Manila has strengthened the resolve of anti-kidnapping authorities to eliminate the menace within a self-prescribed six-month period.

This was expressed by former defense chief and now head of the National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force (naktaf) Angelo Reyes amid criticism that his lack of police experience would prove to be a hindrance in the current anti-crime drive.

"Hopefully, we will have a better situation," Reyes says. "Hopefully within six months these kidnapping syndicates will be neutralized."

Without going into details, Reyes reveals that anti-kidnapping agents are now out tracking down members and leaders of the five active kidnap syndicates operating in the country, most of them in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog.

His office has prepared a three-pronged approach–short, medium and long-term–to deal with these kidnap syndicates. naktaf’s two primary goals under the short term approach is to reduce kidnapping incidents and see to it that the coming holidays will be "kidnap-free".

"We are in the midst of a daunting battle against kidnapping. I believe that our fight deserves every sector’s support and cooperation," he says, stressing that the success of present anti-crime undertakings also depends on how much cooperation authorities receive from the public, especially from victims and their families.

The seriousness of the kidnap problem was highlighted by the abduction and brutal murder of Coca-Cola executive Betti Chua Sy, whose body was dumped by her abductors along the busy Diosdado Macapagal Highway recently. Sy’s killing has put even more pressure on Reyes, with several politicians calling for his immediate resignation.

While kidnappings have been going even before naktaf’s creation, concerned authorities have tried to downplay these crimes, says a dismayed police officer, who also claims that in all kidnap gangs active at present, most often than not, there are men in the uniform services (active and inactive) who are members if not leaders of the syndicates.

Reyes agrees with the observation that members of the military and police have indeed dipped their hands into the lucrative business of kidnap-for- ransom operations. "Sad to say na mayroon involvement ang ilang police officer, military officer, retired police, retired military," he admits.

That is why naktaf, as part of its anti-kidnapping strategies, has instituted efforts to cleanse the ranks of the afp and the pnp of scalawags, whom he is quick to quantify as "only a few."

With naktaf now under his overall leadership and control and with the full backing of the President, Reyes says he will see to it that all anti-kidnapping units along with attached government line agencies will be working round-the-clock to combat the menace.

Aside from the Police Anti-Crime Emergency Responce (pacer), the pnp’s anti-kidnapping arm, special units from the Armed Forces of the Philippine (afp), the National Bureau of Investigation (nbi), the Departments of Justice and Transportation and Communication have been placed under one unified command.

Unlike before, Reyes assures that these government agencies are now closely working together to safeguard the welfare of the citizens, especially members of the Chinese-Filipino community.

"We would like to assure the members of the Chinese-Filipino community that naktaf is on the right track. Our people are working round the clock. Stay with us. Together, we can do this job," the former defense and armed forces chief says.

He voices the assurance amid fears expressed by Tsinoy traders over the steady rise of abductions, victimizing mostly Chinese-Filipinos, and the inability of authorities to protect them.

Under naktaf’s long term anti- kidnapping approach, Reyes says he will lobby Congress for the amendment of laws to give more teeth to law enforcement, especially with regards to the arrest and detention of suspected criminals.

He describes current laws as obselete and more protective of the rights of lawless elements than of victims. Battling for a longer detention period of suspected criminals, Reyes says that the present law prohibits law enforcement agents from arresting and detaining suspected criminals–suspected kidnappers included–for more than 36 hours.

"In Malaysia and Singapore, you can detain a suspected criminal for one to two weeks without charges and have him re-arrested again if he is released," Reyes shares. If applied here, Reyes expresses confidence that the government’s anti-criminality campaign, not only against kidnappings, will finally break the chokehold of crime.

Admitting that the tasked given him by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is "no child’s play" but a Herculean one, Reyes is devoting full time to his new job to put kidnappers behind bars. He defends the President’s announcement that unscrupulous politicians could be behind the rash of kidnappings in their continuing efforts to destabilize her government.

"Kidnapping is no longer a criminality or a police problem. It has become a national concern as it affects foreign investors’ confidence and tourism. People committing these crimes tend to destabilize the government. It assumes a political aspect," Reyes explains.

On the reported involvement of politicians, Reyes says naktaf, for the meantime, has no solid proof to support this claim. He noted though that kidnapping incidents go up as election and Christmas seasons draw near.

Daunting though the task may be, Reyes is not about to give up. Instead he declares that he will face the challenge and intends to carry out the President’s order to finish off the menace in due time.

That perhaps could be the lasting legacy he leaves when he is through serving the government: he wants to be remembered by the public as the Angelo Reyes who did his job well and did his best for the good of the entire country.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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