MANILA, September 16, 2003  (STAR)  By Christina Mendez  - President Arroyo virtually declared war yesterday on politicians allegedly linked to destabilization efforts against her administration.

She has ordered law enforcers to pin these politicians down, particularly those believed to have had a hand in the recent rash of bank robberies in the metropolis.

"Regarding these bank hold-ups, we must now train our sights on the linkages of the underworld and those holding political power," she said without naming names or citing particular cases.

In the most spectacular case to date, up to 15 men with assault rifles shot their way into the Citibank tower in Makati’s financial district last month and robbed the bank’s Philippine headquarters.

Police and the bank have not revealed how much money was taken, saying investigations were still underway.

Some newspapers have suggested that money from robbed banks could be used by politicians to finance the campaign for the presidential and congressional elections in May next year.

"This is a bane to many nations especially in the developing world, and a threat to democratic societies. The people must be made aware of this threat and our people must not glorify rogue leaders masquerading as paragons of reform or good performance," the President said, referring to the bank robberies.

Mrs. Arroyo, who survived a military uprising in July, said in a speech at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters that the police were doing their best "to pin down the masterminds of recent crimes to see if there are any politician-underworld linkages."

In the same speech, the President ordered PNP chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. to conduct a speedy investigation to identify politicians linked to the recent rash of spectacular crimes in Metro Manila, which have seriously undermined the country’s peace and order situation.

"We have to gather evidence for this and avoid witch-hunting," she said.

The President gave her speech at the PNP almost a week after Ebdane himself admitted the police are actually investigating the links of some politicians to crime groups amid the series of attempts to destabilize the government.

"If it is and it can be proven by direct evidence that some personalities are involved, then it is a very grave problem. It will have so much bearing on the election process," he told reporters in an interview last week.

Ebdane, however, was cautious yesterday when asked about his reaction to the President’s order. Apparently keeping in mind Mrs. Arroyo’s directive not to resort to witch-hunting, he invoked the PNP’s policy of confidentiality over sensitive issues and cases.

"We will not discuss operational details but nevertheless, I can say that we are working on that. But in the absence of specific evidence and more so, we would not want to release also our holdings because it will also jeopardize some of our investigation," he said.

Ebdane said the PNP "will talk about it based on evidence and we will provide you with data when we have evidence."

PNP police community relations chief Director Ricardo de Leon said last week that the series of bank robberies was not merely to acquire money but to demonstrate a "show of force."

He added that the PNP is currently looking into the files of possible suspects for the Citibank robbery. Most of these suspects were identified as members of the Solido Gang, a criminal group believed to be comprised of remnants of the Kuratong Baleleng Gang.

Meanwhile, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director Anselmo Avenido said they are now monitoring reports that some politicians have allegedly been engaging in the illegal drug trade to support their election-related expenses.

He refused to name names, saying these reports still need to be verified.

Sources, however, said that some mayors are among those under surveillance.

In October 2001, police arrested Ramon Mitra, mayor of Panukulan, Quezon, for possession of 503.68 kilos of shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride). He and three others were charged for violating the Dangerous Drugs Act (Republic Act 6425) before the Infanta regional trial court.

According to Avenido, it is not farfetched that there are many others like Mitra who may be using their position and influence to hide their involvement in drug trafficking. — With Mike Frialde, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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