Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, May 22, 2009

Subic officials knew Ang’s background

Though belated, this column wishes to thank Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority administrator Armand Arreza for the clarification he sent to the Standard Today regarding the issues we raised in our earlier column regarding the P 4-billion shabu smuggling attempt that had happened inside his turf.

It should be noted that despite the fact that it has been more than a month since we wrote our column, the issue of the multi-billion shabu smuggling at Subic is still a “live” issue in the light of the ongoing investigation of the Griño-Aquino special panel which is already on its third week of marathon hearings as well as the ongoing congressional probe.

In that column, we expressed concern over the embarrassment that the incident may have brought to our law enforcement agencies. The attempt to unload the billion-peso shabu haul was perpetrated by suspected drug smuggler Anthony Ang who has since gone into hiding. Upon the President’s recent instructions, the country’s top law enforcement agencies have launched a massive manhunt for Ang.

We are grateful to Arreza for clarifying the issues we raised. We also assure him that we are not trying to pin down responsibility for the Ang caper on SBMA officials. We merely echoed the sentiment among other law enforcement agencies that the whole situation is like having to clean up after another’s mess. Arreza, however, believes the SBMA has nothing to do with the mess created by the smuggling attempt. We must respect such view even if we don’t agree with it.

We commend Arreza’s staunch defense of his top aides, particularly one Redentor Tuazon, a lawyer. He disputed the sentiment we echoed that Tuazon may have been responsible for bringing in Ang into the SBMA. Arreza says Ang was already operating at the Subic facility before Tuazon was given his job. The point is well taken and should be conveyed to those who feel strongly that Tuazon should have done more to spare Arreza the embarrassment that the Ang incident has caused SBMA.

But we commend even more the candor and honesty of the SBMA administrator. In his letter to this paper, Arreza admitted that Tuazon and company knew of Ang’s previous entanglement with law enforcers.

“Tuazon’s office would surely have knowledge of Ang’s registered business in Subic, as well as his role in the business of ‘hot’ Ma Ling from China,” Arreza admitted.

He was, however, quick to shield Tuazon from possible accountability by telling this paper that “would this give him [Tuazon] a third eye that could discern Ang’s dark intentions”.

We respect Arreza’s view but we have to advise the good administrator that his “third eye” question has elicited mixed responses. There are those who believe that Tuazon’s knowledge of Ang’s track record should have been an incentive for the SBMA to keep a closer watch over Ang. The third eye was not necessary. The regular pair of eyes could have done it. In this case, Arreza’s officials had no eyes at all.

We also assure Arreza that his clarification has been very much appreciated by our readers, especially his pointing out that SBMA patrolmen had denied Ang’s request to have the seized boxes released to him without documentation. Arreza is right: that showed Ang was not given a VIP treatment.

But what was not answered by Arreza’s letter was the issue raised by other law enforcement agencies more than a year ago in the aftermath of Ang’s Subic smuggling try. That issue is the 48-hour “allowance” given to Ang before the boxes were opened and discovered to contain shabu. That 48-hour allowance apparently gave Ang ample time to pack up and go into hiding.

We are sure Arreza has an explanation for that. Or, even better the special investigating panel tasked by President Arroyo to look into this all-time record smuggling could try to ferret out the answer.

Newspaper reports quoted Solicitor-General Agnes Devanadera as saying that the three-member Griño-Aquino panel will specifically look into the accountability of SBMA officials “who were involved in Ang’s arrest”.

These officials need not worry. Arreza, we are sure, will do a good job in defending them before this panel which also undertook the probe of the Alabang Boys issue.

We commend Arreza for saying he welcomed the probe that will be done by the Griño-Aquino panel. The results of the probe should help him erase impressions that Subic is a smuggler’s haven and that there could be other Anthony Angs operating in the facility that has been placed under his stewardship.

Still, we hope Arreza would encourage his top lieutenants to support and take part in the probe so that their own accountabilities could be pinpointed. We do not want Arreza to end up taking all the blame for the Anthony Ang brouhaha under the principle of command responsibility.

It would be unfair for the Anthony Ang-SBMA smuggling issue to be the brand of Arreza’s stewardship. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as a “last song syndrome”. We hope this is not what the public would remember of his stint in the SBMA.

Arreza should forgive media for, this column included, for the passionate take on this Subic smuggling incident. The attention to Ang’s smuggle try would not have been this intense were it not for the embarrassment it is causing not just the government but the entire country. The incident has also reportedly caused the President to be very, very angry.

With his many connections, we’re sure Arreza can verify that report.

Maybe Arreza does not care if the President is angry over the SBMA smuggling issue. His patron, after all, is Senator Dick Gordon who has been showing signs that he is ready to defy Malacañang, or anybody for that matter, depending on the issue.

But we hope Arreza would not forget that the office he holds still reports directly to the President. And unless his friend Senator Gordon wins the presidency in 2010, the President to whom he is accountable is still Gloria Arroyo. By Alvin Capino - Counterpoint - Manila Standard Today

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