Fighting a shadow, battling ghouls

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“It takes a village”

BACOLOD CITY – He first saw the kid, small and frail, the boy’s legs, his entire body, dark. Burnt by the sun and the saltspray, not just sun-kissed.

Like the lamayo and uga or semi-dried and dried fish this village is known for.

The boy was kicking a lata sang condensada, an empty condensed milk can, strangely with a stone inside.

“The purpose is to make noise,” he said as he adjusted the brim of his baseball cap to cover his eyes.

It was around 10. Evening.

I squinted. The movie had just ended and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack was being played under the end credits.

“It looks like a drug barangay, sir; people don’t seem to mind what they are getting from the 4Ps,” he said.

“He” is a senior anti-drug operative. He had worked the streets for years, first as an operative for the then Narcotics Command. Now, he works for the police.

Rank, name, designation, badge number confidential, he said.

For easy reference in this multi-sourced story, “He” will be referred to as Agent Zero.

He knows the dark and dingy alleys or eskinitas of mostly depressed villages where shabu or the poor man’s cocaine is being whiffed by poor men or, at the very least, its trade is being protected by those whom radicals call “oppressed and exploited.”

As such, the unusual meeting place was necessary.

“Pasensya gid, sir, indi gid pwede mabal-an nga gaistoryahanay ta (I’m sorry, sir but no one must know we are talking),” he said in a hushed voice as people started filing out of the cinema.

What interested me the most was his story about how druglords have become like Robin Hood, that fokloric character who stole from the rich and gave to the poor though a careful reading of the book would show that that is a simplistic interpretation of it.

When he said “they don’t seem to mind what they get from 4Ps” struck me the most.

Under the law, household beneficiaries get a P500 health subsidy a month or P12,000 a year, and an education grant of P300 per child for 10 months every year or a total of P3,000.

The law allows a maximum of three children-beneficiaries per household to receive the education grant.

He flicked his hand and made a sweeping gesture.

“Wala na ya sir kumpara sa ginahatag sa ila halin sa drugs (That is nothing sir compared to what they get from drugs),” he said

While the law has a lot of requirements for beneficiaries, like going to school and the health centers, the drug syndicates don’t require much, he explained.

Except for the regular looking-out for policemen, agents, “all the enemies of the syndicate,” and, if they are around, to pass the message until it reaches the pusher.

That kid in the beginning of this story was part of this early-warning system.

“Pasa bilis,” a police major assigned to a local intelligence unit described it.

Unlike in Iraq where the Americans relied too much on signal intelligence or SIGINT – intel derived from satellites, phone intercepts or drones and the like – drug distributors rely heavily on human intelligence or HUMINT for their intelligence and counter-intelligence.

Consider, for example, what usually happens in that coastal barangay where the kid kicks the can.

The noise made by the can being kicked, for example, warns the pusher that authorities are on their way for a raid.

Another subtle way of passing the message is when neighbors close their windows one after the other if suspected government agents or operatives pass through to the targetted house of a pusher.

The bamboo or wood window props, tukon in Hiligaynon, are brought down to close the window. The more windows being closed, the closer the hunters to the prey.

Then the “spotters” and the embedded eyes on jeepneys.

“Ever wondered why public jeepneys going to or from this village always have ‘kabits’ or passengers who ride on the stepboards and hang on the entire trip?” Agent Zero asked.

I shook my head.

“Never thought of that,” I said.

The police major added a story that dovetailed with that of Agent Zero.

One night, he said, a friend of his went to the barangay to attend the wake of a classmate’s mother.

That friend just had a haircut and looked like some cadet or newbie policeman.

His motorcycle broke down and he had to look for the house on foot.

Many teenaged boys volunteered to bring him to the house. Walking through the narrow alleys, he also saw a kid.

A young boy kicking a can, a lata sang condensada.

It takes a village to raise a child, they say.

It also takes one to hide a syndicate.

And that is where the basic problem lies.

For the report on statistics on the local drug war, head on to this article.

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