Philippines abolishes anti-crime task force

MANILA, Philippines, AP

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Tuesday she has abolished a 3-year-old anti-crime force which has been linked to sensational crimes.

Arroyo said she has signed an order abolishing the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, formed by then-President Joseph Estrada shortly after he took office in 1998, and will depend on regular police agencies.

She called the task force a “shadow government organization” and said too many crimes have been linked to the body to justify it.

“Even without declassifying whatever reports I have received about PAOCTF activities in the previous administration, you’ve seen enough on television to justify the abolition,” she told a news briefing.

The task force, composed of military, police and civilian government agents, was widely praised when Estrada was in power for curbing widespread kidnappings, particularly of Chinese businessmen. It was, however, criticized for alleged illegal methods, including unauthorized use of eavesdropping devices.

When Arroyo rose to power after Estrada’s Jan. 20 ouster over corruption allegations, the operations of the anti-crime force came under legislative scrutiny.

A number of its agents recently were arrested for alleged involvement in the abduction and reported killing of prominent public relations executive Salvador Dacer and his driver.

Dacer, reportedly working with politicians opposed to Estrada’s administration, was kidnapped in Manila on Nov. 24. Investigators said he and his driver were strangled, then burned in Cavite province, south of Manila, by men led by PAOCTF officers.

There also have been allegations that some officers were involved in kidnappings and drug trafficking. Former national police chief Panfilo Lacson, who once headed the task force, has denied the allegations.

Widespread crime is among the daunting problems Arroyo inherited from Estrada, along with a bad economy and Muslim separatist and Marxist insurgences.

A special military unit has been created, on Arroyo’s orders, to assist the police in fighting kidnappings and other crime.