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Philippines’ Leader Under Pressure

January 5, 1998

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Shortly after taking office in June 1992, President Fidel Ramos pledged to eliminate kidnapping syndicates.

Now, with less than six more months in office, his words have come back to haunt him and the former general is facing mounting public demands to fulfill his promise.

Ramos had hoped his single term as president would leave a legacy of greater political stability and economic progress _ following years of turmoil under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and former President Corazon Aquino.

But his accomplishments are under a cloud because of the surge in kidnappings.

Kidnappings occurred on average once every other day in 1997, according to one anti-crime group. And that has aroused a public clamor for Ramos to take a more direct role in leading a drive for stronger measures to fight crime.

On Dec. 2, for instance, five Chinese-Filipinos were kidnapped on the same day. One of them was killed during a botched police attempt to rescue him.

Two days later, about 19 people, most of them university students and teachers, were abducted in the southern Philippines by disgruntled former Muslim rebels. All 19 were released unharmed the next day.

A week after that, masked gunmen abducted the wife of a wealthy Chinese-Filipino businessman while the couple jogged near their home in southern General Santos City. She escaped unharmed from her captors a few days later.

On Dec. 12, national police chief Recaredo Sarmiento resigned, saying he was taking ``command responsibility″ for the failure to stem the rash of kidnappings.

With public anger growing, Ramos turned up the heat himself on the national police. He met with police and military officials and ordered them to ``get results″ _ meaning the safe recovery of victims and the capture of kidnappers.

The Federation of Philippine Industry, a group representing business interests, said kidnap gangs are making a mockery of the criminal justice system.

``There is also a risk that unabated kidnapping will put at naught the economic gains already made. Decisive action is required in order to heal this long-festering sore,″ the group said.

Relatives of the kidnapping victim who died in the shootout between the police and his abductors said many Chinese-Filipino investors like themselves fear for their lives.

``If our local investors are fearful ... we cannot expect foreigners to invest the billions of dollars necessary for job creation and the nation’s continued growth,″ they said in a statement.

Teresita Ang-See, leader of the Citizens Action Against Crime, said the government must do more to keep its promise to wage all-out war on crime. She said she was especially disappointed because Ramos once commanded the national police and had promised law and order.

Max Soliven, publisher of the newspaper Philippine Star, has urged Ramos to ``seize your sword!″

``Only a president, wielding such a weapon, gathering unto himself all his mighty powers, can curb the forward march of crime and rascality in our country,″ Soliven said.

After his first 100 days in office, Ramos promised Filipinos he would pursue a hard-line against crime.

``No matter what it takes, we will eliminate these outlaw gangs,″ he told the country. ``We can never allow them to hold our civic stability to ransom.″

Ramos successfully pushed for the restoration of the death penalty for ``heinous″ crimes like murder, rape, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

And he was praised when he created the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission and appointed as its head his vice president, Joseph Estrada, who belongs to another party and who plans to run in the presidential election.

But Estrada resigned last year, saying Ramos limited his authority when the commission’s work appeared to boost Estrada’s popularity.

Amando Doronila, a political analyst, said the government has not confronted the breakdown of order squarely because of the embarrassment caused by involvement of police and soldiers in some crime syndicates.

``The law and order platform of the government is on the verge of collapse, sadly at the end of the Ramos term,″ Doronila said.

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