I have a confession to make. I was an Alabang boy. Literally.
Before the now notorious Alabang boys were born, we lived in a still largely undeveloped Ayala Alabang subdivision, just one step removed from the mango orchard it once was. This was almost three decades ago, during the late 70’s. There were hardly any houses, and we were probably one of the first ten residents to move into the area.
Alabang then was “out there”, practically the boonies, and there was no small amount of grumbling and resentment when our parents uprooted us from our Makati home. It felt like we moved to a far-flung province, with the added hassle of a long commute to get to school. In fact, those of us in college had to take up residence in dorms. There was only one school around, Benedictine Abbey (now San Beda Alabang) across the national road, and there were no movie houses, shopping centers or even supermarkets. We had to go to Makati for almost everything.
The Alabang of my teen years and early adulthood was not the enclave of the rich and famous (and infamous) that it now is. The residents were mostly upwardly-mobile, mid-level executives working in Makati, with young kids, who took out a loans and mortgages in order to settle in what seemed to be, in our young eyes, a new frontier. It was almost leap of faith to move to Alabang.
There were a few of us in our mid to late teens who came from similar backgrounds, and commiserated with each other about having left our friends and old neighborhoods behind. We formed new bonds, of course, and as the community grew, so did our social circle. Drugs were not as big a problem as it is now, I suppose, there being as yet no shabu, Ecstasy and other designer pharmaceuticals. Dope had been around for quite some time, but it was usually only as an accessory to that old reliable, booze.
Alabang then had its rustic charms, especially for the younger kids. There was room to run around and explore and plenty of mango trees to climb. And in season, the trees were laden with fruit and free for the picking. Although we were warned about the snakes, mostly cobras, and indeed, the sight of long black serpents crossing the road, especially at night, was not uncommon. A lot ended up as deliberate roadkill during those environmentally-incorrect times, although there were no reports of anyone actually being bitten. A friend had a venous snake, locally know as dahong-palay (so called because it is bright green and resembles a rice stalk) wrap itself around her bicycle and she rode around in it for an hour without a clue. An alarmed village gardener spotted the snake coiled around the bike frame, stopped her and cut off its head, causing my friend to almost faint from fright.
There were also plenty of grass owls in the then open fields, swooping down on their prey at night, mostly field rats but also the occasional stray kitten. Their hawk-like quickness and wide wing span (up to 4 feet) were often startling when caught in the headlights of a passing car and gave birth to stories of “aswangs” flying around the mango groves.
All these are gone now, of course, replaced new houses and shopping malls, office buildings and high-rise condos.
I indulge in this exercise in nostalgia to point out the contrast of Alabang then and now, where it has gained the reputation as the sort of place where rich, spoiled kids, bored with their toys, do drugs and peddle them. Raised in lavish homes, these advantaged brats are lazy, reckless and arrogant, according to the popular idea, and they have no qualms about breaking societal rules and the law. True to some extent, and the Alabang Boys of PDEA fame have certainly reinforced this image. In posing for their mug shots after being busted, they smile smugly at the camera, as if posing for the school yearbook, and seemed to treat the whole thing as a joke. Well, who’s laughing now ?
But I also understand the discomfiture and annoyance of the vast majority of law-abiding residents in that area of the metro suburbs who feel that their entire community has been unfairly tarred by the acts of a few miscreants. By and large, they worked hard and sacrificed a lot for whatever they have now, and it’s totally inaccurate to portray these good folks, and their kids, as the feckless, idle rich.
We sold our house there years ago. But even during the early years, I was aware that the locale would evolve into a golden ghetto, an insulated place of plenty for those who can afford it. This was in fact the very goal of the developers. There are now a number of schools, hospitals and complete urban facilities and amenities within the immediate vicinity. One can conceivably be born, live and die under relatively comfortable, even privileged, circumstances within a few square kilometers of the Alabang district. Almost inevitably, there would be stories about rich kids gone bad: getting arrested for drugs and cavalierly wrecking each others’ lives and property and bringing their families down with them.
It’s a compelling narrative, which appeals to the Pinoy penchant for overwrought drama. As pointed out by Winnie Monsod in her Inquirer column:
Brother against brother, sister-in-law against sister-in-law, cousin against cousin; poor but honest Marine refusing to accept a bribe that would get him out of poverty; same Marine standing up to a high government official who is trying to browbeat him; lawyer going the extra but crooked mile for his clients, facing disbarment; task force members “resigning” (not from their jobs, just from the task force) because they are “under a cloud.” No way can a TV soap opera beat these scenes for sheer drama and human interest.
But the viewing, reading and listening public might get so interested in all these individual scenes from the so-called Alabang Boys controversy that they forget to look at the big picture.
And what is the big picture ? According to Dr. Monsod “ a criminal justice system that is in a state of rot, if not rotten to the core”.
She’s absolutely right. The telenovela-like twists and turns of the Alabang boys narrative may distract us from asking the more critical questions. For instance, why is Secretary Raul Gonzales so quiescent about irregularities happening right under his nose at the Department of Justice ? A heartbeat away from the Office of the Secretary in fact. Instead, he goes after the PDEA for alleged lapses and belabors technicalities which, on closer examination, does not invalidate the lawful arrests of the Alabang boys for drug pushing. And no real effort appears to have been made to look into the alleged P50-million bribe to state prosecutors that resulted in the dismissal of the case against the suspects.
In the meantime, the lawyer of Brodett et. al. has the temerity to admit that he, a private individual, personally prepared and caused to be delivered an official order for the Secretary’s signature which would have favored his clients. And that DOJ Undersecretary Ric Blancaflor and he are fraternity brothers and therefore he had every right to approach the former to intercede in his behalf. Which Blancaflor affirms, with the excuse that he is just doing his job. I’m amazed and dismayed at the brazenness of it all. I’ve been in law practice for close to two decades and still I’m shocked.
And now there are reports that Secretary Gonzales had a direct hand in the release of arrested drug suspects. Not small-time pushers, but even a member of an international drug ring.
This goes way beyond Alabang. I have to agree with Prof. Monsod that unless extreme measures are taken to stop or excise this rot in the criminal justice system, the rule of law in the Philippines, already in extremis, will cease to exist.