Extremism and some more extremism

I condemn these actions:

(1) kidnapping by Filipino militant group of foreign and local tourists in a resort island off mainland Davao in September 2015, and dejected in it’s demand for ransom money in the tune of PHP300M it beheaded somebody from the group, a Canadian, a citizen of a country that continues to contribute much to Philippines’ social development and humanitarian work;

(2) failure of government to address the kidnapping incident with immediacy, urgency, and in all seriousness. When we entice foreigners to come and visit the country because “it’s more fun in the Philippines”, there is a corresponding responsibility that goes with the invite, which is assurance of safety and security to visitors when they do come;

(3) the hacking into Filipino voters’ data and posting these online;

(4) installation of CCTVs around Baguio City without proper public consultation and notice, and this from a City Hall that is made up of mostly indigenous people (meaning, those who should know more about what it means to be disenfranchised);

These news are like bombs exploding in our faces this week.

The first two contradict a certain campaign by-line we’ve been consistently hearing of late: I’ll fix Philippines in three to six months. Well, it’ll be eight months in May and the incident happened in, what, one island out of 7,100 in the entire country.

The fourth… extremism is also the term for going on ahead to implement a public action deemed important by just one individual or a  few.

I’m sure CCTVs are installed in the private resort where the abducted tourists were vacationing. Has that helped solve the mystery of the kidnapping?

The hacking into Filipino voters’ data collected and stored with COMELEC and the posting of these online offers a timely glimpse into the actual issues and risks arising from centralized data storage and transmission. Notably though there is no public outrage to what happened.

The more enterprising ones will sell the data, as was the case in Florida in 1994 when photographic images of drivers taken by surveillance cameras were sold by the government to a commercial marketer tasked by a national government agency to further develop the technology. Owners of the data were not informed or consulted.

Here, such breaches in handling private data violate the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10173).

In a post at my other blog, thecolorofred, I mentioned about the effectiveness of CCTVs relative to significantly lowering or preventing crime; on the other hand, the equally compelling public mandate to protect civil liberties or constitutionally-protected speech and expression given that surveillance is 24/7 and there is no forthcoming information as to where these CCTVs are exactly or how or where data are stored and transmitted.

Bloomberg’s 2005 article, The State of Surveillance, provides interesting insights on the matter:

Britain has 4 million video cameras monitoring streets, parks, and government buildings, more than any other country. London alone has 500,000 cameras watching for signs of illicit activity. Studying camera footage helped link the July 7 bombings with four men — but only after the fact. The disaster drove home some painful reminders: Fanatics bent on suicide aren’t fazed by cameras. And even if they are known terrorists, most video surveillance software won’t pick them out anyway.

But strewing them across every city in America would cost untold billions of dollars. High-tech electronic eavesdropping on communications networks can be effective, but only if terrorists use telecom systems. And even with improvements in cameras, biometric devices such as iris scans, bomb sniffers, and tracking software, it will be years before they can pick a terrorist out of a crowd.

In short, the surveillance camera as experienced by long time users in more advanced countries shows that the technology is not a magic bullet in the address of public safety and security, and we need to learn from that.

In the Philippines, we have a surplus of human resource, graduates of BS Criminology, increasing every year, without proper jobs. On top of that the Philippine National Police has programs with linkages to communities on the ground, this a part of the agency’s strategic PATROL (Peace and Order Agenda for Transformation and Upholding of the Rule of Law) PLAN 2030. Under the C/MAC program for example, youth volunteers are called in as members in which time young people can voice out safety and security issues impacting on their sector and at the same time participate in resolution building. In the barangays are the tanod system. My point is, if only we make time to know these plans and really get them going.

In the installation of mass CCTV system in public spaces, local legislators and executives need to, first: (1) come up with a strategic plan for public safety and security; (2) do a needs assessment for video surveillance programs which will justify (or not) installation of such a solution; (3) notify the public – affected neighborhoods and populations – of the video surveillance plan and initiate participatory processes in which the public can meaningfully participate in the plan’s implementation; (4) integrate into the program an audit and compliance system in the areas of effectiveness, alignment to policies and laws pertaining to civil liberties, surveillance operation, data storage, transmission and retention, among others; (5) supervise and continually train personnel handling the surveillance operations and data; (6) monitoring of the system.

The installation of CCTVs in Baguio City should be put on hold until these procedures are done. A program with far reaching and long term public consequences and costs cannot be implemented with just one individual providing a blanket justification- “CCTVs will resolve crimes and disaster risks”. That’s an incredibly naive perspective not to mention an affront to rationality (on which ‘government’ is founded and continues to be found). Moreover, it is outrageous to be spending two hundred million pesos of taxpayers money for video surveillance when City Hall is unable to collect and dispose of garbage on a daily basis.

The public – residents of the City – through organized platforms should make time as is their duty to study the City’s safety and security issue (among other issues), the potential impact (positive and negative) of video surveillance as a solution, and discern whether such is good for the City or not, and make their voices heard.

Citizens are not the audiences of the elect, but active participants in how our localities and ultimately country is shaped. The supply of reliable and responsible public officials is scant because the demand for the ‘good’ is also low.

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