ORGANIZED CRIME IN THE PHILIPPINES: PRISON GANGS IN PARTICULAR
1. Organized crime in the Philippines began to permeate the fibre of social consciousness in its complex form after World War II. Although nationalism as a crusade was constantly nipped every time it manifests even during the period of foreign occupation, predating World War II, it was a seed that has grown and diversified according to its parochial requirements extending its tentacles even in such unholy and unpatriotic organizations like gangs. Nationalistic fervour in its parochial or provincial expression transcended over the years until it progressed up to the present. Gangs, like any nationalistic crusade or group, maintain a certain belief which is central in their collective outlook.
2. The sense of exclusivity, of clannishness, of having a strong tie within neighbourhood, is a characteristic variable that defines oneness or belongingness to a specific grouping. It binds them to form a very cohesive organization. Intrusion into this grouping is considered invasive and therefore dealt with severely through violent means. This is also the essence of gang organization. It has its historical roots and familiar backdrop along political lines. It was imbibed indirectly until it became social.
3. Understanding gangs in the free community however is a complicated process. It has to be studied in isolation to determine with precision its effect on the individual and in the community where it is interacting with.
4. Gangs as purveyor of organized crime must be seen in vitro so to speak and one of the simplest approaches is to examine it in prison. Gangs were not only in the middle of brokering peaceful co-existence with prison authorities, it is also in the middle of self imposed exploitation. Gangs has advanced the cause of sexual derangement to the level of abnormality to gain a certain measure of sanity in the daily conduct of prison life. Sodomy has been embraced as a way of life.
5. In Philippine correctional facilities, in the National Penitentiary to be exact, gangs gave birth to a number of sub-groupings which later became virtually a powerful crime syndicate that dictates the tempo of Metro Manila public safety.
6. In the early 60s, there were only two gangs. The OXO or Original Exconvict Organization (sometimes understood as 0 times 0 equals Nothing) was predominantly an exclusive domain of the Visayans. Their counterpart was Sigue-sigue Gang, composed mainly of convicts from Manila. People from Manila at that time had that cultural superiority over Visayans, since Visayans were recruited by Manila denizens to be the latter’s helpers.
7. The OXO and Sigue-sigue gangs were always at odds with one another and their differences were always expressed with fatal consequences. Their strength was measured in terms of how they would deal with each other in riots. The National Penitentiary in the 60s was defined in terms of its violent upheaval. At the center of this communal breakdown was a series of deadly and horrific riots. Scores of deaths on each side were always registered and a veritable episodes in the deadly history of penal administration in the country.
8. The violent saga of OXO and Sigue-sigue would also be imported in other penal establishments in the country. In Davao penal colony, the confrontation would even yield a veritable horror where each gang would decapitate the head of any opposing member caught in the crossfire of their competition. Deaths daily was noted in double digit numbers.
9. The two pioneering gangs became a benchmark in the organization of other groups which later would challenge the hegemony of well established gangs. Those that broke away formed a faction which became a stand-out gang in the hierarchy of the prison camp. Hence, from Sigue-sigue gang came Sigue-Sigue Sputnik, Sigue-sigue Puso and Sigue-sigue Commando. These were sub-groups that specialize on something absurd or commonplace in the prison camp. The “Sputnik” group came about during the time when the famous outer space exploration featured the jet propelled satellite called Sputnik. The members were those prisoners tasked to throw out sackful of rejected or left-over prison food ration over the fence where prison guards await for its delivery for maintenance of their small scale swine production project. The sight of sacks being tossed out over the fence pejoratively reminds one of the Sputnik satellite on space cruise!
10. Then came a number of other gangs emphasizing on the basic provincial partisanship of its members. Hence, for those who came from northern Luzon, there was the Genuine Ilocano Gang (GIG). Those from bicolandia were called BRM or Bicol Region Masbate. From Cebu, there was Batang Cebu (or BC 45—the number there indicates their favourite weapon, the calibre 45 pistol). From those at city jail, mainly from Manila Jail, there was Batang City Jail (or BCJ). There was also the group called BATMAN or Batang Mananalo. And, BM or Batang Mindanao. Other street corner gangs became a fad and initiated formally in jails and in prisons. These are the HGL (or Happy Go Lucky gang), BNG (for Bahala Na gang), BSL (for Batang Samar Leyte), BLQ (for Batangas, Laguna, Quezon gang).
11. Gangs in prison are predictable to a certain extent. There are gangs that promote violence while others are merely on-lookers. Not that these gangs do not share sympathy with the greater gang network, but some gangs are just not designed for violence. The Batman or Batang Mananalo comes to mind. It is one group that never participated in any trouble in prison. They can never even be convinced to take up arms against anyone in the prison community. Their only focus is to escape. In the free community, their only professed mission is to snatch, pick pockets or get into a lot of rackets or scams using wile and sleigh of hand.
12. Gangs in the Philippine setting, as viewed in isolation (prisons) is an innocent representation of basic and common rights which a prisoner seeks from penal administration, but for lack of funds or policy, the gang complements. There is the matter legal assistance, financial support and most of all, a ready shoulder to cry on.
13. For a person to be introduced to a new experience like incarceration with all the tell tale signs of torture, cruelty and deprivation, of outright imposition of rules restricting movement and even in the matter of seeking succour as when one is sick, membership or having allies as when one is a part of the group, becomes a convenient consideration.
14. Gangs elect as leader (they refer to them as “bosyo”—a corrupted street lingo for boss or leader) those whose brutality is beyond compare. They are mean, nasty and merciless, if not downright ruthless and callous. Well, that should be his record as far as dealing with the outside world is concerned. While maintaining his organization however, he should display compassion, benevolence and gentleness. He should be a Dr Jekyll with his gang mates and a Mr Hide as far as his gang’s opponent is concerned. Even on the matter of dealing with erring members also.
15. Leadership in gangs however would have its template renewed in lieu of the changing times. While before, those who are bulky and mean-looking, not to mention the number of “kills” the fellow has committed could easily be a credential for the post of being “bosyo,” the social evolution of gangs predetermined the type of leadership it would elect. The admission of political prisoners within the prison camp literally changed the complexion of gang related interaction. Those with a high degree of education, one with a capacity to express, write or negotiate— a skill which activists have, were qualifications enough for gangs to renew its strengths by electing them as leaders. In the 70s, gangs were led by the so-called intellectuals. There were lots of haggling and negotiations. For the gangs, it signalled a new era of their control of the prison camp. They have succeeded in bargaining for the entry of visitors into their respective dormitories. That provision reduced stress in the prison camp and, it goes without saying, abuses among prisoners as a consequence of sexual derangement. In the same vein, riots became a thing of the past.
16. In the 80s, gang leadership took another paradigm shift. Not only were the most intelligent or intellectually endowed chosen to lead but also those with the same qualification but that time, those economically endowed also. The gang leaders were exuding with shrewdness. They were well read and they have the means also.
17. In the 90s, another batch of would-be leaders would be introduced into the gang organizations. These are not only the rich and the thinking class but the so-called super-rich, those with a name, a celebrity status, at times hugging the political limelight and with connections and influence, on top of resources which they can easily tap. They were not voted as bosyo, but these inmates would control the prison camp nonetheless because they have the means of buying out the gangs, bosyo and members included!
18. These personalities who were able to buy out the gangs would reinvent the organization and would even submit it for proper accreditation if not outright registration as formal organization. There was a time when SEC has recognized as a non-profit organization the gang of Sigue-sigue Sputnik Brotherhood! It became a fad to register gangs as a brotherhood and all of these organizations successfully got their SEC approved document/ recognition.
19. Other known personalities that figured out in sensational cases stood out in the evolution of gangs. They would reconfigure the gang system and would reorganize an eclectic one. Break away factions from a couple of gangs would reunite to form another gang with innocent tags like “Temple of Man”, “Love Foundation”, “Sheep of the Lord”, etc.
20. Gangs, in effect, as an organized crime vehicle has two fronts—the legitimate side which is in accordance with its sworn brotherhood mission; and, the illegal side, since most of its members, leaders even and connections lay underground, or situated within the abyss of the underworld.
21. Gang connections with the underworld is perplexing and too complex for a layman to comprehend. Leaders and would be leaders are spending/ serving time in the penitentiary yet they are reckoned, their instructions strictly followed to the letter and their plans, the precise policy which the underworld denizens must abide and defer to.
22. Gang leaders inside the prison camp manage the underworld with the efficiency of the private sector and with the brutality of law enforcement. Once a member is caught, prosecuted and convicted, he is immediately ushered into the gang controlled prison community. The convicted member gets the necessary education much like a religious initiate inside the seminary. The member is taught the menacing mechanics of crime, the skills needed for evading conflicts, the competence of sustaining a conscience-free work load. He is also exposed, as the fellow has been exposed earlier during his youth in a deprived environment, to the basic physical demands of fulfilling an offense.
23. The member’s physical conditioning is a compulsory regiment, a must course, so to speak. He is screened also for any possible forte he may have shown. If he looks mean, he is given an assigned task of casing and bullying, if not in the field of harassment but onwards also to attacking a target opponent or victim. If he has the physical attributes or endurance, he may even end up as a fighting cock in the boxing arena, where as expected games can be fixed through their member.
24. If the fellow looks good, he becomes an understudy out rightly for the sex starved lieutenants of the gang leader. In the past, the fellow becomes the wife of the gang leader and required to have his body tattooed with the leader’s name, indicating that the good looking fellow is taken already and that the fellow is the respected “wife” of the gang leader. The virtual first lady of the gang!
25. Hence, when a handsome hunk disp0lays a good number of tattoo in his body and these are names, most likely, the fellow has spend a good deal of time incarcerated and while serving time, was a good wife to a number of gang leaders.
26. These incidents, however, if at all obtaining at present is already an exception. Visitors, specially the family members, friends and close allies, to include the opposite sex, are allowed to get inside the prison camp together with the person they are visiting.
27. Gangs are ahead, well almost, in everything. They control prison. Inmates are assigned in various prison offices when they can snoop on everything—from simple plans to grand projects, from the psychology of personnel to the outlook of authorities. Their network is not parochial since it extends to the free community. Gangs have subdivided the country into regions they can control. And these are mostly in urban areas. Gangs have discarded control in remote areas except when for purposes of seeking protection or hiding their bounty, they needed some places to take cover. When a crime happens, chances are gangs know something about it. Their intelligence network at times is even tapped by seasoned law enforcers.
28. On the whole, gangs have retained the services of good lawyers or law firms. Most of the time, the law firms are sent as courtesy assistance of some big names whom they have offered protection while serving time.
29. Gangs are there to protect the uninitiated and offer assistance for those helpless or traumatized by prison condition.
30. Since gangs have almost all the necessary wherewithal to commence or compose any action, they are instantly the most effective organization or if their specialized lines could no longer be concealed, they comprise as the best crime vehicle of all time. They can even profess effectivity than their prison staff, or law enforcement, even the private sector counterparts.
31. Gangs are sustained by protection fees paid by the regular prison visitors. Although from the distance, the fees are miniscule, the volume of visitation projects a greater amount at the end of the day. Gang mates operating a criminal outfit in the free community would continually sustain also the gangs inside. Gangs associated with KFR (Kidnapping for Ransom) offenses are the most pampered.
32. These latter-day gangs sustained from KFR activities in the free community have recently been joined by another gang dealing with syndicated carnapping. These gangs relate to their gang elders in prison and are constantly co-existing, supporting mutually and even reshaping each other’s strengths, contacts and influences. So wide and effective are their influence that those at the top, the authorities are easily tamed for their purpose. And because they are one of those closest on the ears of authorities, those below the ranks would just be helpless in their expression for control.
33. Gangs reinvent their concerns and outright mission to be relevant and germane in world full of surprises. They are even ahead of their opponents in the field of law enforcement. They are so advanced that while they skirt around the criminal justice system, they also have their efficient version of the criminal justice administration. They have policy makers and implementers. Where to situate government in the scheme that they have drawn, it lay mainly along the periphery, mere decorations like tropical fishes in an aquarium, only to viewed, fed and enjoyed upon and ready to be dismissed at a moment’s notice.
34. Unless understood and seen in the context of their existence, gangs are here to stay, not as a challenge but a symbol where government is inutile in dealing a death blow on their (gangs) fatal hold of public safety and justice.