Thursday, June 07, 2007

Wanted: Dead or Demised

The Abu Sayyaf leaders who kidnapped the Burnhams are nearly all dead and reward money has played a large part in their demise. A counterterrorist police superintendent in the Philippines told me that the US reward program was not getting much attention because the amounts were announced in dollar denominations. The superintendent advised his counterpart to denominate it in pesos because in Sulu and Basilan, not everyone was familiar with the concept of an exchange rate. Now there are fifty pesos to the dollar, and once the revised figures were published in pesos the full enormity of what was on offer hit home with all the force of a D-11 bulldozer dropped from 20,000 feet. The Muslim rebels stopped trusting their sweethearts, childhood friends, their brothers and their sisters. They probably stopped trusting their mothers.

The amounts were so large in local terms that informants could effectively plan on starting new lives. Like the Penguins in Madagascar. But the sheer size of the monies created the doubt that they would actually be awarded. In the Philippines, nobody can conceive of a Filipino government agency actually giving away money like that. There had to be a catch. But since the rewards were offered by Americans maybe the offer was "dsinwayn" -- genuine -- in other words.

Here is a link to photos of Americans handing out the reward money in actual briefcases full of cash in Jolo, the capital of Sulu. The lids are open for all to see. In a final touch of refinement, a sticker with an American flag is affixed to briefcase so that nobody misses the point, even if you can't read. Kidnap an American and you die. (Now if only the Philippine government could send the same message to kidnappers of ordinary Filipinos ...) Of course the sticker can be peeled off because no Filipino will throw away a "dsinwayn" imported briefcase. Sometime later this week a man will be sold a perfectly new briefcase with faint markings where a decal has been peeled off. And the informants are masked to protect their identities.

The entire ceremony would be probably be considered bizarre and in probably in poor taste in America, not to mention Europe. But in the Philippines, where tough guys call themselves "Bronson", "Django", "Ben Hur" and "Kojak", it is culturally perfect, right down to the burly man in a baseball cap handing over the mazooma. By the way, the Tagalog translation for Wanted: Dead or Demised is Wanted: Patay o Bangkay.


Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

A couple of months ago prior to my wife having to leave on an impromptu departure for home I counted some peso we had in our safe. I counted & counted & counted noting it all. When done I said to myself "Wow, mayaman ako" (I'm rich) then I did the conversion and normal life resumed.

The pro ex-pats I lived with in the UAE talked about the "monopoly money phase" of being an ex-pat in the UAE and that was the period of time it took someone to get used to the fact a huge wad of dirhams did not equate to dollars on an equal or greater value.

BTW, Wretchard what is your view on the Peso? I see the actual market worth is now about 46 to the one dollar. Do you think it is solely weakening of the dollar or do you believe there to be an actual strengthening of the Peso?

6/07/2007 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I haven't been following the economic trends. But the peso's value is apparently largely affected by the remittances of overseas workers. At Christmas time the peso normally strengthens. That it should be at 46:1 could mean something else is going on.

I wouldn't mention that fact to the informers just now ...

6/07/2007 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Nichevo said...

Not a dig at anyone - but why have the big-money rewards in AF and Iraq been so much less effective, I wonder? OBL is worth $25m and nada, right? (True, I guess we paid off on Saddam.)

Is it because we don't denominate it in the local rupee or whatever the proper unit would be? Or is it cultural, that informers are less liked, or some Islamic hospitality code violation, or what?

6/07/2007 11:35:00 PM  
Blogger R said...

I think offering a reward does make sense. I also think there are other avenues from which citizens can offer information leading to the arrest or death of those who terrorize. My point: I would want those fighting terrorism using all inducements available in this fight.

Thus, my question: Are we? Here is where my confidence level may not be a high as I would like.

6/08/2007 05:31:00 AM  

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