Commentary

Who worries about crime?

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Recently, a Manila-based American executive found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and was killed by robbers at a 7-11 store. Not too long ago, a Dutch NGO worker was murdered after withdrawing money from a bank in Angeles City. Last year, an Italian missionary became the third priest from his congregation to be killed in Cotabato. A British MP’s money was recently stolen from a Quezon City hotel.

Who in the government is pulling his hair the most over these incidents?

The chief of the Philippine National Police must suffer from a constant migraine over such high-profile crimes. But maybe he’s too blasé by now because crimes occur practically every day. Does he still care? And President Aquino must be concerned for, after all, the buck stops on his desk. The upsurge in crime reflects badly on him as the chief executive and commander in chief.

An elderly woman was recently stabbed multiple times. A Philippine Military Academy cadet got shot while trying to defend other people from criminals. Shootings take place with regularity. Break-ins, thefts and street crimes against ordinary people occur daily. These must worry people whose job it is to go after criminals and stop criminality in its tracks.

Surely there is another guy, not directly involved in crime-fighting, who gnashes his teeth every time news of a sensational crime is flashed on the TV screen or headlined in the newspapers. The guy? The secretary of tourism.

Of course, it’s not just the crimes against foreigners that should worry government officials. There are more crimes perpetrated against our own people than against foreigners, for the obvious reason that there are more of us than foreigners. Crime is crime, and whoever is victimized has an overall effect on the country.

Such negative news travels vast distances. And it moves even more swiftly when it involves foreigners, because people in other countries are naturally concerned about their compatriots living or traveling abroad. We do the same when our countrymen and women find themselves in harm’s way as they struggle for a living overseas.

And this is what must give the tourism secretary sleepless nights. Horrifying news about violent incidents involving foreigners scares away tourists. Hong Kong still bristles with anger over the preposterously inept handling of the tourist bus hijacking at Luneta in 2010. Americans will stay away from the Philippines even more after the 7-11 slaying. The Dutch, an honest and quiet people, were outraged over the killing of volunteer Wilhelmus Geertman. The motive—simple robbery/homicide or vendetta for his NGO work?—remains unclear.

We Filipinos are truly our own worst enemy. We keep shooting ourselves in the foot even as we try desperately to pick ourselves up from the continuing malaise of corruption, criminality and economic woes.

The comic-strip character Pogo is familiar with self-destructive tendencies. In typical Pogo-ese, the character said: “We have met the enemy and they is us!” That’s what we are: We is the enemy.

The crime rate in the country is alarmingly high. News of it intrudes into our daily lives through that omnipresent medium, television. It scares the population, especially the unprotected and the vulnerable.

What are the police doing about it? Have they become so jaded about crime that they’re no longer bothered by it, even when it happens at their doorstep?

How many news items have we come across lately about policemen or soldiers leading the commission of crime? Commentators soften the blow by saying that there are more good men in uniform than crooked ones, but that’s no consolation. What we see in the news is that too many crimes involve the very people who are supposed to prevent them.

There’s a debate over whether the crime rate is up or down. It’s said that the police brass even duped President Aquino into claiming in his State of the Nation Address that crime is down. But this doesn’t matter, either. Whether it’s up or down, crime is crime, and news of it is all over the media.

And it frightens away foreign visitors. Which in turn must bother Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez. He has high hopes of hiking the number of tourists to the country. We have been laggards in the tourism industry compared to our neighbors, who seem to know how to draw the foreigners. Poor physical infrastructure makes it hard for visitors to travel around. Tourism facilities are bad, and when they’re good, they’re expensive, throwing domestic holidaymakers out of the loop.

And then there’s crime.

There are countries where foreigners are untouchable by criminals. The police and criminals have a tacit agreement that foreigners must not be touched, precisely because it’s bad for the country’s image. And it works in some countries; criminals abide by the arrangement, which proves that there’s honor even among criminals.

Can it work here, an accommodation between criminals and the police that expatriates in the country must not be molested, and indeed be protected?

It might be a long shot. Filipino criminals are equal-opportunity predators who respect no one, foreigner or local, and they may not be too willing to strike out one category off their list of prey.

But can it be done? In theory, it can. The police, theoretically, have the muscle and persuasion to tell criminals to lay off tourists. After all, it’s said that the police control crime syndicates. After all, it’s said that pickpockets, snatchers and street con artists are under the aegis of the police. After all, it’s said that if you lose something to a pickpocket, the cop on the beat can retrieve it for you because he knows who stole it.

It would be ideal if the government can make crime disappear. Some local governments are said to be headed by executives who use an iron fist in controlling criminality in their jurisdictions. Surely the reader can readily think of two or three such localities.

Criminals respect force. But we don’t need liquidation squads that are said to keep certain cities criminal-free. What we need is an efficient police force that is itself straight and conscientious. We need courts that are impervious to outside influence, that will dispense justice swiftly and evenly. And we need laws that make criminals pay for their crimes.

We can make our streets safe for all, foreigners and locals alike. We can start by getting the tourism secretary to demand that the police do their job.

Leandro “DD” Coronel’s commentaries have appeared in various Manila dailies and are currently published in Fil-Am newspapers in Washington and Toronto.

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