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At Large

Checkpoints and garbage

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The president himself has expressed doubts about the “shootout” in Quezon province where 13 people, including a police official, two police personnel, and an air force man, were killed.

The combined team of police and military personnel violated several procedures and rules regarding the setting up of checkpoints, said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. Indeed, one puzzling thing about the incident was why so many police and military men were deployed, with 16 policemen and 25 army soldiers stationed a few meters away from the checkpoint, guns at the ready.

One also wonders why the 13 victims were crammed into two SUVs, making them literal sitting ducks inside the vehicles, perhaps leaving them with hardly any room to draw their weapons once they caught sight of the policemen and soldiers massed on the side of the highway.

Commentators have also begun asking questions about the shooting itself: Why didn’t Supt. Alfredo Consemino alight from his vehicle and identify himself? Isn’t it normal procedure for police at a checkpoint to block a moving vehicle so they could inspect its interiors and ascertain the identities of the driver and passengers? And why were most of the bullet holes in the vehicles said to have indicated they came from outside, leading to doubts that what took place was not so much a “shootout” or exchange of fire, as an ambush?

Though he is no expert in ballistics or even crime-scene investigations, P-Noy certainly took the unorthodox step of expressing public doubts about the claims that authorities have made about the incident, vowing “justice” for the victims and their survivors.

Roxas, for his part, expressed puzzlement at the presence on the scene of a senior police officer who had been previously implicated in suspicious ambushes and shootouts, including one in Ortigas which was captured on video and another in Parañaque where 16 people died, including a bystander and his 7-year-old daughter.

* * *

Motorists have long been wary of police and military checkpoints, since stories have abounded of these being manned either by robbery gangs or corrupt police out to make a quick buck. This may be why the Philippine National Police issued official guidelines for the setup and maintenance of these checkpoints, including signs declaring the presence of an official checkpoint, and the conspicuous presence of an official marked vehicle and uniformed personnel.

But with the shootout or rubout in Quezon, can we blame ordinary citizens for being all the more skeptical and scared of such checkpoints? For all we know, the drivers and passengers of the two SUVs racing through the highway in Quezon could have spotted the clump of heavily armed men waiting for them and decided that the best and safest step for them was to speed ahead and escape a possible ambush.

Still, if they were fired upon while they were moving, how to explain the fact that at least one passenger was shot right between the eyes?

Many explanations have been offered for the shootout, including a simmering rivalry involving illegal gambling, drugs, or both in the area between two factions of police and military men. But the brazen manner in which the shooting took place indicates the utter confidence of shady law enforcers that they could get away with the most egregious crimes carried out in the name and pretext of law and order.

* * *

And now on to other crimes.

A crime against the environment, if not against public hygiene, is what took place in the recent Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, which drew millions of devotees in a roiling, fervid mass.

“Massive littering” is how the EcoWaste Coalition describes the situation in Luneta Park, where the image of the Black Nazarene was brought before it made its way back to Quiapo Church, along the route through the densest parts of Manila, and outside the church and on Plaza Miranda in front of it.

In fact, if you’re eating your breakfast while reading this, I would advise you to skip the next few paragraphs.

“In Rizal Park,” says an EcoWaste statement, “devotees who attended an overnight vigil turned the 10-hectare open field facing the Quirino Grandstand into [a] virtual dumpsite as they left piles of garbage shortly after the procession started subsequent to the early-morning Mass.

“In Quiapo, the garbage situation [was] at its worst as many residents, visitors and vendors threw away discards all over the area, including plastic bags, plastic bottles and cups, plastic straws, polystyrene food and beverage containers, food wrappers, cigarette butts and bamboo skewers.

“Portable toilets or ‘portalets’ installed in the vicinity of Plaza Miranda were not immediately collected, leaving a pungent-smelling combination of the toxic stench of urine and the unpleasant smell of human wastes.”

* * *

But even amid this rather malodorous situation, the group noted and praised the work, however frustrating, of volunteers, including parish groups and government agencies, in trying to stem the tide of garbage and waste.

“While utterly saddened by the prevalent littering,” the EcoWaste Coalition lauded “the waste pickers and eco-volunteers from the government and civil society groups who immediately cleaned the areas along the procession and retrieved recyclable items from the garbage that nearly covered the streets.”

“We salute the waste pickers, who readily look after the immediate recovery of discards that could have ended up in canals, dumps, or burned… polluting the environment, and endangering the health of the people,” it added. Government workers who joined the cleanup were from the Metro Manila Development Authority and Manila’s Department of Public Services, among others.


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