Analysis

No one is safe, who is in charge?

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Since the killing of 13 people at a police-military checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon, on Jan. 6, not a single day has passed without the media reporting a rising tide of robberies and break-ins into shops and homes in Metro Manila. In the Atimonan carnage, the National Bureau of Investigation has determined that the victims died not as a result of a shootout between the police-military team and a criminal group, but, rather, an extralegal execution by state law enforcement authorities.

The NBI has decided to bring criminal charges against the soldiers and police supposedly involved in a “conspiracy” to tamper with the evidence to make the killings look like the results of a shootout.  The Atimonan episode is just a high-profile demonstration of the general breakdown of law and order involving criminal law-breakers and also breaches in discipline of law enforcers. This breakdown of law and order has generated a crime spike in the past two months that has alarmed the Aquino administration. The crime wave has also caused concern among the general public that the country is not a safe place to live in, and not the economic paradise painted by the government in its claims of incandescent economic growth

Late in January, Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas reported that the President was so alarmed by the spate of robberies in shopping malls and other high-profile crimes in Metro Manila despite a nationwide gun ban. Roxas said this had prompted him to meet with Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima  and other senior police officials to discuss armed robberies in Metro Manila in recent days. “The President himself is alarmed and he is monitoring all these incidents,” Roxas told the PNP authorities. He cited robberies at a jewelry store in SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City and at a Western Union remittance center in Parañaque City last week. In the Megamall heist, six men, one of them armed with a .45 cal. pistol, smashed glass display cases  and made off with at least 200 pieces of jewelry. Unarmed security guards failed to stop the robbers.  Roxas said there was public concern that the gun ban and police checkpoints did not appear to deter criminals, who seem to be “taunting the government.”

Roxas blamed the personnel shortage of the PNP for its failure to stop crimes. The Department of Interior and Local Government is considering a security plan involving the deployment of 8,000 to 10,000 security guards in Makati’s commercial district, and requiring the installation in shopping malls, stores, banks and financial institutions of closed-circuit television cameras as part of security arrangements.

The rash of robberies and break-ins has triggered questions from the people on how safe they are from holdups and muggings. Many ask, “Who is in charge?” and “Who will protect us from criminals?” The breakdown of law and order has become a big political issue in the face of the midterm elections, in which the administration is seeking a fresh vote of confidence. The issue of law and order, more potent than the administration’s economic performance, is undermining the electoral chances of its candidates for the Senate, which it seeks to control. The Catholic Church hierarchy has also taken the administration to task for the law and order deterioration, claiming that the government was ruling “from a vacuum,” and was virtually nonexistent.

In response to the criticism over the crime surge, the PNP fell back on a Social Weather Stations survey last December showing a high public approval rating of its performance. The survey, commissioned  by the PNP, showed it “posting an all-time record of +50 (rating) since May 1998.” But this finding is dated and absolutely useless, and does not reflect public opinion on security events since the Jan. 6 Atimonan killings.

Purisima said in a briefing for Inquirer editors and staff last week that only 29 percent of respondents said  they had reported incidents to the police, indicating there was not much confidence in reporting matters to the police. “We still haven’t captured 71 percent, especially  those who have experienced  incidents like snatching or some break-ins into their house. We ask our countrymen to report crimes no matter how small they are so that these data will be used in studying crimes, in analyzing crime trends, so that we will know where we will deploy our policemen,” Purisima said.

He also said that the crime rate remained low and that it was merely “perception” that there had been a rise in criminality. In fact, he claimed, criminals now are not as brazen as before, when they were armed with high-powered firearms. “There have not been much bank robberies lately,” he said. “The criminals are now after soft targets like pawnshops.”

The SWS survey also found 16 percent of respondents dissatisfied with the police, and 18 percent undecided. It found that 6.4 percent of the respondents, representing 3.5 million people, had been robbed or had their pockets picked, and 3.2 percent, representing 1.7 million, had their homes broken into. On the other hand, 2.1 percent, representing 321,000 persons, were car theft victims, and 0.5 percent, or 291,000 persons, were victims of  violence. Despite the high satisfaction rating, the survey also showed that only 20 percent  of robberies and only 36 percent of house break-ins were actually reported to authorities.

The survey further found that 31 percent of respondents said they did not report crimes because these were “too small a thing to bother” authorities with, while 10 percent said they expected no action on their complaints.

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