It’s every parent’s nightmare. You go out into the street with your kid in tow and, in the blink of an eye as you accomplish your business, you turn and find your child is gone.
Winnifer Mendoza has just lived through the nightmare. She was buying load credits for her mobile phone at a neighborhood store last week when she realized that her child was missing. A security camera later showed Lovelio Mendoza Jr., one year and seven months old, following an unidentified man several blocks away from where his mother was, and then being grabbed by the man at a store on Sto. Niño Street in Barangay San Antonio, Quezon City. The kidnapping happened in broad daylight—at 10 a.m., along a busy street.
Three days after he was snatched, the boy was reunited with his parents. A Parañaque City couple returned the child, saying he had been “sold” to them for P1,200 by a man claiming to be his father (the original asking price was P5,000). The Parañaque couple later learned from news reports and social networking sites that the boy was a kidnap victim, so they texted his parents, who reportedly ignored the messages at first because the phone numbers they had made public through the media to seek leads to their child’s whereabouts had been inundated with cruel prank calls.
Such is the compounded horror one must live through in a child-abduction case in these parts. And the police? They aren’t of much help, it seems—not with the hasty way Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina, director of the National Capital Region Police Office, has denied that a syndicate is responsible for the multiple reported incidences of missing children in the last few weeks. These are just isolated cases, he said—the doing of certain “individuals” and not by an organized crime group.
Really? Without a formal, wide-ranging investigation, he’s certain of that fact this early?
Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima, meanwhile, has taken another tack, summarily attributing such cases to the negligence or carelessness of parents or guardians. The proof he cited? Just one—Winnifer Mendoza and her son: “With [regard] to the missing kids, if you look at the video of the missing boy, [you will see that he] was left alone, giving opportunity to individuals with criminal intent to commit crime. So we should not give them the opportunity,” he said.
Quite true. In this day and age, it’s foolish to let kids out of one’s sight, especially in public places. Parents have to be doubly vigilant in the face of the increasing brazenness of a new breed of criminals, to whom the usual deterrents—the glare of daylight, for instance, or the presence of other people—seem no longer a cause for hesitation.
But, let’s be clear about this, too. While parents have the primary responsibility to look after their children, the government has a corresponding responsibility, through its law-enforcement authorities, to keep the streets and other public places safe for use by its citizens, however carefree or oblivious to danger they may be. It is the government’s job to enforce law and order in the community, such that parents and families need not, in fact, fear going out of their homes with their children in tow, armed only with the assurance that the police can keep the peace—and the criminals at bay.
PNP records say about 38 children were reported abducted in Metro Manila alone last year. “But not all of them can be called abductions, because out of the 38 cases, 36 were resolved and the victims were returned to the care of their parents,” said Espina. “Some fled their houses while others strayed far while playing.”
Thirty-six out of 38? That is an astounding accomplishment report by any standard, and one that must be met with scrutiny and skepticism. In any case, if the public’s palpable alarm at the latest string of reported child kidnappings is any indication, no one is buying it. The outcry is as much an expression of collective fear and anxiety, as it is of anger at the widely perceived inability of the police force—and by extension the government—to solve such cases in a timely and satisfactory manner.
Malacañang has expressed concern at the latest developments, but it must do more than issue pro forma statements of commiseration to victimized families and marching orders to the police to stop the depredations. The terror of child kidnapping strikes at the very core of family life and public well-being in this country. It must be crushed at all costs.