OPINION: Criminality up close and personal

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Criminality in the streets has always been present, not just in cities or busy metro areas, but even in the countryside where sudden holdups and violence make walking at night a distinct danger.

You’d think, with all his anticrime rhetoric and antidrugs posing, that President Rodrigo Duterte would preside over an era of “peace and order,” with ordinary Filipinos able to move around with little fear of criminality or violence.

That was indeed the promise two years ago. Many Filipinos, even those who didn’t vote for PDuts, were initially lulled by the expectation that criminality would at least be tempered. Even the initial killings, whether by police forces or the still-amorphous gunmen, were seen as necessary evils.

But as the days wore on and the death toll rose ever so steadily, the stoic acceptance morphed into anxiety, trepidation, intimidation, fear.

Among the first to feel the rising levels of stress were urban poor residents, whose streets and alleys and even their humble homes became active battlegrounds. Rightfully, they felt themselves primary targets not just of criminals at large, but even of police. Law enforcers regularly conducted raids and searches, bagging even innocent bystanders, many of them youth, some of whom ended up dead, their demise dismissed as being self-inflicted because they had supposedly fought back—“nanlaban.”

Then came the spate of killings of local officials in such astonishing locales like a provincial jail, a public official flag-raising ceremony, even a national highway. Impunity is a word that comes to mind.

Official rhetoric is no help, either. When cusses and rough language, replete with threats of killing, mayhem and state violence, pepper the speeches of the President, an atmosphere of thuggery is created. Hatred fills the air, differences of opinion erupt into actual skirmishes, and hate speech and threats of harm cram social and other media.

And so, we have come to the present time and environment. Criminality in the streets has always been present, not just in cities or busy metro areas, but even in the countryside where sudden holdups and violence make walking at night a distinct danger.

What makes the present situation worse, though, is the sense that criminality is much too common these days to merit even a howl of protest. The police don’t care, and even the simple act of standing by a street corner can get you picked up for the “crime” of loitering, especially if you’re shirtless.

For our family, the rising tide of criminality has turned personal.

A nephew who is boarding away from home to be nearer his workplace was standing on a street corner one early morning waiting for a ride to work when he happened to take out his cell phone. All of a sudden, a stranger approached him and poked what turned out to be an ice pick on his side. When the stranger snatched away his cell phone, my nephew reacted at once. That’s when, he says, he felt a slight pain in his side and just below his collarbone.

Staggering, my nephew walked a few meters before he started throwing up blood. What he can’t forget, he says, is the look of many of the bystanders who looked away when he begged for help, with some of them saying they were too afraid to help.

In all, it turns out that my nephew walked about a kilometer before he arrived at a police outpost in the Guadalupe area—but, to his dismay, found it empty. Some bystanders, it seems, summoned an ambulance which was responding to a vehicular accident on Guadalupe Bridge, and so he was picked up and brought to the Ospital ng Makati.

Only in “Osmak” did medical personnel discover he had been stabbed with an ice pick, which had penetrated one lung and caused its collapse. His abdomen was also quite firm, so doctors opened him up to see if important organs had likewise been hit.

My nephew is now out of Osmak, but is still confined in a private hospital for more observation. The details are still much of a blur to him, but, says his mother, he sometimes wakes up restless and in tears.

The police have been around to get his statement, but his mother says she pleaded with them to please not get “just anybody” to confess to the crime, as is common in these parts. “Criminality” is no longer just a word to our family. It has hit home.

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