Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rampant crime in the country’s NGO capital

Women working and living in the so-called NGO capital of the Philippines are up in arms because of the rampant criminality in the area.

Quezon City’s Teacher’s Village East and West and Barangays Central and Pinyahan and neighboring areas, home to dozens of national and international NGOs (non-government organizations), is a prime spot for criminals who prey mostly on women walking the streets to and from their offices or homes. This area is right behind Quezon City Hall!

Almost every female NGO worker in this prime address has a crime story to tell about herself, her co-employees, friends or neighbors. Cell phone and bag snatching, hold-ups, break-ins, carnapping, name it. Not a few had had not one, but several encounters with criminal elements in this Quezon City area. The perpetrators are mostly on motorcycles.

What a shame that in this place where civil society thrives the devil also thrives. And yes, the streets in this area have names that describe positive Filipino traits such as Malingap, Matahimik, Malakas, Maginoo, Mapagkawanggawa and the like. Look at the directory of civil society groups and when you read those Filipino street names you’d think of the place as special. And so it grates on the ears when one hears a friend say she was attacked on Matahimik St.

Last Friday representatives of NGOs met with officials of Quezon City hall and police and barangay officials of the area. Cristine Ebro of the Asia Europe People’s Forum and Susan Macabuag of the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Foundation led the delegation to city hall to present their case while police and barangay officials also presented police efforts and safety precautions to the victims.

Ebro has been assaulted twice and is still recovering from a recent one. While walking on Matahimik St. two weeks ago at around 3:30 p.m., Ebro was assaulted by motorcycle-riding snatchers wearing full helmets. The snatchers failed to get the bag but Ebro fell and suffered a fractured finger and sprains. The first assault was near Matimtiman and Mahiyain Sts. and also involved motorcycle-riding men.

Last year, Akbayan secretary general Arlene Santos figured in two snatching incidents on Matahimik St. and Matalino St. respectively. In the second incident a man held a box cutter on her neck and grabbed her bag.

Baibonn Sangid, chair of Young Moro Professionals, fell and suffered bruises when a taxi driver stopped and snatched her bag. A month later, Sangid tried to save a young student from hold up men inside a jeepney cruising in front the Philippine Heart Center by offering her cell phone.

Monina Geaga of Sarilaya was a victim of bag snatching near her office on Masikap St. A man alighted from a white car and grabbed her bag. Karen, daughter of Nymia Simbulan of the Philippine Human Rights Information Center was attacked while walking along Mahinhin St. toward Mapagkawanggawa St.

Frances Lo of 11.11.11-Asia, a coalition of Belgian civil society organizations, suffered multiple fractures, torn ligaments and had to undergo surgery after a passenger of a car coming from Maginoo St. grabbed her bag and sent her reeling on the road.

A female foreign missionary was assaulted twice.

In Dec. 2002 I lost my car which was parked on Malakas St. Several readers wrote to say they lost their cars in the same area. To use police language, my car was SWP (stolen while parked), not FT (forcibly taken). Why, cars get stolen even while parked right in their owners’ driveways. I was told of a couple who saw their car being moved out of their garage in the dead of night. Because of that experience, I ended up researching and writing a three-part series on carnapping and I learned a lot about this crime—the how-tos, fake registration, chop-chop, resurrecting dead cars, connivance of insurance companies.

A statement “Women, Reclaim the Safety of Our Streets Now” signed by women representing 62 NGOs appealed to QC mayor Feliciano Belmonte and local officials to keep the streets safe. Boyet Montiel of the mayor’s office met with the women.

“Many of the victims are women who work for NGOs,” the women’s statement said. “They suffered from wounds and psychological trauma. These incidents have created a climate of fear… Our right to movement without fearing for our security and lives has been impaired.”

QC police officials led by Senior Supt. Magtanggol Gatdula invoked lack of police personnel and made a PowerPoint presentation showing the QC area and the police-to-citizen ratio. For an area of 166 sq. km, QC only has 2,700 policemen or a ratio of 16 cops per sq. km. The City of Manila which has only 38 sq. km. has 3,000 cops.

QC has 142 barangays with a population of 2.6 million. The cop-to-citizen ratio is 1:955. The ideal is 1:500.

To make up for their lack in number, police officers asked the women that they be given a chance to met with them again to present enabling and preventive ways. Gatdula said there are three elements in a crime: motive, opportunity and instrumentation. They motive will always be there, he said, but something could be done about the other two elements.

Republic Act 9344 which strengthens the protection of minors involved in criminal activities could pose a problem in prosecution, the police pointed out. Many perpetrators of street crimes are minors who have adults behind them.

Last Friday’s meeting resulted in the setting up of a task force to address this problem. The women and the local officials are working with the police to curb criminality in the area. I hope this works.