The police top brass can protest until they are blue in the face that the incidence of crime is going down and that the peace and order situation is normal, but the ordinary citizen knows that crime is on a rampage in the streets of many towns and cities.
The daily reports in the media tell the real story: high-profile as well as minor crimes are striking fear into the hearts of people. They no longer feel safe traveling in the streets or even staying in their homes, as witness the case of a woman who was killed when she opened in her sala a supposed "gift" that contained a grenade.
As Mr Editor pointed out "reports in the media tell the real story".
When something is given Media bandwidth, it becomes the "real" story.
This is not to diminish the value of the outrage that the events that transpired over the last several weeks deserve. The brazenness of these acts of violence are an affront to civility and decency. But most crimes have a thicker plot. And these recent ones are not exempt.
Perhaps, consider then the murder of car dealers in Manila, the gunning down of a journalist in Palawan, the bombing of buses in Manila and Cotabato, and the routine snatching of mobile phones from their hapless owners in broad daylight. They make headline news which then get tongues wagging and tweets flying among the chattering classes. Not surprisingly we de facto "officially" now have a "crime wave" gripping the nation.
In considering these sensational crimes, we seem to forget the underlying criminal infrastructure that had for the longest time simmered beneath the surface that is our society's popular consciousness.
Members of "civil society" routinely patronise goods traded by criminals
Snatched mobile phones and carjacking are merely the harvesting activities of what is a vast underground trade in contraband and stolen goods that spans the Philippine archipelago. Indeed, "underground" is a misleading word here, as most of these goods are retailed in broad daylight. Patrons of these goods are, in fact, likely to be the same people we hobnob with in "polite" society in the sterilised "cafes" of Makati everyday.
We live our comfy lives in the midst of mansions built by criminal activity and share the road with cars souped up with chop-chopped parts bought in Quezon City. Today, the spotlight is now upon the victims of this banal criminality that our own lives are interwoven into, and indignation is directed towards the perpetrators of these one-time incidents. But there is still a hard question we need to answer: Are we prepared to own up to our own complicity in the less-sensational criminal infrastructure that underlies these violent crimes?
Terrorism is a dirty word
President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III had earlier dismissed as "not based on firm intelligence" travel advisories coming from the US, Australian, British, Canadian, French and New Zealand governments stating that terrorist attacks were likely in the Philippines. So the President's words in the "statement" he issued right after the 25th January EDSA bus bombing to me kind of ring hollow (translated to English from what was a primarily Tagalog-worded statement):
In line with all this, the PNP and AFP intelligence services have been directed to review all threat assessments "with the end in view of hardening all of the areas that are considered under threat". Efforts have been on-going even before this incident such as the taking stock of all AFP and PNP equipment, specially considering incidents that involved the use of C4. Control over these consumables is being tightened.
Recall that the fall of the Roman Empire was preceded by a short period when barbarian hordes nipped at its frontiers while Rome itself partied and oohed and aahed its cultural magnificence.
So whereas we would all like to think that criminality is -- horrors! -- in bed with our police forces and politicians and everyone else who are not us, it seems that this is an incomplete truth that we have latched on to. The complete truth is something less palatable -- and it points to the very people who, today, are most vocal about being afraid of what their own fixation on consumerism, keeping-up-with-the-jones's, and "ja-porms" has wrought, as well as their renewed unease with which they now regard the fragile peace upon which we had built the veneer of civility and cultural sophistication of our premier population, commercial, and cultural centres.
It is perhaps a simple case of us currently being victims of a weak national government that now emboldens some to test what was once an uneasy peace our society enjoys with banal criminality.