The back-to-back killings of two women in Quezon City last week have shocked the public and raised fresh questions about crime in Metro Manila and the security of its residents.
But the cases of Cheryl Agnes Sarmiento, 39, and Teresita Teaño, 34, who met a brutal end only hours apart, did not quite paint the whole picture.
Just how dangerous is it to live in Metro Manila? Let us count the ways.
In Quezon City, the most crime-prone in the National Capital Region, the person most likely to be killed in a violent incident rarely makes the news: male, between the ages of 25 and 50, either jobless or a blue-collar worker living in a slum. The typical setting: a drinking spree at a karaoke bar in the wee hours.
“It usually happens on a Friday especially when it’s payday,” Chief Insp. Rodelio Marcelo, head of the criminal investigation and detection unit of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD), said in an interview.
After a week’s toil and with no work the next day, people enjoy all-night karaoke sessions. But “it takes just a little quarrel with the next table, and there would be an incident,” Marcelo said.
Like the victim, the usual suspect is male, of legal age, and, as in most homicides, a stranger. And the suspect is more likely to use a knife than a gun, Marcelo said.
For the month of May, 64 deaths were recorded on the Quezon City police blotter. Of that number, 19 died from stabbing, another 19 from shooting, and nine were suicides, mostly by hanging.
Other reported deaths resulted from accidents like electrocution and drowning, and natural or undetermined causes. (Deaths by vehicular mishaps are recorded in a separate police office for traffic enforcement.)
By and large, women of middle- and upper-class backgrounds, like Sarmiento and Teaño, rarely become victims of homicide or murder. Even more rarely are they known to commit it.
“Out of 50 persons who get killed in a crime, only one would be a woman,” Marcelo said.
All of the shooting and stabbing deaths involved male victims and perpetrators (except for a female prostitute believed to have stabbed and killed her 60-year-old client in a motel).
The stabbing and shooting victims, with ages ranging from 14 to 62, included three laborers, seven tricycle drivers, and four jobless men. Three were policemen, and six were suspected criminals killed in police operations.
In the dark
The period between sunset and midnight is the killing hour, it would appear. Some 15 stabbing and shooting incidents, or about 23 percent of the total, occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight; eight cases happened from midnight to 6 a.m., and 11 in the day.
Ten of the stabbing and shooting incidents took place in the streets. Three happened inside the victim’s residence, and three more outside the house. Two took place in a karaoke bar, and two each occurred in a “sari-sari” store and a public market.
The more financially stable one is, the lesser the tendency to die in a violent confrontation, Marcelo said. “When it involves people who are well-off, there is less likelihood that they will shoot or stab each other in a fight,” he said.
Which is not to say it never happens at all, as TV director Ricky Rivero discovered.
Strangers on Facebook
Rivero, 39, was stabbed more than 10 times by a man he had invited to sleep over in his home last week.
He said he drove himself to hospital after he was stabbed by Hans Ivan Ruiz, 22, whom he met on Facebook five months ago.
When arrested, Ruiz denied the charge.
Another Facebook relationship that came to a grisly end involved Maria Lisa Dominguez, a female call-center employee who was found dead in her Mandaluyong City condo last week, tied and with stab wounds all over the body.
Dominguez, 44, was reportedly last seen alive with her boyfriend whom she had met on the social networking site.
Chief Supt. Samuel Pagdilao, director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, noted an apparent upward trend in computer crimes, particularly identity theft, libel, estafa (fraud), harassment and hacking, for the first half of the year.
Walk-in complaints of computer crimes from January to June 14 numbered 56, just 26 cases short of the total for the entire 2010, Pagdilao said at a briefing.
But the figures do not include serious crimes that resulted from relationships started on Facebook and other social media sites.
Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr., spokesperson of the Philippine National Police, is wary of “profiling” victims according to gender, income and other demographics. It is not so much the victims’ background as the opportunity they present to the suspect and the latter’s means to accomplish the crime, he said.
Cruz said that while the police had no way of stopping a person’s motive or intent to commit a crime, they could remove the means (by cracking down on unlicensed firearms and other deadly weapons) and thwart the opportunity (by increasing police presence).
“Criminals don’t really choose anyone,” Cruz said in an interview. “As long as they have the means and the opportunity, they can strike anytime and anywhere.”
This is true even for violent carjackings, which typically draw public and media attention because of the blatancy of the attacks and the fact that they usually involve prominent personalities.
In January, public indignation was roused by the discovery of the charred bodies of two car dealers, one of them the son of prominent Marcos lawyer Oliver Lozano. The two were victims of carjackers.
Since the typical car theft targets are sport utility vehicles or luxury sedans, the victims have over the years included actors, businessmen, diplomats, even politicians.
Victims are not necessarily chosen for their backgrounds. “It really depends on what type of vehicle sells in the market,” Supt. Edwin Butacan, spokesperson of the PNP Highway Patrol Group, said at a recent briefing.
What most people find alarming about carjackings is the apparent trigger-happy nature of the perpetrators.
But Butacan said it did not make sense from a business standpoint for car thieves to kill their victims. After all, more media attention would make it harder for them to dispose of the stolen vehicle, he pointed out.
Which is why some cases initially tagged as carjackings may turn out not to be so, Butacan said, citing the Sarmiento and Teaño cases.
Police have said the Sarmiento killing could be a case of mistaken identity, and some officials have raised doubt about carjacking as the primary motive in the Teaño killing.
Sarmiento was driving her husband’s car when armed men blocked her path and shot her on Regalado Street corner Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on June 14.
At 7 the next morning, Teaño was alighting from her brand-new car and about to walk to her yoga class in Kamuning, Quezon City, when she was gunned down and run over by two men who made off with the vehicle.
“The criminals are more daring than the police,” Teaño’s 76-year-old father, Odon Teaño, a former director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, lamented in a press conference.
Highest in Metro
A Social Weather Stations survey on common crime victimization in March 2008—the poll firm’s most recent on the subject—found that Metro Manila (population: 11 million) had the highest number of physical violence cases and property crimes in the country.
Two percent of the respondents had a family member hurt from physical violence in the past six months, higher than the national average of 1.6 percent, the survey said.
Property crime was also highest in Metro Manila, with 10.3 percent and 7 percent having experiences with pickpockets and burglars, respectively.
Families in Metro Manila that lost a vehicle to car thieves were pegged at 7.7 percent, much higher than the national average of 1.5 percent.
The survey was conducted on March 28-31, 2008, using face-to-face interviews with 1,200 adults divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, the balance of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.
But the PNP’s Cruz insisted that Metro Manila was far from being a criminals’ haven. He cited significant drops in the crime rate in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2010.
‘Safer than NY’
In response to the sensational cases, Metro Manila police set up more checkpoints and deployed more patrols, and Malacañang revived an anticrime body to look into heinous crimes.
Cruz said the PNP’s focus was shifting to addressing street crime, particularly through the “Police Integrated Patrol System.”
But he claimed that Metro Manila was safer than American cities like New York and Los Angeles, and was at least as safe as the cities of Baguio and Cebu. “If you look at their crime rates, you will see how safe we are, relatively speaking,” he said.
Even so, Cruz acknowledged that the PNP’s battle was not only against criminality but also the perception that it was helpless to stop it.
The QCPD’s Marcelo lamented that every sensational crime, no matter how isolated, was casting a bad light on the institution.
“We had three months when nothing [major] happened, but it didn’t get reported in the news. One major incident, and people will say, ‘It’s Quezon City again,’” he said, quickly adding: “Of course, that comes with the job.”
Cruz admitted weaknesses in the 138,000-strong PNP, particularly shortage in personnel and lack of equipment.
The police-to-population ratio stands at one officer for every 743 persons, well below the ideal of one for every 500, he said.
“Nothing is stopping people from enrolling at the PNPA (Philippine National Police Academy), but the problem is finding suitable officers, those who are decent and can be good officers,” Cruz said.
Even now, the PNP is trying to solve the problem of “scalawags,” he said, adding that 133 abusive or corrupt officers were fired and 525 slapped with disciplinary sanctions over the past six months as part of efforts to “weed out misfits [from] the ranks.”
In a statement issued last week, PNP Director General Raul Bacalzo said: “Just as we are responsive to the morale and welfare needs of police personnel, and quick to give due recognition for exemplary performance of duty, the PNP is also swift and decisive in addressing issues on misconduct and breach of discipline.”
In the end, it is the citizens who are called upon to protect themselves from violent crime.
“If you’re out in the streets, remember not to call attention to yourself. Don’t wear jewelry, and don’t take out your cell phone in a jeepney,” Marcelo said, repeating the usual police warnings.
People recall the case of Tara Santelices, who valiantly resisted a holdup man in 2008, was shot in the head, lapsed into a coma, and died of heart failure a year later, days short of her 24th birthday.
One night, Tara and a close friend, both of them band members, took a jeepney ride home to Cainta, Rizal province, and found themselves sitting next to a man who pulled out a gun and announced a holdup.
Tara instinctively resisted when the man grabbed her bag, and he shot her in the face before fleeing with the loot.
Cainta police later reported that the man had died in a shoot-out and declared the case closed.
In such cases, the advice that police most commonly give the public is “Don’t resist,” especially when faced with a gun or a knife.
“That doesn’t sound reassuring coming from a policeman … It’s almost as if we’re not doing our job,” Marcelo admitted. “But that’s the advice I always tell my family when they leave the house.”