Crime casts shadow over Philippines image makeover

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SWAT members of the Philippine National Police make the rounds of business establishments as they go on patrol in Pasay City. AP

MANILA, Philippines – Even by the usual standards in the Philippines, where crime is an accepted part of life, the brazen evening robbery of a jewelry store in one of the world’s largest malls shocked residents of Manila.

Shoppers at the SM Megamall, which attracts up to a million people a day, were forced to duck for cover as shots rang out. After scooping up gold jewelry, police say the robbers intentionally sparked panic by firing into the air, allowing them to mix in with frightened customers running for the exits to make their escape.

The robbery carried out with seeming impunity a week ago, along with one in another mall where the thieves exchanged fire with security guards, have alarmed the police, worried the President who is trying to boost the image of the country and left residents of the Philippine capital feeling helpless.

“You get a feeling of insecurity because you never know what is going to happen to you,” said Ces Afuang, a manager for an insurance company in Manila.

Security problems are not new to the Philippines — kidnappings and bombings have plagued the south of the country for decades — but the latest rash of violence comes as President Benigno Aquino III tries to shore up foreign investments and restore Filipinos’ confidence in their government.

The high-profile crimes resulted in morning radio shows poking fun at the government’s tourism slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” The campaign was launched last year to show that the Southeast Asian nation of 7,100 islands has left behind its old image of a volatile, chaotic place. A record 4.3 million tourists visited last year, with the government setting an ambitious target of 10 million arrivals by 2016.

Few crimes hit closer to home than those in malls, the place where residents of the capital love to shop, eat and hang out.

Even though two of the robbers in the Megamall heist were caught on security cameras, no arrests have been made. There have also been no arrests in the fatal shooting a few days later of a businessman who had just withdrawn money from a bank in San Juan, one of sprawling Manila’s satellite cities. The following day, motorcycle-riding men robbed a money transfer outlet in Parañaque City, a middle-class neighborhood, then fired at a police car to make their getaway, although no one was hurt.

“These criminals … if they want to enter an establishment, they can do so. The security guards are just standing there,” said bank manager Enrico Santos. He added that when security is tightened after an incident, it is usually temporary. “After a while, say a month or two later, they go back. Security is lax.”

Santos said he worries about his family and has started sending them messages telling them to stay away from certain places.

The government is aware of the problem and consequences for the country’s image, but Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said there are not enough police on the streets and intelligence gathering is lacking.

“I am, like everyone else, also alarmed that despite the measures taken by the Philippine National Police, including checkpoints and others, these criminals are trying to challenge the government,” he said in a radio interview.

National police chief Alan Purisima said Aquino called him and Roxas to a meeting last week and ordered them to step up the anti-crime campaign, specifically targeting armed robbers.

Aquino said earlier that the national crime volume had fallen 10 percent from 2011 and 2012, but expressed concern that it was rising in the Philippine capital. According to the latest police data, crime rates in Manila jumped 57 percent in the first half of 2012 from a year earlier.

Bishops from the dominant Roman Catholic Church expressed alarm at what they called a culture of impunity and the rise in unsolved crimes. In a pastoral letter, they said that “extrajudicial killings, unsolved crimes and kidnappings continue and the government is not able or lacks the political will to prosecute the perpetrators and touch powerful people.”

The proliferation of firearms — police estimate there are up to 1 million unregistered weapons — have fueled violence and insurgencies in the country for years despite calls from lawmakers and pressure groups for tighter gun control. A dysfunctional justice system with crowded jails and underpaid prosecutors and judges has produced a massive backlog where a criminal trial can stretch over six years or more.

Organized crime is a problem too, as is political corruption.

The unease about crime in Manila and whether the government can get a handle on it comes ahead of congressional and provincial elections in May. Philippine elections are usually passionate events that are marred by violence. Authorities have declared a gun ban and set up checkpoints to confiscate weapons carried in public.

“A growing crime rate is the worry of everybody, election period or not,” said Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes.

The country’s top policeman, Purisima, who took charge of the 148,000-strong police force just more than a month ago, said among the options considered were daytime checkpoints and sharing police radio frequencies with private security guards and traffic authorities to speed up police response times. At the same time, daytime checkpoints could slow already notoriously sluggish traffic, he said.

He ordered security guards in malls to carry weapons and get better training, to avoid being “sitting ducks” for armed robbers.

Afuang, the insurance company manager, said she didn’t think security checks for weapons at malls were anything more than cursory inspections.

“I have never seen anyone being told to step aside” for closer scrutiny, she said. “You feel afraid because these things are happening close to you. Do you just go home and stay at home?”

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  • buttones

    Well this is a concern of many of us- our personal safety, I mean a good GDP is fine but there are more serious issues…life and death issues actually…

  • Guest

    It’s not a makeover that this country needs.

    It’s honesty. Honesty to admit that crime rate is in fact going up and criminals continue to operate with impunity. PNP Chief Purisima is doing the Filipino people a disservice whenever he downplays the gravity of the situation and dismisses them as isolated incidents. Mar Roxas is lying to the people when he continues to claim that crime stats seem to go up because people are more willing to report crimes now. Dishonesty of Purisima and Roxas will not solve the problem, nor will a makover. Honesty will. Time to be honest Allan and Mar!

  • http://www.yahoo.com JOSE RIZAL

    Street crimes has been rampant…but the “Tuwad Na Daan” has been positioning only to known political enemies to carry out the vindictiveness of a psychological ill person (who happened to experience his mother’s political agony towards the political enemies).

    The “Tuwad Na Daan” is not aimed at the daily miseries brought about by the “daily street crimes” so rampant in Cubao, Caloocan, Novaliches, some parts in Quezon City, Pasay City, Muntinlupa, some parts in Makati, Valenzuela, Malabon… 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4R3GZTGML26TV2VGS6RVHP2THM Fred

    If only the police will do their job seriously . . . . .But when?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/QNRASSQRCZ4ZI5XY3ADNEUFBWM rUfneK

      why do you have to trust your life to the polpolice? buy a legally licensed gun! practice defensive shooting.

  • Albert Einstien

    ONLY solution to high  CRIME  rate  is HONEST to GOODNESS HOUSE CLEANING…of PNP & AFP…they should remove & dismantle the CRIME SYNDICATES already in the service..from general to PO 1 to private…if they can ADDRESS this in 2013…crime rate in 2014 on wards will go DOWN to 85%…THEN INVESTORS will come in…….they dont NEED a HIGH end CONSULTANT to TELL THAT….i pity this government…ALL it say is PURE AIR…ALL PROPAGANDA…from gdp to crimes to prices to living standard…pitiful…so INCOMPETENT….& IMMATURE

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WWOTOJASNHRXAP77UNRETCZZGQ ulrich j

    It’s more fun in the Philippines!!!!   doesnt it?

    fun for the criminals and the kotongcops  as well…

    • ben311

      and senatong.

  • mekeni62

    what a way to attract foreign investors….and they’re lining up.

  • Ommm

    The problem is not the crime but the police inability to solve the crimes…

    There is a limited number of bad guys yet our police seem totally inept at successful investigations. Random murders all over the country and the police solve very few of them. Either corruption is part of the puzzle or we must admit our detectives are under paid and totally unqualified to preform the job they are tasked with…. We need some REAL police who can solve crime…..

  • im_not_convinced

    crime rate should go down after the elections. the hoodlums responsible will already be elected by then and they can start pillaging the government coffers instead.

    ironic how foreigners are shocked by the fact that we have so many armed security guards and yet we locals feel (rightly) that there are not enough law enforcement officers and security personnel in the metro.

  • catalansbarce

    One of the contributing factors why our men in uniform lack of courage and motivation
    to apprehend criminals because of our judicial system. They caught criminals by risking
    their life but after a lenghty trials.., the criminals are acquitted.. lack of evidence or failure
    of authorities to execute the rules of law in arresting the criminals and etc…, And that is
    my observation.., and I think it is time for our legislators to legislate laws to troubleshoot
    this lapses in our judicial system to give adrenalin for our authorities to hunt criminals.., and
    at the end of the day.., their efforts will not turn in vain.

  • Ben Loong

    Honestly, this article severely overplays the insecurity angle. An insurance company manager like one one quoted in the article would have their own bias when it comes to such things.

    It did get something right: crime is nothing new in the Philippines. Reading the local news section on the Inquirer there’s always been some crime committed somewhere. But people are used to it.  The threat of crime hardly stops people from going about their day.

    And it certainly hasn’t stopped authorities from trying to crack down on crime. For example, in Makati City where I live, local authorities are fostering closer working ties with mall security in light of what happened at Mega Mall.

  • Jane Tan

    \Bishops from the dominant Roman Catholic Church expressed alarm at what they called a culture of impunity and the rise in unsolved crimes. In a pastoral letter, they said that “extrajudicial killings, unsolved crimes and kidnappings continue and the government is not able or lacks the political will to prosecute the perpetrators and touch powerful people.\

    Maybe you should stop encouraging the proliferation of poverty.

    \Afuang, the insurance company manager, said she didn’t think security checks for weapons at malls were anything more than cursory inspections.\

    I don’t even know why we have those detectors when all of them beep and the guards don’t even bother to check or stop the people just casually walking by without having their stuff checked.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NRWTU6IJHSKNPKIUYMZNJI2AZY bulax2000

    A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ON HOW INEPT THE PNP IS:
    i’ve been a victim of a crime, was hacked by a bolo in my head by a shabu addict running amok. 20 minutes before it happened i already called the police, i told them that a guy who seems high on drugs was challenging everyone to a fight (he was not yet in possession of the bolo) no one accepted the challenge and so he left, he came back moments later with the bolo, everyone started running, i too was running for my life. the police never came, well they came, sort of…i was already in the hospital 45 minutes after i was hacked in the head.
    FACTS OF THE CASE:
    1. a police outpost is no more than 50 meters away, it was empty.
    2. the police station is only about  200 meters away.
    3. according to people who know the suspect (Ryan Angeles of Sta. Rosa Norte, Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte), he just stayed home after the incident. he was not arrested although he was a known “drug addict”. he was indeed high on drugs during the incident.
    4. I filed a frustrated homicide case against him.
    LESSONS LEARNED:
    1. I should NOT HAVE TRUSTED the POLICE
    2. I should have been a faster runner.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/QNRASSQRCZ4ZI5XY3ADNEUFBWM rUfneK

      imagine if you had a handgun legally owned and with ptc… you could have changed the odds entirely…

      poor filipino’s… doesn’t even had a choice… takbo lang pala lol

  • disqusted0fu

    Crimes will hardly be prevented  and reduced in this administration. Very little will be solved if most officials more often talk than act. Pnoy and his people talk hard, but they hardly work. Accomplishments here, programs there, bragging everywhere, but positive results are nowhere to be found.

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