COMMENTARY: How to really keep the community safe

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews / 26 May) – President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s hard-line approach in combating criminality is absolutely necessary. We are all sick and tired of criminals, both petty and bigtime, ruining our dreams of living the good life.

From the “rugby boys” snatching bags in the streets, to the akyat-bahay degenerates pillaging our homes, to the sickening laglag bala syndicate in our airports, to the PDAF trio and their cohorts plundering the public coffers ─ all these villains are in everyone’s cross-hairs now.

Note however that this admission does not automatically mean Filipinos do not value basic human rights. Although, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) can certainly do more in terms of educating communities at the grassroots level about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, it has become imperative for the CHR to be more assertive in explaining the importance of preserving our country’s human rights regime in light of the presumptive House Speaker’s warning that the enactment of “Draconian” laws against criminality is inevitable.

Case in point is the “Flores de Pusher” conducted recently in Batangas. This publicity stunt was a patent violation of human rights. And we should all be embarrassed about such a crude punishment still happening in our country. The only outcome that can assuage our guilt in this instance is if other criminals get the message clearly. But still, the sad reality is none of these disgusting felons will be missed if they disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow.

Amidst talks of reviving the death penalty, of arming Barangay Tanods, and of condoning vigilante justice, let us first remember that the fundamental purpose of keeping the peace and maintaining pubic order is to preserve the health and harmony of the community. We want to get rid of criminal elements in our society because we want to go about our daily lives without fear.

While we all appreciate talk of crime rates going down, what we ultimately want is to be able to confidently walk the streets, alone or with friends, at any time of the day. We want to go to work, have fun outside with family, and engage with what life has to offer without feeling threatened all the time by unsavoury characters lurking around.

Therefore, keeping the public safe and secure should rightfully be treated as a significant local concern as well. In fact, local governments can do more in maintaining peace and order than we possibly realize.

It is not that difficult to understand that anti-social behaviour is fundamentally the result of a self-centered mindset. People who do not see themselves as merely a part of the larger community lack the propensity to act for the benefit of the whole. Prime examples here would be littering and counter-flowing.

Crucially, when left unchecked, this me-first paradigm can evolve into a complete lack of respect for the common good. The logical end of this progression would be a pervading culture of impunity.

Some will argue that this eventuality is now firming up its grip in the country as manifested by two kinds of Filipinos: the perpetuators of criminal acts and the by-standers who are doing nothing about them. The seemingly unstoppable plundering ways of public officials would be an extreme example we can all relate to.

Clearly, the lack of community empathy in the consciousness of some people makes the complete breakdown of our society a very real and frightening possibility. Therefore, any proposal on how to keep the nation safe and secure has to include first and foremost a drastic move to stem this wave of individualism and selfishness growing in the minds of Filipinos.

It is worth noting that in Australia, the most hated scourge of our time, terrorism, is generally viewed as a “community issue”. Meaning, the people play a significant role in the prevention of terror attacks as well as in the capture of perpetuators.

I know enlisting the help of assets within the community is already implemented in an ad hoc basis by our security forces. The bottom-line here is, there has to be measures and mechanisms in place to facilitate the active participation of the general public in maintaining peace and order in our communities. On this score, increasing the number of tanods, professionalizing their peace-keeping skills and significantly increasing their pay are reforms that can actually make communities safer.

Clearly therefore, only a public safety framework underpinned by a deep allegiance for the common good (aka the bayanihan spirit) can produce the outcomes we all desire.

So communities have to pose this critical question to their local officials ─ How can the local government strengthen the camaraderie and cohesion within the community?

I must reiterate that the community solidarity referred to here is that sort of neighbourly love which can sustain a deep level of cooperation and commitment to one another. Think Banaue Rice Terraces. So obviously giving away birthday cakes and free movie passes are not enough.

According to the principal author of the Local Government Code (LGC), former Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr., Section 16 or the General Welfare Clause grants local governments “the power to exercise just about any act that will benefit their constituencies.”

Ostensibly, the lynchpin of local autonomy is the welfare of the community. The complicated structure of decentralization established by the LGC is held together by this very core principle ― to do those acts that will benefit the people.

Accordingly, the General Welfare Clause clearly empowers local governments to do what is both necessary and appropriate to promote and preserve the health and well-being of everyone in the community. Surely our local leaders can offer more modern solutions to keep the community safe and secure. Simply reverting to medieval forms of punishment for perpetuators should not impress us at all.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer. He is presently completing a Masters of Law and Development in Melbourne Law School. He recently published a book entitled, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.)