IN the telling and retelling made in the days after the event, the most dramatic moment was not when the burglar slipped in after the grandmother, grandchild and nanny entered the house, leaving the gate and front door open as, according to her four-p.m. habit, our neighbor would then water the plants while her “apo” watched television.
Nor was it when the intruder knocked her down, hit her head, and tried to stab her with his two knives.
It wasn’t also when, despite pain and shock, the grandmother still made sure her grandchild and yaya escaped the intruder, running out barefoot, crying hysterically but also alerting neighbors.
In our village in Lapu-Lapu City, the retelling escalates after neighbors rush to prevent the stabbing, disarm the burglar, and pull off his mask—revealing the familiar, smiling-but-now-contorted features of the man-next-door.
Criminality—the vulnerability of citizens to its daily onslaught and the inability of authorities to curb crime, let alone prevent it—is one of the “decades-long issues,” along with poverty and traffic, that the Philippine Daily Inquirer tagged as priorities that deserve to be on the campaign platforms of the five contenders vying to be chosen this May as the country’s 16th president.
Only one presidentiable—Miriam Defensor-Santiago—explicitly states in the broadsheet’s series on electoral agenda an anti-crime stance: “launch aggressive fight against illegal drugs”.
Another candidate—Rodrigo “The Enforcer” Duterte—offers a solution that strikes at the heart of Pinoys who still remember the darkest years of the country under martial law.
In a political rally, the Davao City mayor declared he does not only favor bringing back the death sentence but also executing the criminals in public. He promised to take “full responsibility” for lawmen accused of killing criminals.
Macabre and horrendous, Duterte’s version of peace and justice would not have gone unapplauded in our neighborhood. A few nights before the attempt on our neighbor, we drove past a street commotion.
According to Flor M. Gitgano’s Feb. 11 report in Sun.Star Cebu, a gunman and accomplice ambushed a local official known for his fight against illegal drugs. Basak barangay captain Isabelito Darnayla survived multiple gunshot wounds.
When our family first settled in the neighborhood in the early 1990s, it was so bucolic, we longed for more public utility vehicles instead of grazing cows in the vicinity.
The prosperity came, as well as crime. Before our neighbor got assaulted in her home, a rash of break-ins hit our street. Suspicion focused on our neighbor’s attacker, who had a history of domestic abuse, unemployment, and an addiction to illegal drugs.
Over a thick undercurrent of suspicions, fear and anxiety are the signs: a familiar face emerging from a burglar’s mask, a tricycle left skewed on the street (Darnayla’s attackers rode a tricycle, the king of the road in sitio Kagudoy).
The signs confirm every citizen’s nightmare: crime has crept out of the news and lives nearby.
The night of his arrest, our neighbor’s attacker died while in the custody of the authorities. When we go home, the sight of two houses, blazing side by side in the night, does not just weave tales of a victim who can no longer sleep in her home and of an accused who died before the process of justice could begin.
These stories are about lawlessness, a suburban affair.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 14, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column