Feeling unsafe in Iloilo City

The cold-blooded murder of Sun Yat Sen high school basketball coach Nestor Calisterio as he was walking in downtown Iloilo City last Tuesday came as a big shock to its peace-loving constituents. It’s a good thing the lone suspect, Samuel Manejero, was captured after a brief chase, in which he also shot and wounded a 19-year old coed and took a businessman hostage. This latest crime underscores the growing sense of impunity for criminals in operating in Iloilo City.

A few months ago, an insurance agent was also shot at point-blank range as he sipped coffee at a small cafeteria on Ledesma St. by motorcycle-riding gunmen. Sometime ago, a couple was ambushed as they were driving on the way to work in Barangay Sambag, Jaro. And even police officers are not spared as victims of violence. PO1 Joemarie Lamis was gunned down on Muelle Loney in November 2010. Two months ago, a cop was killed with his own gun in Jaro.

Then there was the sniper attack on the home of The News Today publisher Rommel S. Ynion in the plush Puerto Real subdivision in Lapaz district. This was followed by the grenade throwing attack at the still-to-be-opened Bali Hotel, also owned by Ynion, at the corner of Gen. Hughes and Duran Sts. Luckily, there were no casualties in these attacks. That nobody was hurt in these attacks fail to reassure us, however.

Of course, we can’t forget the daring robbery hold-up that took place on the first banking day of January last year. About five suspects, including a woman, barged into the East West Bank on Ledesma St. after it had closed its doors and walked away with an estimated P12 million. Several suspects were charged before the City Prosecutors Office, but the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

It was only by chance that two rookie cops riding a motorcycle happened to be in the vicinity and pursued Calesterio’s alleged killer last Tuesday. We have to credit them for their bravery in ignoring the danger to their own lives as they confronted the armed Manejero. Had the circumstances been different, and no cops were close by, the Calesterio murder could have suffered the same fate as the others — unsolved.

I’m sorry to say this, but nobody seems to have been arrested and charged before the court as a result of judicious and relentless police investigation. The murder of businesswoman Rose Gustilo Tan and her helper, Purificacion Catoera, on October 2010 remains an open case. When a crime takes place, the police just collects the evidence, and then the case folder seems consigned to join many others to gather dust and be forgotten.

With this in mind, I can’t help but doubt the capability of our police to stop the growing incidence of violence and lawlessness. What I’ve enumerated are just the major cases that really shocked the people. There are less sensational crimes involving murder, rape, physical injuries and the like that flash through our eyes like a fast-moving powerpoint presentation. It’s hard to feel safe in Iloilo City under the circumstances.

What is even more surprising for me is that our local officials could still boast that everything is under control. When a hired killer can just pop out behind you with a loaded pistol certainly doesn’t fall under that category. These incidents are not isolated and random crimes. Most are premeditated, and it illustrates the utter lack of deterrent that would normally dissuade criminals from undertaking such activities. Our police is too predictable. And their skills to track down criminals are simply lacking.

It would be easy to blame the current leadership of the Iloilo City Police Office, especially the City Director, Senior Supt. Marieto Valerio. But we have to remember the police is just performing what the number law enforcement officer in the city directs them to do. And that individual is the City Mayor. The ultimate responsibility for maintaining the peace and order rests with the local chief executive.

The question that needs to be asked is this: What is Mabilog doing about the situation? I don’t remember him doing anything beyond the rhetorics of ordering the police to hunt the criminals. In this latest murder case, he didn’t even make as much as a condemnation and express his anger. His behavior doesn’t suggest we have a serious situation at hand. He didn’t convene the city peace and order council to take stock of the situation. he didn’t give the police a dressing down.

ICPO chief Valerio should also be taken to task for this spate of crimes. It’s not enough that he displays lapdog loyalty to Mabilog and does what the mayor tells him to do, or not to do. If it isn’t obvious to Valerio, we have an attitude problem among city policemen. When three policemen from the Jaro police station didn’t take into custody Ramon Espeja, the ship captain who fired his two brand-new pistols on New Year’s Day and hit a neighbor’s house, Valerio should have been alarmed. He didn’t accost the cops; it was PNP regional director Chief Superintendent Cipriano E. Querol Jr. who had to order their relief from post over the apparent negligence of duty.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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