Photo by Garry Dela Peña
Around 2:30 AM last night, I was awoken by a frantic call from a friend, who is on vacation here in Cebu with 8 other friends, all of whom are from Manila. We had just parted ways after spending 3 days enjoying the Moalboal beach, Oslob whale sharks and Kawasan Falls.
So on this particular night when I didn’t mute my phone or turn on airplane mode while asleep as I usually do, I got the call. It turns out, one of their companion’s phones had been stolen at the Ultra bar in Mango Square. Worse, they got into a fight with the suspected thief, and now they were being ganged up on by other people in the bar. Not understanding any of the Bisaya words thrown at them in anger, they called me for help.
They were already at the Fuente police station when I arrived. To make the long story short, we reached a settlement, and 2 of my friends would not have to be jailed. Yes, they would be jailed even though they got stolen from.
This has always been one of my fears – to have my guests get in trouble by getting robbed, among other things. I consider myself a very hospitable person. I enjoy showing non-Cebuano friends around this beautiful island. Even people who I have never met, I accept into my home, via an app called Couchsurfing, so they get free accommodation, and a peek into the culture and lifestyle of Cebuanos, Filipinos.
When taking guests around the city, I tell them to always be careful. Keep an eye on their wallet, phone and other belongings all the time. And I keep repeating this like a broken record.
And yet, the incident last night happened. What do I make of this?
I can’t help but think about the sorry state of security in this city, among other concerns. I myself have been robbed of a 3-day-old Samsung Galaxy Note phone. I have family and close friends who have been stolen from. They, too, have family and close friends who have been stolen from. It is very common. And news of people getting killed because they didn’t surrender their belongings to thieves do not shock anybody anymore.
The authorities are not effective in their work. People don’t report incidents anymore. I didn’t report my stolen phone, despite it being stolen 50 meters from the NBI office in Capitol. At another time, I reported losing 15,000 to a thief, only to be coldly told, “we can’t do anything about it.” Friends and family have likewise not reported robberies. The citizenry has no confidence in the police. The authorities, on the other hand, do little to address this. Stories of policemen accepting bribes, or themselves committing crimes, or being plain indifferent to the needs of the people they are supposed to serve, are nothing new. Last night, the policemen mediating our case told us what happened was so petty that it happens all the time. I wanted to say, if it happens so darn often, why do they keep happening? What are you guys doing about it?
This makes me think of Davao being ranked as the 5th safest city in the world. Yes, the world. I have been to, and have stayed for weeks in, Singapore, the 2nd safest. I indeed felt very safe there. Is Davao, which is only 3 notches below Singapore, nearly as safe? Say what you want about the validity of such ranking — it nevertheless makes me wonder, what it is like to live there? Are people able to take their phones or wallets out in public without fear of getting robbed? Do they not scare travelers and guests to always keep watch of their belongings? Do they expect to be taken care of by the police when they approach them? If so, I envy them. I wish that were true in Cebu.
I have always found impassioned social media posts about the presidential candidates annoying, and have started blocking some posts. I myself have never made any such posts or have made up my mind on who to vote for. I didn’t think much about Duterte and his platform for safety and security, because although admirable, I think infrastructure and efficiency of government services are more important. All of that until last night, when it hit home, again.
In the hours I was kept awake after being at the police station in the wee hours of the morning, I daydreamed — with Duterte leading in the most recent surveys for the upcoming 2016 election, with his reputed, albeit controversial, iron fist, can Cebuanos finally dream of a safer Cebu, nay the Filipinos of a safer Philippines? It will be darn difficult to pull off country-wide what has been done in Davao, but woe to us if we do not give it a chance?
Until then, life in this city goes on as it always has.