By Melito Salazar Jr.
In a speech to newly promoted policemen last June 14, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte issued a directive to go after “tambays,” saying, “My directive is if there is someone who stands by, tell them, Go home. If you don’t go home, I will bring you to the office of – there in Pasig. Leave it up to me. Just put them there. Tie their hands together even the – drop them at – Do not – you be strict. Part of confronting people just idling around. They are potential trouble to the public.” (Translation from Tagalog courtesy of Rappler).
Immediately the Philippine National Police launched Oplan Galugad, arresting some 7,000 as of last week despite the contention of human rights groups that President Noynoy Aquino had already signed a law decriminalizing vagrancy. The PNP declared that they were just implementing local ordinances on smoking in public places, drinking liquor on the streets, and going shirtless in public. What many feared was a rehash of the early days of the anti-drug campaign.
The case of Genesis Agoncillo is reminiscent of the police abuses feared by many. Arrested because he was not wearing a shirt while outside a sari-sari store, after four days in detention (facility has a maximum capacity of 40 but held 128 inmates), the family was directed to a hospital where he was DOA. His body bore concussions but QCPD Dir.C/Supt. Jose Lito Esquivel Jr. claimed that the cell was congested making it difficult for inmates to breath, and that four other detainees had also died for the same reason.
If the focus is on the local ordinances and laws, why should the PNP have to be involved? Would it not be better to leave this to barangay officials who know their constituents better than the police? What to the policemen is an unruly drinking group is known by the barangay officials as a regular drinking barkada who trade jokes and sing out of tune but by a certain time, quietly goes home, for fear of their spouses. What to the policemen is a shirtless loiterer is seen by the barangay officials as a henpecked husband rushing to buy condiments at his wife’s command.
In fact, it makes more sense to hold the barangay officials accountable for peace and order, and more importantly the development of the community. Instead of collecting data on the drug addicts in the barangay and submitting this to the police which are used for the regular roundups, why does the barangay chairman not come up with the demographics that can serve as a basis for community intervention and development program. Knowing the skills profile of the barangay can help barangay officials refer their constituents to the appropriate barangay enterprise or draw businesses needing those skills to set up shop in the community. A compilation of heath conditions will determine which of the various programs of the Department of Health the barangay officials should clamour for. I am sure my Pan Xenia fraternity brother Dr. Mahar Mangahas would be glad to assist pilot barangays come up with a survey instrument for the purpose.
Given the Duterte’s administration’s admiration for China, it can draw from that country’s vast experience in local community development. In one of my trips arranged by the Chinese government I had the opportunity to observe authentic community development. Visiting the community center, a four-story facility, I saw how the needs of the various age groups were being addressed. A learning center for toddlers equipped with educational toys, a skills training facility on Internet, an information resource center for various livelihood opportunities, and a nurturing facility for seniors were located in the center. At the back of the ground floor was their sports facility, including a gym. This was a far cry to from the barangay centers we see in Metro Manila which at times squat on the public sidewalks. I believe it’s about time we stop thinking of barangays as political units and consider them the foundation of national development.
Give the barangay both the resources and importance they deserve. Make them live up to the Duterte challenge. Then instead of death, the Duterte legacy will be a better life for Filipinos.