The peace and safety in Puerto Galera recently been rattled by a couple of events nobody wish to experience. Everything started up with break and entry incidents, reported by residents all over town, and ended in shootings with 2 fatalities.
What has happened? Around the month of June 2017, break-ins and robberies seemed to be everywhere. One could read about it on Facebook and heavily commented by concerned residents and the usual whiners who seem to be members of a single Facebook group and always have something’s, in rare occasions, useful to say. The Fortnightly looked into the situation, interviewed people involved; we even went out together with our law enforcers to see for ourselves how things are done to prevent and combat crimes.
First, I went to the municipal police station and talked with Police Chief Inspector Lawrence Panganiban, who at that time was the acting chief of police. Panganiban told me that most of the incidents being discussed on Facebook were not reported to the police, and thus, it would be very hard to get a hold of the suspects.
But the complaints on social media did not stop and several times a week new incidents appear on Facebook. However, only incidents 2 were reported to the police.
One complainant, who did file a report, told the Fortnightly, that the police was not even interested in taking fingerprints. What makes the break-ins so gruesome is the fact that the thief broke into their apartment while the owners were asleep.
“It is not only the loss of items and money; it is the part that we don’t feel safe anymore in our own house. We feel vulnerable and helpless. We don’t have the feeling that our police take the break-ins seriously,” says Nenette Barnaby, the owner of “The Warehouse” in Sto. Niño.
Her husband, Kim Barnaby, a long-time resident of Puerto Galera said, he can’t remember any time when things were as bad as they are right now.
“The police don’t even have the powder to take prints, nor did they take the bottles where fingerprints of the robbers were apparent. Our Barangay Police station is orphaned – we don’t see any presence of police or barangay officials here whatsoever,” says Barnaby.
I made another appointment with the chief of police for a couple of days later to continue our interview and talk to him about the incident at the warehouse and to find out the status of the investigation, but I had to learn that Panganiban was relieved of his position as the chief of police in Puerto Galera, mainly, because of the loud outcry on social media and because the police were unable to make any arrests nor did they had any leads. To me it was a bit unfair to blame the chief if the victims and the public do not work with the police.
Two weeks later, I went to interview the new chief of police, Police Senior Inspector Teofilo Awingan regarding the same matter, the public safety and order of our town.
The new chief told me, that it is very difficult to catch the criminals if the people will not be reporting the crimes in the first place. He said the communication between the police station and the barangays have to be intensified as the police are not capable of daily patrols. They are simply undermanned and under-equipped.
As of this writing, there are only 24 policemen and 4 plainclothes detective in active duty. The average police to residents’ ratio in the Philippines is 1 is to 500. Here, it is 1 is to 1500.
Clearly not enough to make sure that our streets are safe and free from criminals. The additional 35 tourist police are not under the command of the chief of police. They have a different mandate. If the tourist police make arrest, they will turn this over to the police station which adds to their already heavy workload.
Also, the new chief says that the barangays refer even simple problems to them which can be solved at their level. Another problem is the mobility of the police as they are equipped with only 1 police patrol and 1 motorbike which make it difficult for them to go out and prevent crime and to patrol the streets during night-time.
Recently, Mayor Rockey Ilagan ordered the repair of another patrol car with engine damage at the expense of the LGU. Once repair, we can expect the PNP with 2 vehicles but even that is a joke.
Following up the badly equipped and undermanned police situation, I went to talk to our mayor about it. He knows about the situation and has sent letters to the headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Quezon City. So far, nothing has changed.
Responding to the widespread criticisms, the Mayor called a meeting with the chief of police, all barangay chairmen and other law enforcers including the tourist police and gave them an ultimatum order – to solve the burglaries within the municipality by all means necessary.
Romeo Agellon, barangay chairman of Tabinay said that their barangay have 10 tanod (watchmen) now patrolling every night. So does other mist barangays.
To be more efficient, they divided Puerto Galera in sectors with different law enforcers in charge of each sector. The tourist police patrol from Talipanan all the way to Sabang while the municipal police station supported by elements of the armed forces of the Philippines takes care of the rest of the town. It remains to be seen, if these adjustments will do the trick, however, more incidents have been reported even break-ins in broad daylight.
To see for myself how the new leadership will deal with the problem, I again went out with the police for several nights. Everyone was doing their jobs as good as they can under the circumstances and considering they have got neither flashlights nor radios for their communication, a situation Mayor Ilagan promised to look into.
There were checkpoints conducted all over town, buy-bust operations and several arrests have been made but is that enough? Not satisfied with the findings and answers I was given, I went to the headquarters of the provincial police in Calapan to speak with Police Superintendent Jaycees Tolentino, who is Deputy Provincial Director for Administration.
PSI Tolentino was twice assigned as the chief of police of Puerto Galera and knows the situation here first hand. Asked about how to change it, he gave us the same information we already knew. The mayor, he said, can request a higher contingent of personnel for Puerto Galera, and additional equipment. But our Mayor has done that already, we at least could find out whether Puerto Galera is a priority.
In the meantime, there is not much they can do to resolve the situation especially, as our police station is way too small to accommodate more personnel. That can only be changed by the local government unit if they got funding to add space, or if we could find a donor, who is willing to donate at least 400 square meter of land to the PNP. They then can apply for funds from the national government to build a new police station like what they have now in nearby town of San Teodoro.
Meanwhile, I have taken care of the laughable problems with viruses at the police-station computers, updated their programs and installed anti-virus software. I will donate one or two units of desktop computers. But that’s a drop in the bucket. The police need the support of all the good people of Puerto Galera. Maybe someone is generous and has some laptop or desktop computer to spare? We also need to raise money to set up the MPS with a radio station and hand-held radios. If someone is interested in supporting, please contact me so we can coordinate our efforts.
Chief Awingan gave his action plan to Mayor Ilagan which will be the basis for the local government to give them additional funds. If we can resolve all the problems I mentioned then we have a good chance of fighting crimes.
On September 1 this year, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa will join the celebration of the PNP in Calapan. We will be asking him for his point of view, considering Puerto Galera being a major tourist destination, and that we do deserve a little bit better treatment from the national government.