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Safety of life in the streets

SOLAS is Safety of Life at Sea. In maritime parlance, SOLAS is about the safety of life. In formal and technical terms, it refers to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), an important international treaty concerning the safety of merchant ships. It is studied and learned in every maritime school and institution, ensuring that vessels that sail the oceans comply with minimum safety standards in construction, equipment, and operation. Maritime stakeholders must ensure that ships and any ocean conveyances for transportation are sea safe for everyone.

SOLAS quickly came to mind when I received the grim news story about a 17-year-old student named Roselle Bandojo, raped, murdered then found dumped inside a sack and thrown into a dark, secluded vacant lot in barangay Liboton, Naga City, last week. Wasn’t it just a year ago when another student, almost the same age, met the same fate? Irish Mae Payonga of Ateneo de Naga just came from a convention center in Pili on the way home via her usual route. Her brutal killing became a rallying call among parents, students, and the general public enraged at the senseless violence that happened, not in a far-flung barangay but in a city. The clamor for justice was not only for the capture of the assailant but public demand for safe streets and communities.

How safe are our children who venture out at night outside their homes? How safe are our public conveyances that ordinary folks ride in when they go to work or back home? How safe are the streets with so many left unlighted and poorly lit? Given the same social environment and neighborhood that we live in, what happened to Roselle and Irish would have happened to other people and our children, including our own!

Similar circumstances surrounding their deaths again highlighted the need to raise awareness and vigilance about basic safety. Unfortunately, it also brought stereotyping to another level. Stereotypes of young, drug-crazed, or cigarette-smoking, pedicab drivers who ply the dark streets of Naga and get their victims to a remote, secluded place to rape or molest have begun to make an imprint on the minds of some parents and students I meet in my daily encounters at Mariners. Both Roselle and Irish fell allegedly at the hands of pedicab divers.

With enrolment now in full swing, parents are asking if Mariners has a list of accredited boarding houses to recommend where their children would stay during their schooling. After tuition, safe housing is foremost in the parents’ minds. And they prefer well-lit neighborhoods accessible and safe surroundings.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) says that theft, rape, and physical injury topped the most prevalent crimes since President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr’s term began. Crimes against property and persons have spiked with the opening up since the Pandemic. It was almost zero crime from 2020 to 2022. What happened to Roselle and Irish are not just crimes against their persons. They were serious examples of senseless violence. According to a UK study, the term refers to the perceived senselessness of violence that seems not to be motivated by greed or other common factors but occurs at the spur of the moment and frequently under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Drugs and violence

What is starkly evident is the drug influence on the alleged perpetrators. Unfortunately, the drug menace persists despite the drug war during the past administration that left thousands of suspected drug pushers and dealers dead.

I browsed the news about drug raids conducted since the start of the year 2023 in Naga City alone. The search yields an exciting find: for the whole year, raids and arrests of alleged “high-value individuals,” not just ordinary people, with multi-millions of pesos worth of shabu seized during the buy-bust operations. The Police Regional Office in Bicol reported those conducted in Barangays Cararayan, Concepcion Pequena, Abella, Tabuco, Bagumbayan Norte, and Sta. Cruz involved a dismissed PNP personnel. Are the tentacles of the drug ring and drug influence these far and wide?

As the Feast of the Peňafrancia fast approaches, Bicol authorities call for intensified monitoring of drug syndicates in the city. A PDEA agent in Bicol disclosed that big deals on prohibited drugs are likely to happen during the Pyesta in Naga City, the “preferred place for illicit drug deals, the center of commerce where drug personalities can meet, aside from being an ideal transshipment point to Visayas and Mindanao.”

Safety of life in the streets starts with awareness and concrete fast actions by public officials from their airconditioned offices at the top down to the LGUs: fix your front and backyards. Light up the streets! Most of all, light up the people’s hopes, now faded with distrust and hopelessness. The time to do it is now!


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