Tue, Feb 05, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Crime casts shadow over Philippines image makeover

WITH IMPUNITY:Brazen robberies in shopping malls that have resulted in no arrests have added to insecurity and undermined efforts to attract foreign investment

AP, MANILA

Bishops from the dominant Roman Catholic Church expressed alarm at what they called a culture of impunity and the rise in unsolved crimes.

In a pastoral letter, they said that “extrajudicial killings, unsolved crimes and kidnappings continue and the government is not able or lacks the political will to prosecute the perpetrators and touch powerful people.”

The proliferation of firearms — police estimate there are up to 1 million unregistered weapons — have fueled violence and insurgencies in the country for years, despite calls from lawmakers and pressure groups for tighter gun control. A dysfunctional justice system with crowded jails and underpaid prosecutors and judges has produced a massive backlog where a criminal trial can stretch over six years or more. Organized crime is a problem too, as is political corruption.

The unease about crime in Manila and whether the government can get a handle on it comes ahead of congressional and provincial elections in May. Philippine elections are usually passionate events that are marred by violence. Authorities have declared a gun ban and set up checkpoints to confiscate weapons carried in public.

“A growing crime rate is the worry of everybody, election period or not,” Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes said.

The country’s top policeman, Purisima, who took charge of the 148,000-strong police force just over a month ago, said among the options considered were daytime checkpoints and sharing police radio frequencies with private security guards and traffic authorities to speed up police response times. At the same time, daytime checkpoints could slow already notoriously sluggish traffic, he said. He ordered security guards in malls to carry weapons and get better training, to avoid being “sitting ducks” for armed robbers.

Afuang said she did not think security checks for weapons at malls were anything more than cursory.

“I have never seen anyone being told to step aside” for closer scrutiny, she said. “You feel afraid because these things are happening close to you. Do you just go home and stay at home?”

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