By: Morexette Marie B. Erram, Nestle L. Semilla July 11,2018 - 10:38 PM

With five deaths resulting from gun attacks happening in Cebu City in less than 24 hours, the question arises: Is Cebu still safe?

For Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, this situation – and its implications in the city’s peace and order – is worrisome.

“(Cebu City is) not so safe. What I’m seeing is that the criminals are not afraid. And even in the street level, the snatchers, people get robbed. The killers just run up to you, and like hide-and-seek, bang!” said Osmeña.

But for the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), Cebu province and Cebu City remain safe despite the murders.

“I think Cebu is still a safe place,” said PRO-7 director Chief Supt. Debold Sinas.

Crimes and killings have been happening almost every day in Cebu City, but none could be more jarring than what happened last Tuesday, July 10, with three high-profile deaths occurring one after another within a span of three hours.

The first fatality was Jefrey Cañedo, a former overseas Filipino worker who was looking for Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma.

He was gunned down by policemen inside the Archbishop’s Residence compound in D. Jakosalem Street, Cebu City, around 11 a.m. after he allegedly tried to draw a gun first.

Two hours later, Bladen Skyler Abatayo, 4, was killed after he was hit by a stray bullet fired from a gun during an anti-drugs operation conducted by the drug enforcement unit of Carbon Police Station (Station 5) in Barangay Ermita, located around three kilometers south of the Archbishop’s Palace.

At almost the same time, Kalunasan Barangay Councilman Ruel Mabano was shot dead by a still unidentified assailant five meters from the barangay hall.

Footages of the closed-circuit television (CCTV) installed within the barangay hall’s premises showed that Mabano was shot several times by the gunman who escaped on board a motorcycle.

But before the day ended, two more individuals died after they shot each other in front of a closed-down convenience store and gasoline station in North Reclamation Area (NRA), Cebu City, past 11 p.m.

The fatalities were identified as Anjen Lagmay and Junifer Teniano, both security guards assigned in the property.

Initial police investigation showed that the two security guards had a heated argument before the incident happened.

Authorities also recovered drug paraphernalia from Teniano’s possession. Teniano was the guard on-duty at that time.

Isolated cases

Sinas stressed that since the recent killings were not connected, they could be considered as isolated cases.

In fact, he said, the police have become “more vigilant” in implementing anti-crime laws, which in some instances had led to the killing of suspects.

“Accordingly, mao gani nay mga nadakpan, nay mga (casualties) because we are implementing the law. Mo storya lang nga taas ang crime incident because gipangdakop sila,” said Sinas.
(That is why there are arrested persons, there are casualties because we are implementing the law. If you will say we have a high rate of crime incidents, it’s because we are conducting operations.)

He also said that the killings should not be the only indicator in gauging if a city is safe or not.

Sinas cited Mindanao as an example. He said crimes remained at a minimum in the regions and provinces of Mindanao but most Filipinos still don’t think it is a safe place to go to.

He also likened Cebu City to New York City.

“Highly urbanized places like New York City have many reports on killing incidents. But the people there still considered their place as peaceful,” Sinas explained.

He said it would be a different story if the shooting incidents were all planned attacks but in the case of last Tuesday’s shooting incidents, most were not. At the same time, they were just incidents that were beyond the power of the police to stop, he added.

Whether a city is peaceful or not “is just a matter of perception,” he said.

“I think people still live better in Cebu City than live in Cotabato City,” he added.

Arming the tanods?

Osmeña, meanwhile, said that despite concerns over the city’s peace and order, he has no intention to beef up security in City Hall.

“It’s counterproductive. We don’t do that, and I’m not worried. My biggest concern is the ordinary mother who walks out of the house, and rides a jeepney. It’s the people, not me,” said Osmeña.

On the other hand, Mabano’s death prompted Osmeña into considering the possibility of arming barangay tanods (village watchmen) as a means to deter crime.

“Why not? (But then again) all our guns are not in City Hall. There’s no single firearm in City Hall. It’s all in the police,” he added.

The mayor, however, stressed it is the primary responsibility of village officials to ensure the safety of their constituents.

“The policy is very simple. The government protects the people. It’s not the other way around. The barangay (government) protects the barangay, not the barangay officials,” he said.

Tear down drug dens

In addition, the mayor was also planning to demolish the houses that would be proven to have been used for pot and drug sessions in Cebu City.

“And I’m warning the people in Ermita, (and other barangays) that any house caught with drug sessions, and if you don’t produce your building permit, I will demolish the house,” stated Osmeña.

The young Abatayo, who was hit by a stray bullet, was inside the house adjacent to the one allegedly being used as a drug den and was the subject of the police anti-drug operation.

When asked if his plans would also include bigger buildings such as hotels and condominiums found to be used for drug operations, Osmeña responded by saying:

“Basta. We’ll do whatever we can. I will demolish the house (found to have been used for drug sessions) because there’s no permit. I have to talk to my lawyers (but) if it’s possible, then yes. I will also check the houses of barangay officials,” he explained.

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