Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Punishing the Innocent

This is the very first post I sent out to my various mailing lists. 


missingpoints classic: Punishing the Innocent
29 October 2002

The Philippine Daily Inquirer's Metro section yesterday carried the headline "Boyfriend Blamed by Cops." The "boyfriend" referred to here was that of rape victim Melba Espilando, who was found dead at the Guadalupe MRT station. The station chief was quoted to have said, "There was negligence on his part..."

The depths of idiocy to which this country can sink never ceases to amaze me.

Apparently he forgot the part where the police are supposed to prevent crime and protect citizens and instead blamed the boyfriend for not fetching the girl from work. What does he want us to do? Start an armed "boyfriend brigade" to protect our significant others from rapists and thieves? Perhaps that IS the solution. We would certainly exhibit more concer for our girlfriends than the Makati police have shown for citizens.

But the station chief's statement, while clearly sexist, insensitive, and downright moronic, is just a symptom of a bigger problem that plagues Philippine society. I call it the Flip Factor.

Government officials have this tendency to "flip" arguments upside down, turning the tables on us all the time. Their solutions, especially when it comes to problems of security and peace, tend to punish the innocent instead of protect them.

The equation they use is simple. It takes three factors to commit a crime: the criminal, the victim, and the environment. The police's job is to prevent crime and they can do so by manipulating the factors.

But instead of making the environment safe by, say, adding streetlights and increasing police visibility (via neighborhood patrols, outposts, etc.), or actually apprehending criminals, they resort to the easiest thing on their menu. The "Juan Tamad" solution they propose is to impose a curfew and/or blame people who go home late at night. While this will theoretically reduce crime (following my crude equation), it also reduces the freedom of innocent, law-abiding citizens like Melba and myself.

This is fine if all you're after are "pogi points" or photo ops. But they seem to have forgotten the basic role of law enforcement in a democracy: the police are there so that we can enjoy our civil liberties, not the other way around. We do not "flip" this by asking citizens to forego their civil liberties so the police can do their job properly.

There was negligence that resulted in the rape-slay of Melba but we all know it was not her boyfriend's.

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