The cloverleaf of sinners

CTALK - Cito Beltran () - November 3, 2008 - 12:00am

Re-entry is always a difficult process after a journey through the countryside.

My most recent re-entry into Metro Manila was nothing less of a shock and an assault on my value system. After driving for three and a half hours, half of which was on the well paved and well run SCTEX and NLEX, I found myself anxious as I approached the EDSA/Balintawak cloverleaf.

Here lying in wait 7 days a week are some of the most reviled or despised “traffic officers” in the land. Whether their notoriety is deserved depends on the drivers you ask. But in general, many motorists speak ill of this group that has long operated in the area. In fact all you need is to entomb them in cement and you would have a memorial commemorating what people call “Kotong Cops”.

This of course is unfair to real policemen, because these guys are not real cops they just misrepresent them! As usual they had a row of “victims” or drivers who were not stopped or arrested inside the SCTEX or NLEX where the laws are really enforced. Suddenly they either don’t know how to drive because the charge is almost always “swerving” or “over-loading”.

On my re-entry they did not stop me but they were busy harassing others. All that seemed “perfectly normal” in our morally decaying society, then one of my crew pointed out a teenager sniffing rugby in a plastic bag on the other side of the road. That too seemed normal in our “desensitized” society.

But when I reached the crest of the on-ramp going into EDSA, we discovered that the rugby boy was not alone. There were around 15 of them boys and girls mostly teens all inhaling the intoxicating fumes of plastic cement glue. All bobbing and blowing as if doing a group exercise to certain death. Yet all around them people went about as if the group addiction was normal activity in the “park”.

Completing the triangle of indifference I saw a group of 8 to 10 SWAT officers in the official colors of death and destruction, all in black alongside their motorcycles obviously comparing notes or in animated talk while monitoring the EDSA. They are the best-paid cops in town because they’re the only ones with a death wish or willing to die on the job. So they make enough and don’t need to rob motorists on false claims. It’s not their “job” to interfere with the Kotong cops or arrest minors publicly inhaling rugby all within 150 meters.

The “Kotong Cops” on the other hand don’t make enough money and are not qualified to be professional instruments of death to dangerous criminals so instead they make a living by killing a day’s wages off every driver they stop. It’s not their job either to intervene with the rugby boys or find out who in the neighborhood sells them the stuff.

So if a rugby boy dies of lung infection or collapse, it’s his fault. If a twelve-year-old rugby girl gets raped or becomes a sex tool of the group well she knows what she’s doing, right?!

I’m not sure whose responsibility or jurisdiction the EDSA/Balintawak/NLEX junction is, but could the Mayors of Quezon City and Caloocan City please get together with the MMDA, NLEX and the Northern Police District and address all the problems in the area. I am told that the area is under Quezon City while many believe it falls under Caloocan City. The public does not really pay much attention to jurisdiction so they simply accuse both sides of incompetence and indifference.

Either way, travelers regularly see transient “dwellers”; pick pockets, Hold-up artists, drug pushers, addicts as well as “Kotong Cops” who have symbolized the corruption of City traffic officers. The place which is supposed to be a “green area” or a mini park looks more like a ghetto or no mans land where people are frightened to walk through.

Now the same thing has evolved under the Guadalupe Bridge in Makati City where the “yellow boys” are doing what the “Uwaks ng Balintawak” have been doing for years. Because we have allowed or ignored the abuse and the corruption, the successful business model of traffic entrapment has been copied and will be copied unless we begin to fight back.

In his book “LEADERSHIP”, Rudolph Giuliani who transformed New York City from the “Rotting Apple” to “the Capital of the World” described how bad the crime situation was in New York City:

“In the year I first ran for mayor, 1989, there were 1,905murders in New York City. I lost that election, and in the subsequent year, 1990, the city set an infamous record of 2,245 homicides….”

“A literal sign of the city’s malaise were the ubiquitous “ NO RADIO” flags drivers would hang in the windows of their cars. This was essentially a negotiation with the worst members of society, a plea to thieves: “Don’t victimize me – that other car doesn’t have a sign, go take his radio”….

Giuliani emphasized the bad situation with another example….

(While in London in 1990) “Someone asked how bad crime really was in New York. This person called to my attention a brochure that contained tips on how a visitor to New York might steer clear of crime. One of the suggestions was, “Avoid making eye contact”. All of a sudden, the depth of my city’s problems came into stark focus.”

Giuliani then talks about how dealing with petty crimes or small crimes reduced even the statistics on Major crimes:

“ James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s “Broken Windows” theory of crime -fighting convinced me that paying attention to “minor” infractions like aggressive panhandling (aggressive beggars who harass people), graffiti, and turnstile-jumping (not paying LRT/MRT ticket) would greatly reduce all crime, including major felonies”.

Under Giuliani’s leadership, New York City won the war against crime and in 8 years reduced the incidence of murder by 65 %. They simply showed New Yorkers that the law was going to be enforced and no crime or violation was too small. They went after crooks, hoods, goons, even abusive drivers working for diplomats.

They came up with daily crime statistics, daily updates on what was being done about the reported crimes, and they made the officers and officials with jurisdiction, accountable for the rise or fall of those crime statistics.

We can win the fight but we have to start by calling everybody’s attention to the problem not by ignoring the problem. Please do your part.

We hope Mayor Belmonte, Mayor Echeverri, and General Versoza as well as Chairman Fernando and the folks at NLEX can get together and finally transform the Cloverleaf into a real charm and not harm.

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