Theft at a village in darkness
At a quarter before 10p.m., the Zone 1 neighborhood in Kalasungay, a hillside village in suburban Malaybalay City was like poetry in slow motion.
The distant barking of the dogs joined the symphony of the evening choir of insects and the rhythmic touch of the wind to the leaves of the Marang. There was no other sound except those of nature.
The light coming from our bedroom flickered into the dark road side. The ice-cold breeze in the rainy season evening touched my skin like a biting fog.
It was a perfect scene to hide under the bed covers. I slipped through the double blanket where C. was already slumbering. What a beautiful sleep it would be, I told myself. Cold turned warm and light turned dark as I closed my eyes and journeyed to dreamland.
Then a scream.
A woman screaming. A woman in danger, screaming. A woman screaming for help. “Tabang!” or something like that.
It wasn’t clear what she was screaming about but I thought I heard some one in trouble, crying for help.
The sound seemed to have come from three blocks away but images of her in distress woke me up. It was something that you couldn’t just close your eyes at.
C. stopped me from responding. “Don’t go out, it’s dangerous,” she warned me, her hands clipping my arm. “It’s too dark, we don’t know what’s happening!” she added, trembling.
I obliged for a moment. I laid there feeling useless. But I was restless. For the next few seconds I froze in prayer. I asked that she, whoever she is, would be away from away from harm.
Until I heard members of the village’s volunteer citizen police or tanods, running after somebody, I felt useless. Still.
In a minute or two, more people arrived in the area. C. and I finally decided to go out and stopped imagining what was going on.
“An unidentified man snatched the hand bag of a lady neighbor while she was opening her gate. She fought hard. She held to her bag until a handle was ripped off and the man went free with his catch,” I heard a village watchman report in the vernacular.
The thief disappeared into the darkness, played “Catch me if you Can” and went past the chasing men. He actually hid in the bushes.
“If only we had battery for the other flashlights. If only the barangay streetlights are on,” one of the men said as I joined the crowd of sleepy — very sleepy — but curious heads.
Of course for the night, the kawatan, the bad, outsmarted the good. He carted some cash, a cellular phone and some jewelry. He probably saw her approaching her house. He was right there at the corner — hidden in the dark – waiting to attack his vulnerable prey.
“Why are the streetlights turned off in Kalasungay?” I asked one of the tanods.
“Electricity was cut. I think we haven’t paid our bills. The barangay still owes Buseco,” he uneasily supplied me an answer.
I didn’t have the time to get the complete answer— the truth. But someone said the city government has helped some barangays settle accounts with the power firm. I don’t know if Kalasungay was included.
Some one said it wasn’t settled yet. Another whispered that it’s not the present barangay administration’s fault. Another one said Buseco shouldn’t be blamed. I don’t know. I really don’t.
What I know is that it’s a wise security measure to have streetlights on as they are crime deterrents. A lamppost serves like five security guards do.
But a lamppost with no light is a depressing sight.
What I know is that the crime rate in the village, at least as grapevine sources would tell, increased after electricity for the streetlights was cut off.
And because it was dark that night, a woman suffered and a neighborhood just listened, helpless. How many lawless incidents do we have to go through again?
This one might teach the victim and the neighborhood some tips on pre-caution.
But more importantly, this should help remind our authorities to be magnanimous and be more service-oriented.
If the local government is capable of paying and has not paid, then it should pay, restore the light and serve penance for the sin of omission.
If Buseco indeed cut the power supply for the streetlights and did not give enough grace period to the local governments in its quest to get “A+” rating from the National Electrification Administration, then it should be made to answer for the trade-offs.
“What can an A+ NEA rating; if indeed a factor on the power cuts, do to help the community?
Picture this, as the crime rate goes up, we have more cases to hear in our already clogged and outnumbered courts and we expect the jails to be even more clogged. That is if indeed police could chase the criminals and they don’t go scot-free. Talk of a free and safe community.
Now, what’s the great pride about having “A+” rating if it’s true that barangay streetlights have to be cut off for the sake of high collection rate? Never mind if the village is thrown into darkness?
And they call that good business or just collateral damage? C’mon, there must be a way.