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272. The number is familiar yet it escapes you. Meaningless until you realize where you’ve last seen it- on that giant tarpaulin gracing the facade of the Universidad de Zamboanga edifice, serving as a grim reminder of the number of shooting incidents in the city.  The number escapes memory because the figure continues to change, and to climb.

Although the rising number is nothing new, it has taken a new level of significance when one realizes that some of these crimes were perpetrated under the stewardship of Mayor Beng Climaco.  One however must not view this realization with malice.  One may safely say that these incidents could happen new mayor or not. After all it has scarcely been a month since Climaco assumed as mayor.

Another perspective, more likely and thought provoking, is that these incidents are a logical consequence of change.  It is no coincidence that the term baptism of fire is used after the rise of a new party to power.   Change is always met by an opposing force, usually from groups whose practices have been allowed to endure, wittingly or unwittingly, by the past dispensation.  This is the kind of situation now being confronted by the new mayor.

The fact that Cllimaco refuses to be a victim to this natural progression of things is apparent in the security measures implemented in the city by her newly assigned police director. There is a high degree of police visibility.  Even the new recruits are being observed to have a sense of purpose as they arrange parking on city streets.  The now ubiquitous yet welcome sight of police vehicles constantly offer reassurance. 

The good news is that the mayor is fighting.  The not so good news is that the enemy comes in many guises, the war in many forms.  This is not merely a battle where police play hide and seek with criminals. Although police visibility is the answer to a lot of petty crimes that more commonly leads to catching the unexpected culprit, a more difficult and tricky aspect of crime fighting is apprehending the suspects who are known and identified.

Religious differences, cultural intricacies such as clan wars and territorial difficulties are challenges that need the partnership of a well trained officer with a highly experienced crime fighting technique and a political leader with an excellent grasp of the cultural, political and social diversities pervasive within her territory. Even more challenging is the strategy employed in seeing to it that these small wars are contained and do not escalate into something uncontrollable.

Only time can tell if the mayor is up to the task.  In the meantime, people are getting more creative thinking of ways on how to put a stop to the rise in numbers.

Amidst this growing sense of uncertainty, one name is increasingly being mentioned by residents who are merely acquainted with its owner by reputation.   People used to discuss in jest the controversial manner the man employs in solving peace and order problems in his city.  These days however Davao city mayor Rodrigo Duterte is being informally nominated by many to national office, his rise to fame directly proportionate to the increase in criminality in the entire country.    The people of Zamboanga are not immune to Duterte’s popularity, or notoriety depending on how one views his style.  His highly debatable measures to instill discipline in his locality and rid the city of criminal elements, although not spoken in detail, have become the stuff of urban legend.

It is quite easy to discard reason, throw out practicality and even disregard the rule of law in times of near desperation. It is a fact of life however that reality always brings one to his senses.  Zamboanga city is not Davao city.  Rodrigo Duterte is not Beng Climaco, who overwhelmingly won in a landslide election in this city just last May. The city has made its choice. As such, the new mayor’s responsibilities have become as enormous as the moral obligation of her constituents to support her.  Let us be reminded of the mutual trust her election to office entails.

In response we can only hope that she be reminded of our trust for her to work hard for our safety, solve our peace and order woes and evolve into her own brand of leadership which is not simply debatable but truly inimitable.

We all have three years.  Then we can not only dream, but act. 

By Liza Abubakar-Jocson

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