Friday, January 25, 2008

Highway Thievery

A couple of months ago, Vicente "BB" Pimentel, the provincial governor of Surigao del Sur, was present at the completion and inauguration of a key project in Lianga which was the installation of street lights along the national highway passing through the heart of the town. It was a development welcomed by the residents of Lianga who have felt for some time now that the poor lighting along many portions of the highway within and just outside the town have made them unsafe for traveling at night and a magnet for the perpetration of various forms of criminality against the local folk.

The streetlights are still there nowadays but many of them no longer light up at dusk and serve no more purpose than to stand prettily on the sides of the highway at night while town residents blindly grope their way to and from their houses aided only by the feeble beams of light from their flashlights. The absence of proper streetlighting has also done wonders for the town's crime rate because local criminals have become emboldened again to commit more petty burglaries in the dead of night while town folk avoid the darkened streets for fear of being mobbed or accosted by unsavory characters.

The reason why the streetlights are not functioning is simple but simply outrageous and even ridiculous and laughable if the consequences of that fact are not serious. Enterprising thieves, with the skill and daring of Ali Baba and his forty cohorts, have dug up the underground copper cables supplying electricity to many of the streetlights and have spirited them away to who knows where. Informed sources say the cables fetch a hefty price at unscrupulous scrap metal merchants where a kilo of the same copper wire can net the thieves almost a thousand pesos.

One wonders how it is possible for scoundrels to excavate buried wiring along the sides of the national highway and steal them from right under the noses of the police and local security forces. And what about the confirmed stories of metal scavengers cannibalizing highway guardrails, steel bolts and metal reinforcements for wooden bridges and even road and traffic signs? Who is stealing these items that may mean the difference between life and death for the thousands of local people who regularly travel and commute along the roads and highways of this part of the country?

Rumors of "inside jobs" and collusion between the perpetrators of these thieveries and law enforcement personnel have remained merely just conjectures and there has been no real investigation into who is responsible for these crimes and what is being done to discourage and prevent them from happening. One wonders exactly what's the real score here and no one from the local government or the police is talking much less doing something about it.

Methinks that part of this problem has to do with the corrupt yet pervasive belief among the people here that if something belongs to the government or is put there for public use, it is also something that can be "abused" or "misused" with relative impunity. With so much apparent and visible corruption among public officials in government, to "appropriate" government property for one's use or personal profit can therefore be condoned since it is funded by "people's money" and actually belongs to the people whether one is a taxpayer or not. In other words, it is simply just a little payback.

Hell! It's just another variation of the classic "stealing from the rich and giving it to the poor" thing, the "rich" here referring to the politicians in government who are believed to be there merely to enrich and fatten themselves up at the expense of the powerless and poverty stricken masses. That may be true but stealing public property to get back at grafters is a bit too much off the mark.

This hogwash aside, it is imperative that the problem should be considered an urgent police matter to be addressed and resolved at the soonest possible time. Otherwise dire consequences may result because of inaction or any form of procrastination.

When streetlights go black in the night, steel guardrails disappear like magic and wooden bridges shed their bolts and metal fixtures secretly like snakes shed their skins then something smells horribly fishy and rotten somewhere and that somewhere, most certainly, is not in Denmark.

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