[ Note : Written originally for KABAYAN Wellington newsmagazine. Thank you to the family of Blessie Gotingco for permission for the original article. Thank you to Publisher Ms Didith Tayawa-Figuracion and Executive Editor Ms Meia Lopez and my co-staff for believing in this kabayan blogger. And thank you to KABAYAN newsmagazine and YLBnoel’s Blog readers for your readership. Mabuhay! ]
FOR THREE MONTHS in 2008 while waiting for a full-time job that eventually required me to leave Auckland for Wellington, I tried to survive with two part-time jobs. Keeping one of those jobs meant doing night shifts three times a week, and going home at 11.30 also meant missing the last bus. I had no choice but to navigate a two hour walk through suburban Auckland, good for the legs but sometimes bad for the nerves.
After going through that experience relatively unscathed, I consider myself very lucky, not to mention very stupid. For sure, I could’ve been the victim of opportunistic criminals on wheels who could’ve just run me over, gotten my meager coins and left me battered and bleeding on the side of the road, with no one the wiser. Worse, there might’ve been thrill-seekers or vagrants with nothing better to do than send some poor pedestrian (me) sprawling all over the pavement, laugh it off, and not realize they’d just hurt someone seriously.
I don’t define these dark, dark thoughts as the musings of a paranoid, phobic weakling. The specter of violent crime has in recent days reared its ugly head, all over the meadows, paddocks and dark streets of New Zealand. Its stalwart herald, the news media, reveals every sordid detail of every violent slaying, milking out every last drop of sensational notoriety under the guise of informing the public, “because the public needs to know.”
You and I and the rest of the Filipino community in New Zealand would view all this coverage of violent crime with the most jaded of eyes if not for the fact that almost exactly one year ago one of our very own, an Auckland mother of three was viciously assaulted and murdered in a senseless attack.
Violent crime resonates with all of us in a way that no social issue does. All of us can identify with the victim, because on the most basic level, pain and suffering are as real as breathing and eating. All of us can identify with the families of those left behind, because all of us can empathize with the pain of losing a loved one.
This is why, despite New Zealand being one of the safest countries in the word, an intensively reported crime story like that one involving our kabayan is justified by the anticipated attention, outrage and feedback from all sectors of society. The fact that a Filipino is involved only invites much more scrutiny .
The irony is, violent crime (murders, homicides and serious assaults) has gone down steadily in terms of number of incidents reported and number of victims since the turn of the century. A further source of confusion is the fact that the number of cases resolved as a percentage of total cases has also gone up, debunking the commonly held belief that crime is on the upswing.
But try telling that to the victims of violent crime who are often left scarred for life, if not killed. Tell that to the families of victims who will never see their loved ones build careers, raise families and live fulfilling lives.
Governments of civilized societies can tackle economic issues, educate citizens to help generate the nation’s wealth, or uplift the people through culture and the arts, but no issue is as visceral as meeting crime and punishment head on.
You can be smug with a fat bank account, a late-model car in your garage, and see your kids off to good schools, but none of that will matter one bit if you can’t even go out on a cool, crisp night for a brisk walk. Whatever your station in life, and no matter how long you’ve been in New Zealand.