I HAVE always known Muntinlupa City as very welcoming. It has opened its doors to visitors, new migrants, and certainly to new businesses. It has recognized residents who have excelled in their respective fields, their professions, in sports and in community service. It is quick to express its thanks and appreciation for favors extended to the city.

So I was very surprised when one day last week, the city council passed a resolution -- the first and only in its history -- which is the exact opposite of what it has done in the past. It declared Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) Head Gerald Bantag persona non grata.

Persona non grata means an unwelcome person in Latin. Wikipedia explains its ramifications. “In the context of diplomacy or international relations, a persona non grata declaration on a foreign citizen, usually a diplomat who otherwise has a privilege of immunity, is barred from entering the country which issued the declaration.

“In the context of local governance, it is an expression of sentiment of displeasure, disappointment, or disapproval of a local government against an individual, in response to the particular person breaking local ordinances and laws.”

Parenthentically, related resolutions were simultaneously passed by the city council headed by Vice Mayor Artemio Simundac. One resolution authorized Muntinlupa Mayor Jaime R. Fresnedi to file administrative, civil and criminal cases against Bantag and Bucor officials for their allegedly oppressive and patently unjustified actions. Another asked President Duterte, as appointing authority of the Bucor director, to immediately recall and/or overturn the actions of the said official in the illegal road closures in violation of national laws and ordinances.

What did Bucor head Bantag do to merit such a reaction from the local government?

According to published reports, Bantag, without prior consultation with the local government, constructed in the dead of night on November 26 up to the early morning of November 27, a wall on a public road within the NBP reservation which effectively kept out residents of Katarungan Village II. Katarungan Village II is a government-housing project for the benefit of Department of Justice employees. The wall also prevented thousands of students and teachers from going to and from the Muntinlupa National High School and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Muntinlupa. It also effectively deprived hundreds of jeepney and tricycle drivers livelihood during the pandemic.

Finding themselves isolated, residents of the Katarungan Village II demolished the wall the following morning. But almost immediately, Bucor put up another more durable wall. To do so, Bucor used a backhoe and destroyed a portion of the road to permanently prevent transport access. Incidentally, the November 26 to 27 incident is the third such road closure within the NBP without prior consultation with the city government and national agencies concerned. In March, Bucor closed a road within Southville (a government housing project for relocated informal settlers) and later in June, the Magdaong Drive.

A Bucor spokesman justified the construction of the walls as an implementation of the Bucor's mandate to secure the safety, security and health of its prisoners. But isn’t the road closures an overreaction? A case of using a shotgun to kill a fly? “Worse, they are even remotely reminiscent of the cold war Russian measure of erecting the Berlin Wall,” an affected public school teacher said.

“It’s not the mandate of Bucor that we are opposing but the manner, the method of implementing its mandate. No prior consultation at all, no due process, no due regard for the welfare of the thousands of persons affected. Nasa demokrasiya tayo at hindi tayo nasa diktaduryang rehimen,” protested Majority Floor Leader Raul Corro.

Over the weekend, a sketchy report indicated that Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra has extracted an agreement from Bucor Chief Bantag to place a control gate, instead of walls on the affected roads. Will that restore normalcy to the lives of thousands of residents, students, teachers and wage-earners? Will that heal the wound inflicted by the utter lack of respect and inter-agency courtesy shown by a high official under the umbrella of the justice department?

Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.

Better to be safe than sorry

Just when we think we are about to go over the hump -- with the recent dramatic decline in the Philippines of active Covid cases and deaths -- the surges in Europe and the detection of the Omicron variant give sufficient cause for worry. On a personal level, the recent deaths due to Covid-19 of a close relative and a former college classmate -- both of whom were completely vaccinated -- are confidence-shattering. Yes, the vaccines provide some measure of protection, but one can not be absolutely sure. So, let’s continue to observe strict health protocols. Avoid unnecessary crowds, wash hands frequently, wear face masks (and face shields in an enclosed space, eg. taxicab) and observe physical distancing. Better to be safe than sorry.

My bed-ridden wife, Mira, will receive her booster shot tomorrow, December 7, exactly siix months and one week after her second dose. I am grateful to Taguig City Mayor Lino Cayetano and Dra. Glenda Latorre, of the city’s home vaccination team, for accommodating my wife due to her mobility restrictions.

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