AT MIDNIGHT, Marem (not her real name) clocked out of her job at an economic zone and commuted to her home in Barangay Bankal, Lapu-Lapu City.

She counted it a blessing that she did not have to take several trips to return to the bungalow, which she shared with her children and helper. Separated from her husband, Marem needed her job, despite its graveyard shift.

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From the entrance of the village, where she disembarked from the tricycle, she had to walk a few hundred meters. The village streets were often still and deserted by midnight, but as nothing untoward ever happened to her, Marem did not mind the walk.

This particular night, two young men were lounging outside a closed stall. When she drew close, one of the men approached her. Drawing out a gun, he demanded for her bag.

Recalling the incident later to neighbors who rushed to aid her, Marem said she thought the young men were just part of the youngsters who often met to talk outside the store. The gun her attacker pulled out hardly registered with her.

It was the tussle over her bag—whose valuables included a cell phone and P1,000—that focused her attention. Dismayed at the thought of losing the money, Marem shouted even as the men grappled with her. It was her screams that woke up nearby residents. Marem’s attackers ran away.

Three days later, the incident was still the talk of the village. Fourteen days after the incident, the rain and consequent clogging that made some streets impassable dominated the talk of women waiting for students to be dismissed from a preschool located within the village.

Fourteen days after the incident, Marem still recalled for the curious what exactly happened to her that night. Her bruises, though, have faded so there was a visible drop in the drama of retelling.

She still goes home past midnight. She takes another route to reach her home. No, she did not report the incident to the police or the barangay.

Her cell phone got broken during the tussle over her bag. She needs to replace it. Nothing after all happened to her. And she could have been wrong about the gun. Maybe it was a toy. Otherwise, they would have used it, no?

Taking responsibility

Fighting crime should not be left for the authorities to tackle alone.

Neither should it be left to the quick, ambiguous justice of vigilantes and their murky protectors.

Barangays can be critical for fighting crime when organized into a neighborhood crime watch.

Such programs fuse the cooperation of barangay officials, the police and citizens to prevent crime and enforce the law.

Neighborhoods are the first to know, and know intimately, the local areas where most crimes are committed, especially those that go unreported.

Oftentimes, these areas are not just associated with drug use or other lawbreaking activities. These local hangouts draw people for socializing. In turn, the crowds are magnets for criminals.

But even if local authorities are aware of these crime-prone areas, they need citizens who can keep an eye 24/7 for any activity or person that arouses their suspicion.

The crime watch scheme succeeds when citizens feel it is their duty not just to look out for their own welfare but also for others who may be victimized.

These citizens should not be afraid to report to the police or barangay officials.

Aside from deterring criminals, neighborhood crime watch programs can also look out for the vulnerable, such as the elderly, minors left alone without parents or guardians, and homes that are vacated during the day due to work or school.

Taking responsibility for crime also means vigilance with one’s family. Parents should always know the whereabouts of their children, their activities, and friends or company, advises “If you do not know this, can you be sure that (your children) are not causing trouble for other people?”

In Marem’s village, a rash of break-ins once forced some neighbors to lock and monitor abandoned houses, which were used by some youths to drink liquor or use illegal drugs.

Bushes and trees were trimmed to prevent their foliage from blocking the street lights and draping the streets in shadow.

Not only did the break-ins cease, vandalism of walls and gates also stopped.

Then the night two youths tried to rob Marem with a gun.

But because no one took responsibility, it’s as if the incident never happened.

Until crime will strike again.