CEBU City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, responding to the loss of his operational and supervisory control over the police in the city, has announced his plan to create a neighborhood watch in the barangays, starting in areas with high concentration of business process outsourcing (BPO) firms. “Just because I don’t have a police I can work with doesn’t mean I can’t fulfill my duties,” he explained.
The plan sounds good at first glance, or until one goes into the details. What Osmeña has given us so far are outlines: the neighborhood watch would be composed of retired soldiers and policemen, private citizens and other volunteers, and its operation would be partly funded by the private sector. Other points, like the function of the group and its limits, are still nebulous.
We hope the plan is not a knee-jerk reaction but is really Osmeña's way of thinking out of the box in his effort to maintain peace and order in the city after the National Police Commission (Napolcom) stripped him of his hold over the city's police force. We also hope the move's subtext is not politicking.
Consider that a neighborhood watch actually exists under the present setup in the barangays; they are called barangay tanods. Their creation was provided for by the Local Government Code and because they have existed for decades their composition and functions are already well set. How the mayor's neighborhood watch would be different from the barangay tanods is an interesting question to ask.
Since Osmeña took over as mayor on June 30, efforts to undercut the authority and function of some barangays have been observed. Majority of the current barangay officials in the city are aligned with the opposition. Officials have complained, for example, about the mayor appointing people in the barangays and giving them a task that duplicates that of existing barangay health workers.
While barangay tanods sometimes work with the police, they are not a part of the Philippine National Police (PNP) but are under the direct supervision and control of the barangay councils and indirectly under City Hall. Why won't the mayor utilize them as “neighborhood watch” instead of creating another group that would help maintain peace and order in the barangays?