Taclobanons want weapons against looters

by Andrew Jonathan Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 30 2013 01:29 AM | Updated as of Dec 02 2013 09:22 AM

Community volunteers carry steel tubes for self-defense as they patrol streets against looters. Photo by Archie Torres, ABS-CBN News

TACLOBAN CITY-- The worse is not yet over for some natives of typhoon-ravaged Tacloban City.

At the Cristina Heights and Kassel Homes subdivisions, many homes are deserted and locked up, their owners having abandoned them out of fear in the aftermath of super storm Yolanda (Haiyan).

The few people who chose to stay are concerned about incidents of theft by burglars who take advantage of exposed areas like roofs.

Such fears run counter to statements by the police that the peace and order situation in the city is under control.

One resident said they have seen unfamiliar people roam the area lately and fears they might be armed.

Caretakers of the abandoned homes, like Leopoldo Solis, often sleep during the day so they can stand guard by night. The house's owner fled to Manila weeks ago. But for Leopoldo, he can only do so much.

"This house has been broken into lots of times," he said.

He thinks the perpetrators are professionals from nearby who roam around looking for houses to rob.

“They probably think that these homes still have food, money, and valuables, when they actually don’t,” he said.

The thieves then hide their loot at other rundown structures during the day and then smuggle them out through children, he said.

Leopoldo called on the owner, Celito, to return and secure his belongings.

“Maybe by the time you return, only lumber will be left,” he said.

This is why the residents left here are taking matters into their own hands. Some patrol the area brandishing steel tubes for self-defense.

“We’ve banded together and placed barricades,” said Zaldy Villanobos, one of the volunteers. They will likely continue their rounds until Christmas Eve.

From 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., they do not allow people unfamiliar to the area to pass through the barricades made from wood and torn roofing.

“It’s just us guarding the place to ensure its security,” added Leopoldo Solis.

But according to Philippine National Police Director-General Allan Purisima, who is also here in Tacloban, the augmented police and military presence has helped prevent further looting.

“(Our plan now is) we will set up check points on all exits and entrances in the city to check whether the goods leaving Tacloban are stolen or not,” he said.

The volunteer patrollers of Cristina Heights and Kassel Homes have already seen some policemen and soldiers helping secure their subdivisions, which are near the outskirts of Tacloban.

But that has not prevented suspicious-looking people from causing alarm, like a man who volunteer patrollers brought to a police station.

He was tattooed, shirtless, and barefoot, said Bert Picante, a patroller. His wrists were handcuffed with the chain connecting them broken off.

“He approached us and asked for directions going out of here,” he said.

The man was soon let off since he was not identified among the list of fugitives from local prisons.

A couple who identified themselves as the man’s parents later fetched him at the precinct. It turned out that the man was drunk and played a prank on by a drinking buddy.

Such encounters, however, make residents like Ernesto Samson want to arm themselves as a precaution.

“They (thieves) will always be armed. They might even resort to killing,” he said.

But authorities have long said that civilians cannot be armed without licenses. Instead, they should cooperate with security forces in the area to ensure their safety. - with reports by Francis Faulve and Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News