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Traffic enforcer Saturnino Fabros earned the public's sympathy this week for the abuse he suffered from motorist Robert Blair Carabuena on Saturday. Captured on video, aired by TV5, and ultimately going viral on the Internet, the footage of a private citizen (a corporate executive) assaulting an officer in uniform (a single father of six living off barely minimum wage salary) spoke volumes, netizens said, about a range of issues: arrogance, impunity, social inequalities, and a breakdown in respect for law and order.
On a more basic level, however, Carabuena's assault on Fabros gives face to a troubling fact: MMDA enforcers - and policemen and other local government men and women tasked with keeping order in Metro Manila’s anarchic streets – are in fact abused and threatened on a daily basis.
"Thankfully, serious incidents where our enforcers’ lives are put in danger don’t happen that often," said Atty. Yves Gonzalez, who is in charge of the MMDA Traffic Discipline Office. Still, the MMDA alone records an average of five altercations per month between drivers and enforcers. These incidents range from MMDA officers being berated, fought with, or intentionally injured with fists, kicks, or even cars, motorcycles, and buses aimed at running them over.
Hit, no run
In the week before the Carabuena-Fabros incident, along EDSA-Ayala, a bus driver who was apprehended refused to show his license to MMDA officer Glenn Jude Solano. To prevent the vehicle from leaving, Solano parked his motorcycle in front of the bus. The driver got angry and intentionally ran over the motorcycle.
A similar incident happened in July along EDSA's main avenue when a bus driver wanted to use the flyover instead of the service road as traffic regulations state. Traffic constable John Emil Tamani was intentionally hit by the driver, and the former received a minor abrasion on his right foot, according to the medical certificate he presented along with his report of the skirmish.
In January, a motorcycle driver was apprehended for unauthorized counterflow and lack of a helmet. When asked for his license and explanation, he shoved at the officer and proceeded to scold the MMDA officer. This report was filed by traffic enforcers Rudy June Tanedo, Lavente Jonathan, and Cornelio Garo.
In the same month, a bus driver was apprehended along EDSA-Magallanes for a violation of the MMDA’s Organized Bus Route rules. As traffic constable Reztie Tirones handed the driver his ticket, the latter cursed at him and hit him in the face. The medicolegal certificate attached with his report showed that Tirones received contusions, or bruises.
The scene below occurred in March, and was caught by the MMDA's CCTV camera along EDSA-Megamall. Shown is an enforcer trying to apprehend a motorist. The car driver refused, instead proceeding to drive while the enforcer stood in front of the car. The enforcer would continue to block the car's way even as it moved forward, hitting him. Another MMDA officer would end up assisting the first officer, recording the violation.
Another incident in July was captured in the video below. It was recorded by a taxi passenger. A motorist was seen arguing heatedly with an MMDA officer. He proceeded to push the officer, ultimately shoving him into a nearby truck. The motorist has since settled things with the officer, according to Gonzalez.
Cases where the MMDA officers receive verbal abuse – where they are cursed out and threatened – happen more frequently. In July, traffic enforcer Randy Lopez was verbally abused by a motorcycle driver who was parked illegally along Topaz Road in Ortigas.
The month before that, traffic constable Oliver Bunuan flagged down a vehicle bearing an expired commemorative plate along EDSA-Kamias Road. After being ignored, he finally caught up with the driver, who refused to present his license. The driver insisted he did nothing wrong, then said: "This is why you MMDA people get shot!" He then threatened to have Bunuan removed from his job.
Other drivers talk to enforcers arrogantly when asked for their license, such as a taxi driver with an improvised plate and expired papers, apprehended in April along Ortigas-San Juan. Traffic constable Bias Leonard Allan had to ask for police assistance in order to record the traffic violation.
In February, along Macapagal Boulevard, a driver was apprehended for overspeeding. Irate, she suggested that MMDA officers liked to focus particularly on female drivers. She continued to berate the officer, "saying many bad things," according to traffic constable Gilbert Cinconiegue's report.
In the same month, MMDA officer Aloysius Ritchie Ordiano apprehended a jeepney driver for a trip-cutting violation along Commonwealth Avenue. Angry that they couldn't settle matters, the driver threatened the enforcer, saying, "Your time will come." A fearful Ordiano reported that it seemed like the driver wanted to harm him and make a scene. "I am scared for my safety," reported Ordiano.
'We will report you to the Tulfos'
Other motorists threaten to report the officers to media, particularly to those known to expose scams, abuses, and other complaints from ordinary citizen on their TV and radio shows.
When traffic constable Jorge Villarama apprehended a driver for reckless driving along EDSA-Ortigas, the motorist started shouting and cursing at the enforcer within hearing distance of passersby. "Do you have any idea who I am? Which of the Tulfo brothers should I send here?" asked the driver.
Traffic constable Hernato Cascon apprehended a bus driver for loading and unloading passengers on the wrong lane along a Star Mall loading bay. The motorist refused to present his license, saying he would have the enforcer "Tulfo-ed." When Cascon threatened to impound the vehicle, he and his fellow officers were repeatedly bumped by the bus, with the driver cursing at them all the while.
The most severe case this year involved traffic constable Raul Reuterez. When he and other MMDA officers confronted a group of alleged drag racers along Macapagal Avenue in February, the group threatened to gun them down. ("Pagbabarilin namin kayo.")
As Reuterez's companion tried to block the racers on the MMDA vehicle, he accidentally hit one of the racers on his motorcycle, causing the latter to fall on the pavement. The man was unhurt, but the incident ignited a commotion between the two groups, with the supposed drag racers outnumbering the MMDA.
When the traffic enforcers went to call for backup, Reuterez was left alone. He was surrounded by the alleged drag racers, who hit him on the back of the head "with a hard object." His attackers then fled.
An MMDA rescue unit brought Reuterez to San Juan de Dios Hospital. He suffered multiple head injuries, and was, according to the account of traffic operation officer Vicente Felizardo, unconscious for a day.
"The worst case" Gonzalez has encountered during his two years in office involved MMDA officer Larry Fiala. "He was shot over a number coding violation," said the chief of the Traffic Discipline Office. "This happened last year."
Fiala apprehended a motorist along EDSA-Santolan. The latter hit Fiala in the face before driving away.
The officer gave chase, catching up with the driver at a Shell station along Connecticut Street, San Juan. The motorist shot Fiala three times in the abdomen, "and his hand got injured too," according to Gonzalez.
"He's alive. The case (frustrated murder) is pending now; there was a hearing just (last Wednesday)," said Gonzalez. "And remember this was all about number-coding. A 300-peso violation. So that (motorist) had to spend a couple of nights in jail and our guy, Larry Fiala, had to be hospitalized for more than two months and up to now he's still under medication."
When dealing with abuses against MMDA officers, said Gonzalez, the "number one rule" is to file a case against the motorist, especially when violence is involved.
"But there are times when, after the incidents occur, on the spot, the one involved asks pardon from the enforcer. Sometimes they are able to come to a settlement on the spot, so even before we learn of the incident, the two parties have already been able to smooth things over. When that happens, all we ask is that our enforcer file a spot report so that we know that the incident occurred just in case complications arise. But the policy is we have to file a case against all who aggravate and become violent toward our enforcers because it's really against the law to assault a person in authority."
Asked how the MMDA can prevent similar incidents in the future, Gonzalez said MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino wants MMDA supervisors of each unit to have guns so that "our people" will have "a little protection."
"Not all MMDA enforcers, just to be clear," said Gonzalez.
"We have high requirements of our heads, which is why they won't be trigger-happy. Some of them even have masteral degrees, so they will be more careful. Maybe for everyone else we can do what Chairman wants, for them to have batons. This can be their protection. Should anyone want to hit them, they can block them with their batons."