Sunday, January 18, 2009

Is Port Moresby a 'murder capital' of the world?


SOMETIME ago, a fellow-Filipino posted a message on the email service of the Pinoy community here in Port Moresby asking about the law and order situation in Papua New Guinea.
Signing his post with an alias, he said he was expecting to come to PNG as a contractual worker in a national government agency and was very concerned over the state of personal security in the city. He further said he read some news items on PNG crime situation and would like to know if the stories were true.
I understood his worries, something that I felt for the first time when I first set foot on PNG soil more than 15 years ago.
The man who fetched me at the Jackson International Airport outside of Port Moresby in the early morning of December 5, 1993 said casually that I was now "an expatriate" and should take precaution for my personal safety.
"You're now an expatriate and "raskols" would be after you," the man said, referring to thugs or hoodlums that infested the city during those days (and even up to now) like bedbugs with almost impunity to the chagrin of police authorities.
During the first four years of my stay here, I was hit three times and each encounter with the criminals was traumatic. Friends who learned of my experience jokingly said that three (hits) in four years was good enough, and considering also that the culprits let me live.
Replying to the email-sender, I did not answer his query directly. But instead told him about my father who lived in PNG for almost 10 years while earning his keep as a mechanic.
Dad, who based himself in Lae, the country's center of industries during the 70s located on the northern coast of PNG, had no trouble with "raskols".
From Lae, he drove cargo haulers up to the Highlands to deliver goods and came back to the city in one piece.
As a colony of Australia, the country was peaceful -- everyone could move freely in and out of the urban centers without having to bother much about safety.
Raskols then were almost unheard of as everybody was busy earning a living. There were no reasons for anybody to steal from, or rob, other people. And killing for reasons of the stomach was something unheard of. And houses then were not fenced in with steel structures like they are nowadays.
In short, life in PNG during those days was peaceful and quite sufficient economically for everybody to enjoy a modest living.
Of course, I also told the email-poster that for us present-day Filipino expatriates here in POM (short for Port Moresby), personal security is of great concern; that we go about our daily lives day in day out, without forgetting that the world outside our homes is not that safe for everyone, whether you're Papua New Guinean or otherwise.
So, in our survival kit, safety precaution is the No. 1 item.
"Is it true there's a lot of people being killed by raskols?" was the email-writer's parting, worrying question.
I was unable to answer this for I did not have the statistics to show. But it is a common perception among city residents that crime takes place everyday -- from hold-up to mugging and outright armed robbery -- victimizing helpless people, which sometimes led to their death. It is in fact, the order of the day.
BUT TODAY, I have big news for the email-writer.
Because on Wednesday, January 7, his query was answered squarely by news report carried by the country's leading daily The National on the front page, screaming in bold headline fonts.

Murder capital

Port Moresby listed among world's worst

The report said: "Port Moresby has been placed among the top five murder capitals of the world, a ranking by a foreign publication that has got Police Commissioner Gari Baki fuming.
"The Washington DC-based Foreign Policy publication, in its edition last September, lists Port Moresby alongside Caracas (Venezuela), Cape Town (South Africa), New Orleans (USA) and Moscow (Russia) as cities where you have a very good chance of getting murdered.
"The Foreign Policy website (  on which the listing is still available (,  says when it comes to brutal, homicidal violence, these five cities stand in a class of their own.
"The publication said Caracas, which has a population of 3.2 million, had a murder rate of 130 per 100,000 residents; Cape Town had 2.5 million people and a murder rate of 62 per 100,000 residents; New Orleans had 220,000 people and a murder rate of 67 per 100,000 residents; Moscow had 10.4 million people and a murder rate of 9.6 per 100,000 residents; while Port Moresby had a population of 254,000 (2000 population census) and a murder rate of 54 per 100,000 people.
The website noted that "Port Moresby might seem like a surprising addition to this list. But its high violent crime rates, along with high levels of police corruption and gang activity, helped earn the city the dubious title of 'worst city' in a 2004 Economist Intelligence Unit survey.
"With gangs called "raskols" controlling the city centers and unemployment rates hovering around 80 per cent, it's easy to see how Port Moresby beat out the 130 other survey contenders.
"Port Moresby's police don't seem to be helping the crime situation -- last November, five officers were charged with offenses ranging from murder to rape.
"And in August, the city's police barracks were put on a three-month curfew due to a recent slew of bank heists reportedly planned inside the stations by officers and their co-conspirators.
"Rising tensions between Chinese migrants and Papua New Guineans are also cause for alarm, as are reports of increased activity of organized Chinese crime syndicates."
Shocked over the report, the Police Commissioner questioned the validity of the website's listing of the world murder capitals. He said: "As commissioner of Papua New Guinea police, I was shocked and upset over Foreign Policy's listing because it is simply not true." He expressed his disgust in a letter distributed widely for publication.
"I have been a law enforcement officer for more than 35 years and I know for a fact that we have not had 54 murders in Port Moresby at any one time over the last 10 years," Mr Baki stressed.
Just a few days before Christmas Day, one of the nation's respected citizens and a businessman-investor, Sir George Constantinou, 78, was murdered by a group of young hoodlums near the Tete settlement located on the outskirts of the city. He was driving home from his timber company compound nearby when he was attacked.
Tete is notorious for being home to all types of criminals who preyed on city residents and these young thugs who were just after Sir George's wallet and cell phone had to kill him to get them.
And on New Year's Day, Timothy Houji, 26, a pilot of Air Niugini, was also attacked and killed by a group of thugs just outside a premier hotel in downtown Port Moresby.
OBVIOUSLY, the PNG government hierarchy is totally upset, especially now that the country is posting some impressive gains in vital sectors of its economy -- from job generation to investment and development of the nation's natural resources like gold and copper, oil and gas, timber and tuna, mostly funded by foreign capitals.
And negative news like this is the last thing it wanted to read in the news because it could easily drive away potential investors wanting to come in and become a major player in the country's economic agenda.
It is expected that the news on Port Moresby being a murder capital has already been picked up by news agencies especially those based in Australia, and distributed to client-newspapers around the world.
When Powes Parkop, governor of the National Capital District (NCD), led the demolition of Tete settlement just a few days before Christmas, he got his mind focused on one thing: To rid the city of criminals who are holding out in some 63 settlements around the city.
For him, the settlements continuously supply the city with its raskols year-round. If not, how come they continue to operate in the city despite the police's drive to round up and lock them up?
And the burning down of Tete, which has been supported by the general public, by the Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, and by the city business chamber, would be a good start, it being the most notorious among the 63.
In just one day operation, Parkop's demolition team with backing from the police had almost annihilated all shanties -- torching and bulldozing them except for the remaining small block that had been spared due to incessant rains in the area.
But a surprise court restraining order on the second day of the shanty assault has stalled Parkop's campaign for the meantime. With this, he has to await court ruling on the legality of destroying the shanties and sending the illegal settlers home to their original provinces.
OVER THE YEARS, the influx of rural people -- most of them jobless -- into the city has remained unabated, with almost all of them ending up in these settlements, shacking up with their extended relatives.
It is estimated now that NCD's 63 settlements involve around 50,000 households, home to close to 300,000 with most of them jobless while the rest just depending on the city for menial jobs as source of livelihood. NCD's settlements are just part of the 657 scattered on the outskirts of urban centers across PNG.
With most of them having no employable skills, they could not land a sustainable paid job until such a time when they are forced to hook up with criminals to steal or rob people just to survive, and sometimes to kill their victims when they could not help it. To avoid police arrest, they would hide away deep into the settlements while sympathetic settlers kept the pursuers at bay.
With demolition being untimely halted by court, thus giving the criminals continuous "accommodation" at the settlements, Parkop has stepped up his on-going campaign against betel nut (buai) selling in the city. One obvious reason is that buai chewers are messing up the city with their betel nut husks and dark-brown spittle.
Just a few days before Christmas, I happened by at the Boroko shopping center, supposed to be the city's premier place to shop at, and my eyes were immediately assaulted by wind-blown plastic bags as they rolled across the parking lots and walkways and betel nut husks and brownish spittle strewn all around the place.
Selling of betel nut is the major source of income of settlement residents; it is a thriving business because the addiction to buai is deeply embedded in the psyche of almost all Papua New Guineans. It is a national pastime, to say the least.
Of late, may city residents had argued that this traditional village habit handed down from generations has no more place in a growing and modernizing city like Port Moresby and therefore should no longer be tolerated by city authorities.
Betel nut chewing, they said, belongs just to the village now and not Port Moresby which is trying its best to be more relevant to the outside world.
But selling the nut is the only available means for most of the settlement dwellers to eke out a living in the city. Or else, they would grow hungry.
Therefore, preventing them from plying their trade as they do now, or relocating them outside the city so that the rubbish they produce from betel nut husks and spittle would not create an unsightly scene all over the city for foreign tourists to photograph and post on the Internet, is tantamount to killing them softly.
As it is now, the city government, much less the national government, has yet to come up with an a lasting solution to the exploding number of settlement dwellers; while it can force them to pack up and go home to their villages using the muscle of the police, it has nothing to offer them in terms of jobs and services right in their home villages that would improve their lots.
This is one reason why they continue to move away from their home villages into the urban areas like NCD where there are relatively good roads and service facilities like health centers and schools, fertile farmlands and accessible markets for whatever food they could produce.
As Parkop's betel nut offensive progressed, settlers have warned the city government and the police that the problems with the city raskols would escalate. This is because what they (authorities) are doing to their immediate families is depriving them of an honest source of income.
Translating this, the settlement dwellers are actually saying: "Take away our source of livelihood and we will take away whatever is available to us ..."
With this threat, the city and police authorities are in quandary. "What to do?" remains the biggest question the city government and police have to deal with and for which they have to come up with the right solution.
Suffice it to say that the stakes for both the peace-loving city residents and the settlement dwellers are great; both sides demand a workable ending to the burning issue at hand so that they could co-exist peacefully and move about productively.
Meanwhile, we, the Port Moresby expatriates, are holding our breath. We badly need a safe and peaceful city like Port Moresby because, for all intents and purposes, it is home to all of us.
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  1. Anonymous8:10 PM

    Having been to Manila and experienced this putrid city first hand, and having lots of friends who have been there at some stage, we have all vowed NEVER to return not only because it is totally unsafe but also because it is a place where it is very easy to be cheated, tricked and conned by everyone from hotel porters to bank clerks and taxi drivers. It seems that everyone is on the make, out to fleece anyone they can. And then just look at what happened to with that bus-load of innocent Hong Kong tourists last week! Who would want to go there now? If Port Moresby is unsafe, then so, very difinitely is Manila.

  2. Anonymous4:04 AM

    KAN BLO MAMA BLO U !!! Maniilla em 1pla pussy hap u dont go 2 where the real crime goes on my lil filipino freind i dont see your city on the headlines for once being the worlds most dangerous so shut the fuck up bitch!! U laik catchim bullet...kam lo kaugere pastaim mate!!!! America's so called ghetto's dont have shit on my city PORT MORESBY...U laik save, kaikaikan na raun lo sabama nambaut!!! MANGIK-AVEH

  3. Anonymous2:35 PM

    Yu tupela wantaim kaikai kan blo tumbuna blo yutupela die lo matmat.....

  4. Anonymous9:05 PM

    so how is it worst than manila or even provinces in luzon? raskols as what PNG calls it, our are gangsters which starts from age 14 onwards. it just so happens that we are already used to this crimes sorrounding us. on my 5 years of stay in manila, i have gone to isolated places and only took precautions. im proud to say, i have not been a victim of any crime. when i visited other provinces in luzon and mindanao, that i became a victim of pickpockets! maybe its also important that you take precautions even in the provinces or even when you're in any country in general.
    for ofws, any country would be dangerous to them if they dont take precautions since the place is new to them.