LAOAG CITY -- When four-year-old Leighren Ramil saw a police patrol vehicle approaching, she tried to hid herself at the skirt of her grandmother, Nelda, in a rural village of Abkir, about 11 kilometers from this city.

On a nice weather, the trip going in and out to Abkir via a tricycle, a common public transport here, is less than 30 minutes. Its almost two-kilometer provincial road connecting the national highway through its neighboring Bacarra town remains unpaved. Should one decide to go to Vintar town proper, one has to pass through the Bislak river, the shortest route when going to the municipal presidencia (town hall). 

As the mode of public transport is limited in the village, some Abkir residents prefer to bring their single motorcycle with them as they pay a minimum of PHP10 pesos when crossing the river on a rakit or bamboo raft.

During rainy days and the river swells, villagers have no other way but to pass by the 1.80-kilometer dirt road with shallow to deep potholes. 

In a recent visit of a team from the Ilocos Norte Provincial Public Safety Command along with its municipal counterparts to promote peace and counter anti-terrorism threats in the barrio, they met with villagers and offered food to at least 21 Day Care pupils of Abkir Child Development Center. 

As the men and women in uniform entered the village, several children run to their mothers as if they were being chased by the police. 

“She (Leighren) has been like that every time she sees a man in camouflage carrying firearms on the sides,” said Lola Nelda, Leighren’s guardian since her mother went to Taiwan when she was still a baby.

Lola Nelda said she has to take care of her apo as Leighren’s mother never came back nor called her husband and children left in the village since then.

As part of promoting peace in local communities, the Community Action Team’s outreach program under the Ilocos Norte Provincial Public Safety Command led by Police Superintendent Amador Quiocho, Company Commander, has pre-identified Day Care pupils in rural villages in the entire province of Ilocos Norte as beneficiaries of a feeding and gift-giving project. 

Sergeant Noel Abad, chief of the Police Community Relations (PCR) of the INPPSC said the feeding and gift-giving project is meant to establish closer ties with local communities against anti-terrorism threats.

Running for two years now, the police community action team had been feeding village children as they also conduct public safety dialogues with parents and local officials in the area.

The funding came from various fundraising activities initiated by the INPPSC PCR such as fun run events, raffle draws and shoot fests.

Abad said they hope to sustain the program and help more children in the village.

During the distribution of the children’s merienda, which consists of hamburger, spaghetti and fruit juice inside the classroom, seatmates Josh Michael Pantua and Mhira Thea Agpaoa, who were seated at the back of the classroom were aloof to police officers visiting them.

They remained still at the back until a lady in uniform approached and offered them food. Their faces lit up a bit as they recognize the food from a popular fast food chain in the city.

“We like to serve them quality food, something that we know they like to order if they are near the city. Aside from the fact that it is more convenient for us to just buy and take out from the store, it is also an opportunity for children in remote villages to experience and taste food which is only available in the city,” Abad said.

He also underscored the fact that police should not be perceived by children as the enemy but as a protector or a friend.

He likewise appealed to parents and elders in the village not to introduce them as ‘bad cops’ whenever their children are misbehaving. Over the years, elders used to threaten barrio children with cops to come after them if they are naughty.  

Aside from the feeding and distribution of school supplies to selected beneficiaries, each parent or guardian were also given fruit bearing trees as part of the INPPSC’s “share a tree” project. 

Instead of organizing tree planting programs, Abad said they prefer to distribute fruit bearing trees to the locals and let them grow in their own backyards.

“That way, we are sure the plants that we give are properly nurtured and they will always remember by heart, who gave it to them,” Abad said.(PNA)