Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Men in Blue

PROLOGUE: This article will be published in the author’s personal blog not to initiate a never-ending debate on the police’s perceived incompetence. This is a ventilation of her ideas, sentiments and opinions on a lot of matters concerning law enforcement in the country. This piece contains both matters-of-fact and matters-of-opinion and is never intended to hurt any relative of a police officer, whether known or unknown to the author.

My family was once a victim of police abuses. That gives me the right to write this piece. I would rather not deal on the gory details of those tense, agonizing hours and the days and months following that first Sunday of May in 2008, for they are now water under the bridge. But believe me, the ghosts of that night still haunt me, thus making it hard for me to move on to more productive endeavors. I cringe whenever I imagine how a police officer pointed an armalite on my very precious, kind and adorable son just because he was getting the names of the police that detained my husband and his companion, an uncle. I cry when I recall that my daughter, present then to help my husband, was pushed down to the ground by burly police officers. My knees jerk when I recall the witnesses’ account that my husband, a lawyer, was hit by one of the police officers while in detention, because he kept on asking why they were being detained. (Incidentally, I always kiss the hand of this police officer’s mother when I see her in church, before and after the incident, since we know each other's family.) On Thursday following that Sunday, men armed with long firearms were in my next-door neighbor’s house, making sure they were visible to us, allegedly investigating the loss of their cell phone. Very funny. The events of that night caused my blood pressure to shoot up to 230/110 and I had to be confined in a hospital. The charges and countercharges filed have since been dismissed after a settlement initiated by the public prosecutor. The main reason we agreed to it is the safety of our family, relatives and friends. But to this day, when I see policemen whether in uniform or in civilian clothes, I can’t help but become tense. Then I realize that after this encounter with them, my life will never be the same again.

The events of Monday, August 23, 2010 at the Quirino grandstand over-emphasized what was obvious all along- that there is something very wrong in the country’s police institutions. The hostage crisis proved that many of our police officers are inept and that they lack the necessary system, training and equipment to deal with crisis situations. But what struck me the most about last Monday’s crisis was that point when the brother of the hostage taker, another policeman, refused to go with the team that will take him to the police district’s office. On national TV, he said to media people, “ Tulungan ninyo ako. Wala akong kasalanan. Idadaan nila ako sa likod. Wala akong tiwala sa mga yan! Mga pulis yan.” The police afraid of the police? Wasn’t it absurd? Or does it tell us we are correct in our perceptions?

If we go back a few weeks and months earlier, we will recall how the whole police force of Ampatuan, Maguindanao allowed themselves to be used in murdering more than 50 persons. Then, the Ted Failon episode showed us the kind of police work that is available to us. A few days ago, a torture video, featuring a police official and his victim, a supposed criminal, was released on television. The best word I can use to describe it is karimarimarim. The morning after the hostage crisis, two policemen were being investigated in connection with the rape of the wife of a man they were investigating. In this case, one of the officers had the guts to say that he has never met the woman before- which made her hysterical. What woman would say on national TV (Bitag) that she was raped if she wasn’t? Many years ago, police officers were the ones who took and brought a female UP Los Banos student to their town mayor who raped her. Afterwards, they took turns raping her again. When their lust was satisfied, they killed her and her companion and dumped them in a garbage site. The mayor and some of the policemen may still be in jail now but I am convinced that the lives of the families of those UP Los Banos students have been turned upside down. I can only wish that they have now accepted their fate and somehow forgotten their ordeal. The list of police abuses and brutality is very loooong. And it doesn’t seem to end, even after a very much trusted person is elected president of this country. This situation is both frightening and terrifying.

Many things have been said about last Monday’s hostage crisis. There was a blame game in the aftermath. Finger-pointing was soon followed by the washing of the hands of those perceived to have contributed to the tragic end of the daylong drama. As I write this, I am listening to the Senate investigation on both the torture video and the hostage crisis. I hear so many issues. But I believe, with full conviction, that the tragedy which put the Philippines to shame in the international community, should be blamed only in the hostage taker himself- a captain who is soon to retire. His relatives and his colleagues have described him as a kind man. Praises for his person and the awards he has received were enumerated for whatever purpose may serve his supporters. But I beg to digress. What virtuous policeman would get himself embroiled in an extortion case that led to his dismissal from the service? If he were really kind, where in the world did he get such an idea as to take hostage foreign tourists and later kill them? Kind? Sorry, the Holy Bible tells me those were not the acts of a kind person. It is very clear that this man, wanting to regain the powers he lost through his dismissal from the service, wants instant reinstatement. As for his awards, a retired policeman-friend (almost a relative) of ours says, they can be bought. In fact, he says, during their Sunday runs, those who did not want to go the distance because they are not capable (bulging stomachs, etc.) or they simply didn’t want to can have their way- if the price is right. This policeman-friend of ours even tells the story of how their superior police officials would demand weekly amounts that lead the subordinates to engage in illegal acts to raise the money. To avoid doing this, our policeman-friend decided to be just a 15-30 public servant, with a certain percentage of his salary going to his superior. A lesser evil, I suppose, but it is tantamount to stealing public funds. (We are not brave enough to tell our friend this, because his acts may not be too pleasant, but he is well mannered compared to others.)

But come to think of it, what is it that move many police officers to do such horrible acts? A brief review of our history gives us some insights on how we Filipinos handle power. We have been under Spanish rule for exactly 333 years and under American rule for more than 50 years. Our republic is relatively young. It’s not even a century-old. Filipinos are hungry for two things as an aftermath of being colonized- freedom and power. Hunger for freedom is a good thing. Hunger for power only becomes good depending on the purposes for which it is sought. The nouveau riche, having acquired enough wealth would soon become a politician. Having both money and position, he is now assured of power. Even a poor man who barely eats three square meals a day aspire to have power so much so that the relatively easiest position, such as being a barangay tanod is very attractive to him. Most Filipinos are power trippers because there is something in our blood that desperately wants to come out after being suppressed for more than three and a half centuries. Having a firearm makes a person powerful. Having a firearm wearing a uniform makes a person doubly powerful. The powers vested by law unto policemen obviously make them powerful to the point that they extend these powers beyond limits. Martial law in the early 70’s aggravated this hunger on the part of the law enforcers. As they say, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Many people say there are more upright and decent policemen than there are unprincipled and corrupt ones. I agree. I know of a policeman whose daughter was molested by a young man in their community. Instead of taking the law into his own hands, which he can very well do, he took the case to the courts of law. Very commendable. But I ask, where are the rest? Why are they failing us? If there were more good ones, how come the institution is as indecent as it is now? Can’t they do something? Can’t they overpower the bad eggs in their ranks? I wish they would do the right thing to serve and protect the people truly, justly and faithfully.

My father was a member of the Philippine Constabulary for most of his life as a man in uniform. When it was integrated into the national police, he chose to transfer to the army, where he started. I am very glad of his decision. For if he stayed in the police force, then I will become one of those who are hurt by the many criticisms generated by the bad eggs in the basket that is the national police.

We need the police. We need law enforcers. We need peace keepers. We do not need torturers, rapists, extortionists, murderers and hostage-takers in uniform.

Last Saturday, I attended the class reunion of Batch ’94 St. Mary’s Academy, Baliuag. I learned that two of my former students became police officers- a young man and a young woman. Before I went to sleep that night, I thought about them and I prayed that they may always be guided by the Catholic, Marian and Ignacian teachings that they got from their alma mater. I prayed that they may always find what they need in discharging their duties faithfully to their fellowmen. Some good things are really easy to find. We do not need to go far. They are in our hearts.

Picture taken from