MY father was a policeman. I’ll never get tired telling anyone who cares to listen that my late sister and I were raised on his 30 pesos monthly salary plus the little that my mother earned from raising pigs in the backyard. When he retired in 1974, his salary had doubled to 60 pesos, which, considering his length of service, entitled him to a lump sum retirement pay of about 12,000 pesos, most of which he spent for my bar review in Manila.
I had, not surprisingly, a particular fondness for the police even if I never dreamed of ever becoming one. I took offense at phrases like “hayahay pa sa polis” and “polis patola” because I thought that they insulted the memory of my father, disrespected the sacrifices that he underwent and trivialized the service that he and the other men in uniform rendered to the people.
Do not be surprised that I am writing in the past tense. Over the years, the organization that my father served - the only one - has brought me mostly grief starting during the Marcos martial law years when they and the old Philippine Constabulary became the face of State oppression and abuse. Significantly and perhaps not surprisingly, given their shared history, they were joined together as backbone of the new integrated, civilian in character, national police.
Do not get me wrong. Not all policemen are bad, I have always held that. The rotten ones are few; most policemen are cut in the mold of my father, their needs as simple as his and their awareness of their reason for being just as acute. But the reputation of an organization is shaped by its weakest link and here, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has been very unfortunate because its weakness has been most visible.
The President’s order to exclude the police from the war on drugs (the NBI and other agencies were similarly restricted but they can be considered collateral damage) was the ultimate putdown even if he may have acted out of pique from the mounting allegations of extrajudicial killings. The manufacture, sale, distribution and use of narcotics are a peace and order problem and the PNP is the agency primarily responsible for the preservation of peace and order. The ban therefore reflects poorly on their competence.
Why am I writing this? Because during the last three days, the newspaper pages and TV news programs have been filled with stories of soldiers returning triumphantly from the war in Marawi amid applause from an appreciative and grateful nation. They had served the Republic well, risking their lives in order to make ours safe from harm by an irrational enemy.
We look at the soldiers as heroes and rightly so. We grieve over those who lost their lives even as we exult with the soldiers and their families celebrating their reunion with warm hugs and not a few tears of joy. They shall not be forgotten.
I wish that the police would one day enjoy the same affection. I actually pray for it to happen for the sake of my father. The soldiers and the policemen are exposed to similar risk to their lives in the performance of their duties, serve the same people and fight for the same cause - protecting us - but while the former are richly appreciated, the latter are grossly misunderstood and even that is an understatement. Can the police do it?
It would not be easy considering how seriously damaged their reputation is. But it can be done and when it is, I will visit the grave of my father to give him my snappiest salute and tell him that he can rest in peace because all’s well with the police.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on October 22, 2017.
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