LAOAG—Cats, cabaret performers, royalty, moving dolls and masked dancers—all these could be found in the “Broadway Musical Competition” that marked the Fellowship Night of the 7th National Biennial Summit in Policing, sponsored and organized jointly by the Philippine National Police’s Directorate for Police and Community Relations and Soroptimist International Philippines Region.
The summit at Fort Ilocandia gathered over 600 policewomen from all over the country, joined by over 100 Soroptimists, who, participants said, both look forward to (and save for) this event that has taken place every two years since 2000.
Described as a project “for the enrichment of police practices … regarding gender-related issues,” the summit has also become a venue for projecting alternate images and identities for women in the PNP, who are the front-liners in responding to crises and crimes, but especially on the domestic front through the “Women’s and Children’s Desks” in police stations.
The socials night was certainly the occasion to project a “different” image for the PNP women. As Bulacan Rep. Linabelle Ruth Villarica, who chaired the board of judges for the competition, told the crowd: “You’re in the wrong profession!” From elaborate costumes to astounding makeup, remarkable singers and agile dancers, even budding comedians—the performances from 15 regional offices were stunning and certainly entertaining. I for one wondered what the wife beaters and child molesters arrested and incarcerated by these brave and feisty women would think if they saw them in their (sometimes) slinky dresses sashaying and swaying to Broadway beats.
The night was both entertainment and catharsis. A chance, I hazarded a guess, to shed workday tensions and concerns for the time being in favor of sisterhood and revelry.
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But, to be sure, there was plenty of “serious stuff” on the menu, too.
Director Lina Sarmiento for Police Community Relations, who, as a 2-star general, is the highest-ranking woman in the PNP, put together a program targeted at larger concerns that, at the local level, impacts on the operations and working conditions of policewomen. But for the individual women, on the personal front, the issues discussed also “hit home.”
Ateneo de Manila University political science professor Lourdes “Vene” Veneracion Rallonza placed two pressing issues—the Millennium Development Goals and peace and security—within the ambit of women’s particular concerns. The MDGs cannot be achieved unless “gender equality” lies at its heart and becomes central to the efforts to achieve them, she said. Certainly, the “women in policing” appreciated the role of women highlighted by Vene in current efforts to put an end to the armed conflicts in the country.
The role of women in law enforcement was highlighted all the more in the talk of Beatrice Bustamante, chief of operations of a US government project providing training for the PNP’s women. Bea, who trained as a police officer in her native New Mexico and who has a daughter who is herself now a police officer in Texas, spoke of the evolution of “women in policing” in America. Today, she said, women and men in the US police force face the same challenges and risks, and enjoy the same status and treatment. This did not come about “naturally,” but as a result of changing laws and perceptions of the capabilities and achievements of women in the force. Women’s natural gifts for communication and consensus building, she said, make them ideal operatives in the face of the changing nature of law enforcement today.
Manuel Rangasa, a climate-change expert based in Albay, put the “fear of God” among the participants when he showed the projected impacts of floods, rainfall and drought in the country as a result of global warming. I spoke on the empowerment of women through reproductive health, with a focus on the pending RH bill.
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Though she arrived late, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos threw the crowd into a frenzy upon her entrance.
Marcos is, in the words of Director Sarmiento, “one of the tourist attractions of Ilocos Norte,” and her presence certainly galvanized the policewomen, who eagerly took turns (by regional delegations) having a photo op with her. In her brief personal remarks (earlier, her provincial administrator Windell Chua read an address for her), Marcos thanked the Soroptimists and the PNP women for selecting Ilocos Norte as the site of their gathering, confiding over lunch that the province had been hurting from the drastically reduced numbers of Chinese tourists after the 2010 hostage-taking at Luneta. Fortunately, some of the slack has been taken up by local tourism: “We had more tourists than Baguio last Holy Week,” she said.
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In all, the past few days were testament to the remarkable partnership between the policewomen and the Soroptimists, who began working together in the early 1990s to provide gender orientation to the PNP women on the way to the creation of “Women’s and Children’s Desks,” which are now found in every police station nationwide.
“Our efforts have borne much fruit,” said Carmen Araneta Flor, a Soroptimist International director who spearheaded the group’s partnership with the PNP. For the first time, for instance, a woman now heads the Directorate for Police and Community Relations.
But as Director Sarmiento points out, many challenges remain. As she said in her message: “Let us promote gender equality and empowerment of women by giving fair, objective and equal opportunities for recruitment, promotion and placement in the PNP.”
Not just in the PNP, Lina, but throughout the rest of the Philippines, too!