Serve and protect: We get what we pay for
To me, “law and order” was an American TV show in the 1990s, where leather-jacketed detectives apprehended random lowlifes that an attractive assistant DA proceeded to crucify with streams of incoherent legalese. When those 60 minutes ended, I went back to being a Filipino growing up in Manila unblessed with the political muscle of the 1-percent elite.
Then “law and order” morphed into a vaudeville act featuring slapstick characters who are not particularly entertaining. Ever since I can remember, cops in local films would arrive in the last 10 minutes of the movie, holding guns like they’re flapping plastic replicas of their flaccid male parts, their decibel level the only impressive thing about them.
I’m not sure if the real-life versions strove for machismo roles to discredit the laughable portrayal of their breed, but our cops have taken a seriously sinister shade indeed. The current sentiment is: Who will police the police? You can now rent a cop to shoot down a world-class race car champion for a third of the cost of a second-hand Mazda. And last Sept. 1, eight policemen brazenly held up private citizens at gunpoint, on a major thoroughfare, in broad daylight!
And guess what, it was a repeat performance! Two of them pulled a similar heist in 2011. I almost choked on the thought that the only positive thing I’ve read about our police lately was that report on the dude who won a male beauty pageant.
This brought to mind my personal brushes with shady law enforcement—stories I had chosen to forget, almost successfully.
I once got dragged along to south of the city to pick up a friend’s date. While we were waiting in the car, I thought he was fidgety because his date was underage. Turned out that the lecher had a premonition that he was walking into a setup, and probably brought me along as a shield.
The girl turned up high on crystal meth, and we had barely made it to the highway when three police cars cornered us and forcibly entered the car. I started spitting gibberish I read from John Grisham. The cops hesitated until the imbecile I was with told them that he had stopped doing meth: “Boss naman, di na nga ako nagsha-shabu, eh.” He was beyond help.
They “invited” us to their station, even openly talked about it being a sting operation—what they called palit-ulo (exchange of heads). The girl had earlier been caught in possession and since she couldn’t pay them off, the cops brokered a deal where she would plant drugs on someone with money in exchange for the dropping of charges. They teased my friend for his questionable appetites and half-jokingly told him they could lock him up anyway for seduction of a minor if he didn’t settle.
It was absurdly surreal how friendly they were. I was having a perfectly pleasant chat about skydiving with one of them while others accompanied my friend to a nearby ATM. He paid them 40 grand, after negotiating from their original demand of 100. He was very proud of that accomplishment. And they were all in high spirits when they invited me back into the office of the chief, who brandished a box of “confiscated” drugs and offered me Valiums. All I could focus on at that moment were the rubber bands holding the sheets of tablets together. I think I was slightly hysterical.
A year later I went to a sleepy province in central Philippines to close some realty sales. On the surface the place seemed to have traffic violation as its most heinous crime. But I have a penchant for attracting dubious characters, and had a client who I later found was rumored to be trafficking drugs and women. The night he asked me to come to his decrepit restaurant (his front for illegal business) and pick up the reservation fee for a condo he’s buying, I was greeted by the sight of his 20-year-old “cousin” wielding a butcher’s knife and screaming at him on the phone, “Totohanin mong kaya mo ‘kong patayin (Be sure you can come through with killing me)!” No, it didn’t seem like the best time to tell her I was there for the cash and can she please sign my papers.
Soon the door slammed open. Without warning, my client started shooting at pointblank range. With bullets whizzing over my head and glass breaking around me, I noticed how our senses oddly sharpen with such clarity in times of crisis and how short my skirt was to be crawling on that filthy floor.
The girl survived. She later told me that he didn’t really mean it and was just hopped up on substances, that the last time he went on a rampage like that, a bullet ricocheted and hit one of their men in the groin. Gee, thanks, I thought, my corpse would’ve found that useful.
It was a cop who sold my client the unlicensed firearm. A cop who had been in prison for years, yet still had an ongoing lucrative business of selling unregistered guns.
How have we devolved to a point where our crooks are not stealthy night operatives in ski masks but uniformed men making their moves in broad daylight? Where we citizens, as a whole, purposely do not report incidents like these because the fear of retribution is greater than the fear of a rapidly dissolving justice system? Look at how I omitted the specifics—which station, which province, what names—because there is no protection for anyone who offers this sort of information.
The top 10 countries in the world with the lowest crime rates have these major things in common: low population, minimal disparity among economic classes, sizeable police force, and stringent penalties. One of them is Iceland, which ranks 15th worldwide in per capita gun ownership but where the police are unarmed.
Our population has gotten out of hand to the point where lives are now disposable. We have a cop-to-population ratio of 1:700, and some of them are criminals. Isn’t it time to implement harsher penalties? I, for one, am all for seeing corrupt officials whipped or caned, as is done in countries exacting corporal punishment, like Singapore. This is painful for me to admit, but I’m now in favor of the death penalty for rapists and murderers. Show me a better option because I really prefer not to be at risk of being nabbed and raped every time I walk the streets of Manila, or slave for years paying the highest income tax rate in Southeast Asia just so government officials can plunder their way to lavish lifestyles. I say cane them, then fine them exorbitant amounts and use these to reward the honorable people in law enforcement. Pay them accordingly for risking their lives in service so they don’t find the means through criminal activity, thereby compelling them to do what they’re supposed to: Serve and protect. We get what we pay for.
I marched twice on Edsa demanding change through People Power—the first atop my father’s shoulders in a yellow shirt and the second in a black shirt, with raging college angst. But to this day, “law and order” remains as illusory as that 60-minute TV show.
Sweet Caneos describes herself as “a professional flow artist and pole dancer” who founded “the first hula hoop community” in the Philippines and in Saudi Arabia, where she is currently based.
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