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Give 'Em A Break!

It is so easy to go along with the fad and make fun of the cops who bungled the hostage operation earlier this week. Sugod. Wait. Atras. Takbo. That is just one of the inventive meanings that people have coined to stand for the acronym SWAT in the wake of the botched internationally televised operation, all of them humorous and without a doubt derogatory.

The job of the armchair or grandstand critic is one of the most readily available of all in the world. It is not a paying job; but it sure as hell is a load of fun. The qualifications needed are non-existent; and the job functions are open-ended. Everyone who cares is, of course, immediately hired.

At the moment, providing fodder for countless armchair critics around the country is our very own national police force. From air-conditioned and carpeted offices where yuppies sip tumblers of Starbucks coffee to kantos where half-naked tambays swig at bottles of cheap gin, everyone’s favorite whipping boys are the police, particularly those who were involved in the drama – nay, comedy – at the Luneta. To be perfectly fair, some of the mistakes were of the sort we in football would quickly place under the category “schoolboy errors.” Pathetic sounds even considerate.

Having said that, it is one thing to brand the fiasco as this and that; and another to be asked to come face-to-face with an indignant man who was making known to all and sundry his indignation with a little help from an automatic rifle and an assortment of other weapons. They do kill, you know!

That is what we pay them for, the armchair critic may choose to argue. Indeed, that is what we pay them to do should the occasion so demand. But the question not being asked is do we pay them enough so that they, at the very least, try to live up to the dignity everyone – and not just the critics – expects of them in such a life-threatening situation.

I hope that those among us who are scornful have at least paid our taxes as a way of symbolic entitlement for the casting of our stones and planting of our barbs. At least if we have, the objects of both our scorn and merriment may get their pay on time at the end of this month like the rest of us do so that they may go on deserving the taunts we hurl their way.

If we have all paid our taxes, can we be reasonably  reassured that these have gone to what we all explicitly paid good hard-earned money for so that government may redistribute back benefits to us citizens as all honest taxpayers only rightfully deserve? Benefits such as law and order, to cite but one of many we all should be receiving as a matter of course, if government only does what it is supposed to do.

I plead guilty, as ever, to a penchant for over-simplification. But to my mind, law and order begins with every citizen, so that law-enforcement becomes incidental to society. That includes not only paying our taxes when we have to but also staying away from police operations, as common sense dictates, instead of being right in the middle of it; or knowing when not to send in TV cameras because these can compromise police strategies.

The police are being singled out for their ineptitude – and with good reason, I shall be quick to admit – but their ineptitude has never really been a state secret, has it? I will go against the tide and simply say that their ineptitude was just magnified by other factors too many to dwell upon in one single blog entry. Why, then, has nobody thought up Sana Walang Airtime ang Television to stand for SWAT?

Heads have already rolled within the police – and again, if you think of it from the vantage point of command responsibility, only rightly so. On the other hand, what reassurance is there that the replacements will do any better if placed under the same challenges faced in the crisis we all saw on TV?

The ineptitude, for crying out loud, is endemic to the organization. How many of these policemen, if they had the means and the intellect, will even be in their current profession? They will probably be yuppies sipping Starbucks coffee in some air-conditioned office! Put things the other way, how many of the Starbucks coffee-sipping yuppies who are being entertained by police jokes on Facebook ever considered entering the force when they were undecided about a career?

I am – by no means – being disrespectful to policemen. I have spent all my life in education and I know that most students consider careers in Engineering, Medicine and Business ahead of something fundamental such as Teaching. The same may be said of the way students look at Law Enforcement.

For either career to prosper, each has to get good people; the good people have to receive equally good training; and once deployed they have to be supplied with good equipment. Just as many public school teachers decry the lack of basic supplies like books, chalk and paper and have yet to lay their hands on an LCD projector or even a PC, policemen think of bullets and vests as luxuries instead of supplies that can be easily replenished.

In short, everything boils down to money. This is the Philippines; we do not have an awful lot of it. Maybe we do; it is just in the wrong hands.

Censuring the police is deserved, and it may at least keep the force on its toes for a while. Censure, however, will only bring quick fixes. It will still be the same organization needing not a quick tin-foil fix but a major overhaul – and not just the manpower already in it.

The potshots will – doubtless – continue. The police are themselves to blame. I am being more sympathetic than most; but even I am aware of the corruption within the force. Theirs is not a popular and trusted institution. Who has not seen an accosted driver along the road discreetly dropping a bill into a policeman’s lap? In a manner of speaking, the quips and the insults are just the public getting even with an organization that, to its mind, lost its credibility a long time ago.

Yet, the tendency to stereotype can be so unjust! Just as there are corrupt policemen, there are those who are honest, dedicated and will give their lives for the protection of the public. With or without bulletproof vests!

To my mind, the fiasco that was the hostage rescue effort was the picture of a very sick organization trying to do a job it was ill-trained and ill-equipped to do. Do we throw stones and make fun of a sick man? Decency dictates that we – at least – offer our sympathies; and at most help with whatever we can.

Yes, the derogatory potshots are well and truly deserved. But won’t we all be better served by calling for the organization to get the medicines it needs instead of pelting it to its death? At the very least, if only for that occasion which God forbid will ever arrive when we find ourselves in a situation of crisis and our lives dependent on the – hopefully – brave and honest policeman who will lay down his life so that we may not be harmed...

Give ‘em a break!

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