FROM THE MARGINS: Honor(able) Thieves

"Expected" meant that the cops were to ask for a little "Christmas gift" from every passing public utility vehicle that was plying their route. Something pretty much similar to what you “normally” see in the streets of Manila. I believe they call it “kotong” in the imperial capital.

Our driver came back smiling and we asked why. First he said that he had to shell out P200 pesos as his gift. It was slightly higher because it was the holidays. But he also did something that made us all smile. He decided to give his "Christmas contribution" in plain sight for everyone – from passing vehicles to the bystanders watching the scene – to see.

What he did got the cops expectedly irritated and slightly agitated. But what he told us afterwards was out of the bizarre. The cops actually complained to him that in handing them the money in the open, he committed the crime of en flagrante delicto. They berated him for being too vulgar, for not recognizing the fact that they were "honorable men" even as they mulcted him.

"Please don't do that again. People who'd see this might say that we have no ‘moralidad,’ said the jefe of the checkpoint team accordingly. To which the driver then "apologized" profusely, saying that he was only compelled to hand them the P200 in public as a sign that he was giving this "gift" to them with the most sincere of intentions. "From the bottom of my heart!" he laughingly recalled it to us.

So here we were at the end of the holidays with a scene of disreputable members of the state demanding money –  and –  respect from the powerless who, because of their positions, were forced to obliged to this contradictory demand, but ingenious enough to also undermine the police's position of authority by turning the bribe into a public spectacle.

If you imagine this seemingly trivial incident being replicated all over the country during such times (in Lanao del Sur, bribe-taking was more demanding because the cops ask for money as a public utility vehicle goes back and forth – hence doubling their take), then you have a sense of the extent to which the law and order community has sunk. But if you think of it as part of a larger scheme reaching up to the highest seats of national power, all the more impressive is the stench. And we are not even talking of amounts yet.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. From the Margins is Mr. PN Abinales’  column for MindaNews. This essay is simultaneously printed in the author's column, “The Recusant,” with Philippine Free Press]