WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Say it ain’t so, Bato!

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 July) — Some months back, during a meeting of the Multistakeholder Advisory and Action Group (MSAAG) of the 10th Infantry “Agila” Division, I heard MSAAG Chair Ednar Dayanghirang mention that he sits at a similar body for the Regional Command of the Philippine National Police (PNP). He shared that they had just finished reviewing the accomplishment reports of the various PNP units in the region and that only the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) submitted a comprehensible draft.

“Magaling ang editor,” I deadpanned.

Ednar laughed at how easily I allowed myself to get caught.

“What?” I teased further. “Contrary to what has been said about this Dr. Ilagan, it is so not true that it is only the soldiers of Mindanao who can avail of my professional opinion.”

And that’s all I have to say about the state of the DCPO.

It was an editing job. The content is not mine to divulge. While going through it twice for good measure though, the summary report did give me an appreciation of the challenges of law enforcement. It made me think that given this relative lack of resources to do one’s job, it’s a major miracle that there are career cops who remain unwavering in the fulfillment of their sworn duty to serve and protect, who remain humane and immune to creeping cynicism or, worse, to brutal responses.

Maybe because I seldom mix with policemen, very few from their ranks have registered in my radar for their professionalism, sincerity and commitment. One of them is General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the newly minted PNP chief.

There was an occasion some years back when he was still DCPO chief when I had to reach out to him on a matter involving the safety of my client. This young girl came to me suffering from high anxiety and depression. She was prone to crying jags and panic episodes at a rate that was already disruptive of her everyday functioning. It was causing her friends and teachers enough concern to bring her to see me. Still, while she kept coming back on schedule, it was several sessions before she was able to tell me about the nature of the threat to her person. She also refused to have her parents involved.

What she disclosed was very alarming, and it gave me reason to suspect that her case was just the tip of the iceberg – that there were predators trawling high school gates at dismissal to waylay and kidnap any unsuspecting female student for the afternoon. It was for this reason that I called dela Rosa.

I had no proof to back my speculation, and the girl concerned refused to talk to anyone else about the details to her experiences in the hands of the alleged perpetrators. Still, I felt in my heart that I had information that the law enforcers had to know in order to prevent future victims. So I called him and we talked.

I was surprised when the next afternoon, dela Rosa walked into my clinic to discuss the matter further and to seek my opinion on how to secure the high school environs in the city. While we were talking, my client arrived for her appointment. I excused myself to ask her if she would be willing to talk to the police chief, explaining to her that to do so could allow us to better protect her and others like her who could be similarly victimized. She agreed on the condition that I stayed with her.

I was impressed by dela Rosa’s gentleness in talking to my client. He was doing everything right, waiting out her silences and tears; his tone conveying comfort and reassurance the whole time. He was also sensitive to how much physical distance to put and to how to hold his body in a non-threatening way. This was a far cry from the tough-talking, rough-walking Bato that had been described by his kindest critics as “a character” indulged by the President.

So when it became evident that indeed my surprise visitor of some years back would ascend to the highest PNP post on a mission to clean up its ranks so it could do its job, I was silently assured that he would be up to it. Should he fail, it wouldn’t be for lack of trying or for lack of sincerity and commitment on his part.

And while I also have reason to hold my former thesis respondent Jun Marquez in high regard, I take his cue in respecting the pleasure of the President and gracefully giving way to dela Rosa. Perhaps this is what the PNP needs right now: an earnest leadership that would stay for at least five years, God willing.

When trying to understand people, psychologists often tune out what they say as too much noise often makes it harder to discern the enduring patterns to their behavior. So, like I do with the President’s latest mouthful, I seldom listen to what soundbiters find remarkable about Bato’s most recent pronouncements.

I am content for now to just focus on what he is doing – like getting Colonel Bert Ferro out of Compostela Valley Province to mount a record-breaking drug haul up in Claveria, Cagayan. Or putting the fear of the Lord on drug runners and users alike all over the country. Or subjecting even the police generals to a surprise drug test.

Sometimes though, dela Rosa does say something that I find objectionable. Like, tonight, watching the late news on the policemen who tested positive on Friday’s drug test, I heard dela Rosa say he will send these erring policemen to Sulu, Tawi-tawi, and Basilan as punishment.

Uh-oh. We have enough problems there that shamed dragon lords on exile would only exacerbate. Send them to jail, but don’t send them to Sulu, Tawi-tawi, or Basilan. Say it ain’t so, Bato. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches at the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University. She is head of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)