WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Walk the wild side by Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY — Social research is about sampling the reality of a phenomenon that features into our collective experience. One seldom gets to do it from the comfort of the armchair. And while some academics find very little need to venture out of the safe and powerful portals of their classrooms, some need to see that what we bring in is indeed what is out there.

A long-time friend is one such academic. She still has this overwhelming need to test the reality of the theories that she brings into her classroom. In fact, this need wins out every now and then and she would take time off from the classroom to see what she could see out there. For the health of her pocket, I’d rather see her reserve her wanderlust for the weekend, holidays, or summer break and Christmas, but that’s not how she wants things done. So there are times when she really disengages from regular employment to focus on research. Those times adversely affect her financial stability, but that is how things are with her. Something tells me that it is still more important for her to follow her heart on this matter.

She gets by. At least, she has yet to starve. My friend and I share the sisterhood of the shoestring. We can live on so little. The only difference is that I have kids at school and I need to be assured that I regularly bring home enough to give them their daily allowance.

My friend and I envy fellow academics of the first world whose employment experience features the regular sabbatical leave as their due. Our choices for employers hereabouts are mostly teaching institutions with the primary mandate for classroom instruction. So, of course, employers employ people to check teachers’ attendance in the classroom.

While the Philippine academe also recognizes the value of community engagement and research, rare is the educator who gets hired purely for these purposes. Rare too is an institution that gives sabbatical leaves for teachers to generate research data and contribute to the bigger body of knowledge on the things we teach. For the most part, many educators in the Philippines are merely consumers of the knowledge generated by others who are, to my view, more fortunate to be out there and getting paid to get their hands dirty.

Don’t whine. That’s the way the chicharon crumbles.

My friend doesn’t whine. Just recently, she quit the classroom again to go to Singapore and present a paper on Mindanao studies. Her work captured slices of Mindanao history through photographs and memories of Ilongo migrants who lived a bit in this island before returning to their origins. The paper was very well received.

But back home again, she’s got to eat. So she took on a commissioned research for an organization that advocates for the empowerment of prostituted women.

One night two weeks ago found my friend filming the sidewalk along Central Bank on Tionko Avenue. Earlier in the day, she had linked up with some sex workers in their homes and had gotten their consent to let her into their lives. So that night, my friend was working the sidewalks.

Two men on board a white pick-up truck – spanking new – came to a halt and motioned for her to come nearer. She tried to wave them away, but they kept shouting for her to approach them so they could talk to her. One of the girls talked to the men and then came over to tell her that it was her that the men wanted to talk to. Meanwhile, the men were attracting attention already with their rowdy catcalls and yells directed at her.

It’s funny how fear can suddenly grip you out there when you’re among others. My friend’s first instinct was to run, but she realized she couldn’t outrun a pick-up truck. The girls on the street were polite to her, yet she also knew that if these men were to attack her she couldn’t bank on any of them to come to her aid.

She called 911 on her cellphone and endured the wait until two patrol cars came by. Meanwhile, the men were still subjecting her to rude comments – “Hoy, ‘day, sino tinatawagan mo?”  They laughed their heads off and did not care who could hear them. When the policemen went over to talk to the men in the truck, however, they sobered up and told the cops that, “Kung nakasala mi, sorry lang gud.” And as the policemen turned away to talk to my friend, the pick-up truck sped away.

And that’s how the story usually ends.

At least, that’s what the habitués of the sidewalk seem to think.

It seemed to be what the patrolmen thought, too. So they were kind of surprised when my friend asked them for advice on what to do now that the men were gone and free to come back when the cops would have left also. It was only then that the policemen remembered to bring her to the station for her statement.

At the San Pedro precinct, my friend found it strange why, after she had narrated what happened, the desk sergeant told her it was now okay for her to go. She did not remember her narration being recorded and she was not made to sign a report of her complaint. She was merely given a piece of paper where she was to write her name and some other personal circumstance, and then they waved her goodbye.

Days later, she called me and told me about it. From our conversation, I picked up symptoms of hypervigilance and avoidance related to her run-in with the rude men on the pick-up truck. She’d start when she spied a white pickup truck coming down the road. It was hard for her to go and be on the sidewalk, and if she couldn’t be there, she couldn’t get any work done. I’d agree it couldn’t be a case of no harm, no foul. She was still suffering days later and it was getting in the way of her earning a living. There obviously was harm caused to her.

While it would be fair to hold the pick-up men in contempt for their arrogance in assuming that they had every right to cause unjust vexation on a woman for being out there on the street after dark, it would also be fair to call to account the conduct of the policemen who failed in this instance to protect a law-abiding citizen. Not only did they allow the suspects to make tracks before they could be investigated, there is also the matter of the missing police report.

How does a policeman engage a suspect in the presence of an obviously distraught and aggrieved complainant? The patrolmen did not even ask the boors for any identification. They could not fail to note the plate number though as it was given by my friend and they saw it on that pick-up truck upon their approach. Politely, they told the men that, “Sir, ginareklamo mo sang harassment.”

There were two patrol cars dispatched by 911 and not one of them parked in a way to prevent the swift flight of the pick-up truck. No pursuit was attempted as that truck peeled rubber off the street. The slip is what you’re likely to get when you conduct your investigation on the street, with the suspects in their cars, engine running. Brilliant. Or is that some kind of an unconscious brotherhood thing? Blame the victim: Sister, you deserve what you get when you’re out on that sidewalk this time of the night?

And after that, without an official statement on record with the San Pedro police precinct, there was no way that my friend could file a complaint against these men, should she choose.

Good thing there is the Internal Affairs Section of the Philippine National Police to call erring policemen to task. As sections go, the IAS is probably the most unpopular arm of the police organization. Policemen who are called to report there at their office inside Magsaysay Park come with much trepidation or resentment. The IAS is absolutely necessary though, just as a conscience is necessary for the human person. For the benefit of the taxpayers, the IAS has to stay and make sure that the police force properly undertakes its sworn duty to serve and protect the citizens.

The police should not only serve and protect the getaway of men in pick-up trucks when they are being complained for harassment. They should serve and protect more the working women who try to make an honest living.

We could not fault the policemen on politeness, though it did appear at the IAS that those involved needed reminding on proper conduct of investigation. Interestingly, some IAS personnel had an interesting read to the event: That plate number, they whispered, would likely belong to a government office.

LGJ 898?  After office hours on the night of 28 June 2010. Paging PNP Regional Director Pedro Tango and DCPO chief Rene Aspera. Gentlemen, tell me it ain’t so. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).