Over the years, I’ve spoken a lot of disparaging words about the local gendarmes, mostly speaking to my bitterness towards their apparent dislike and resentment for us foreigners. But, sometimes I run into one or two that seem okay. I must emphasize, “seem,” because you just never know.
Late yesterday afternoon I was on my Chinese-made scooter chugging home up the back road towards my subdivision. I was just about to the gate when I saw a bevy of my favorite boys in blue situated on both sides of the street prominently carrying shotguns and assault rifles.
Immediately, I slowed down knowing that I was doubly in their sights; first, I was a foreigner and therefore an excellent shakedown candidate, and second, I was riding a cycle and cycles seem to be their preferred victim when it comes to checking for proper documentation.
Sure enough, when I was within 100 feet, one of the Philippine National Policemen put his hand up and waved me over with as much severe authority as he could muster. By that I mean glaring at me as if he was already convinced that I was a reprehensible criminal fit only for shooting on sight.
I’ve learned to suppress any sense of irritation at this continuous harassment, and that’s exactly what it is—a form of persecution. They rarely pull over cars, especially expensive cars with dark mirrored windows. No, they mostly go after cycles and scooters because they can easily see the operators. In other words, they don’t mess with people who might have “connections” and power. Those kinds of people don’t put up with the harassment, and with every bit of haughtiness that comes so easily to folks with power in these parts, they just throw it right back at the police who stopped them.
A large part of my irritation is that the same cops pull me over all the time. After all these years, I know that they know me, and they know I’m good to go. I always am, yet stop me they always do. I don’t know, maybe they just “like” me, or perhaps they just enjoy employing their power over me.
Years ago—only hours after the first time I was stopped—a different set of police pulled me over yet again. At the time, I hadn’t quite come to grips with how routine this process was going to be. In fact, if I had 5 bucks for every time I’ve been pulled over by either the PNP or LTO agents, I’d have a lot of 5-dollar bills for sure—dozens of them.
Anyway, that was then and I was irked, and unfortunately for me, I allowed my annoyance to come blazing through with a marked sullenness. Big mistake. The policemen counteracted my overt display of grouchiness with their own unconcealed exhibition of antagonistic power. I don’t know what I thought I was going to achieve acting surly, but I soon learned it was counterproductive.
From then on I’ve been the most respectful “yes sir, no sir saying” SOB possible. And yesterday afternoon, as soon as I knew I was visible and saw the officer’s wave down, I nodded my head exaggeratedly to acknowledge his authority and that I was indeed ready and willing to be pulled over. To complete my obsequious posture I put the biggest smile I could possibly fake onto my face, which for me looks like a smirky toothy grin. Nevertheless, I did my best to look completely agreeable.
“Good evening Sir!” I intoned cheerily, as if I could think of nothing better than to be stopped by this man.
He seemed a bit taken aback by my joyfulness and was immediately disarmed. Now fully into my “part” I asked him with total sincerity how he was doing that evening. In no time we were both into the “act,” with him asking questions and me answering his every question in sentences all ending in “sir.”
He took a quick look at my license plate and remarked that since it had a 2007 sticker he’d only need to see my drivers’ license. As he examined it he asked what country I was from and then what service branch I had “resigned from.”
“I was a marine for 5 years and then did 22 more with the Air Force,” I told him.
He asked me if I knew a fellow, giving me his name, since that guy had also been in the marines and was his brother-in-law by the way. I told him I didn’t recognize the name, but I wasn’t all that well connected with the other retired marines.
Soon, we were talking as equals. As he released me to move on, he introduced himself as a sergeant from the police post just up the street and told me that I should stop by anytime. In fact, he invited me to come out to the firing range and he would get approval for me to fire with them when they practiced out there.
“Are you serious!” I asked incredulous. “That would be great. I’ll probably take you up on that Sir.”
We ended our tête-à-tête with him telling me, “Sir, it was a pleasure meeting you. I hope you will come by the post and visit us whenever you have the time.”
I hate that. Just when you think you know people, one of them is nice to you and ruins it.