TAGUIG CITY - Past the 10:00 p.m. curfew for minors in this city, a group of female police officers huddled near a tricycle in Barangay Katuparan where a boy stubbornly refused to come with them.
They had found him walking alone on the deserted street. The boy said he was on his way home. Still, they tried convincing him to come with them.
“Babae kami (We’re women),” they told him in assurance.
The officers followed the boy as he walked for over a kilometer. But he seemed to lead them nowhere. So the officers had to drag and carry him to their patrol vehicle.
At an unlit parking lot elsewhere, female officers slowly woke up another child who they found sleeping inside a van in a parking lot. The guard there said the boy had no family and ran errands during the day.
The officers introduced themselves to him as “ate” or big sister. Eventually, they coaxed him out.
Handling minors violating the curfew is a regular scene at the SACLEO—short for Simultaneous Anti-Criminality and Law Enforcement Operations—where all police officers in a city make the rounds to help curb crime.
These operations happen every other night, if not every night, in most Metro Manila cities.
But for one night in March, all 155 female police officers in this city patrolled the streets together to mark International Women’s Month.
For the police here, it’s also an effort to show how women have progressed in the force both in number and in responsibility.
The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) counts 3,985 female officers in its roster as of this writing. Compared to 23,456 male officers, the women account for roughly 15 percent of all the police officers in Metro Manila.
That means 3 out of every 20 police officers in the region are women.
The NCRPO has no readily available data on how the number of women in the force has changed over the years, but spokesperson Chief Insp. Kimberly Molitas said it has grown from the days when there were only a handful of female recruits.
“Nag-increase, I can definitely tell you,” she said.
While better salaries and targeted recruitment could be a factor in this growth, women who rose through the ranks like Senior Insp. Shari Vanneza Deseo of Taguig’s women and children protection desk said many of them joined the police force because of passion.
“They want to be a public servant. They want to show they can serve in the community,” Deseo said.
The women on patrol put their own touch on the SACLEO, which often targets curfew violators and public drinking.
They are gentle on the minors, but tough on the usually male adults they find shirtless outside their homes or drinking in public.
“Ginagawa lang namin trabaho namin (We’re just doing our job),” Deseo would say to groups of men who would try to get off being arrested.
Apprehending lawbreakers, especially those bigger in size, can be daunting, PO1 Annielyn Appag said.
Already in the force for 3 years, Appag said it had been her childhood dream to become a police officer.
She said she tries to live up to her badge whenever she faces such situations. After all, the expectations are similar for all police officers, regardless of gender.
“Ina-underestimate nila kakayahan mo. Kung ano ang trabaho ng lalaki, 'yun 'yung trabaho naming babae. Mapa-patrol, pag-aresto (They underestimate my abilities. What men do, that's what we women also do. Whether it be doing patrol or making arrests),” she said.
Appag is with Taguig’s mobile patrol unit, a daily field job and an expansion from the desk-bound, administrative work women first began to handle in the force.
But while the way they are regarded as police officers is generally the same, roles outside their work like in their family affect female officers more than their male counterparts.
For Deseo, she tries to shield her family life from the effect of cases of abuse she encounters at the women’s desk while on duty.
Appag, meanwhile, is moved to tears whenever she talks about her year-old boy, whom she left in the care of relatives in Northern Luzon.
A single mother, she wrestles daily with not being with her child always. But she said she is motivated by her sworn duty.
“'Yung oras mo nahahati sa pamilya at trabaho mo, pero nagagawan talaga ‘yan ng paraan. Uunahin mo ang tungkulin mo, pangalawa ang pamilya mo (Your time is divided between family and your work, but that can be worked out. You really have to do your duty first before family),” she said.
She said her family understands the choice she makes every time she puts on her uniform.