As Metro Manila shifted to general community quarantine (GCQ) this week, police officers at Bonifacio Global City cracked down on the most unlikely targets: Unsuspecting mothers with young children who were outdoors for fresh air and exercise.
Rebecca Van Ommen was looking forward to the first week of June. Based on what she read on Taguig’s official website, children would be allowed outdoors for exercise as soon as Metro Manila eased to GCQ.
On Wednesday, June 3, Rebecca took her 3-year old daughter and infant son for a walk at Burgos Circle Park some 50 meters from her home. It was the first time her children would breathe fresh air since the government put Luzon on lockdown three months ago in response to the novel coronavirus. “I was excited for the children,” Rebecca said.
7 policewomen vs 1 mother
Rebecca and her daughter wore masks and kept a safe distance from other people. But as they were nearing the park, they found themselves surrounded by policewomen in camouflage, seven to be exact.
One of them was furious and spoke to Rebecca in Tagalog. Rebecca explained that she could not understand, but this made the policewoman even angrier.
“Maybe she thought I was Filipino. I’m Dutch by citizenship but my father is Indonesian,” she told ABS-CBN News.
Eventually the policewoman yelled at her in English.
“She said to me, ‘Go home! Children not allowed!’ I tried to explain that under Taguig’s guidelines, children are allowed outside for exercise,” Rebecca said.
“But the policewoman continued to shout at me. I kept hearing the words ‘arrest’ and ‘handcuffs’ in between Tagalog words.” A neighbor caught part of the incident on video.
In a circular posted on its website on May 31, Taguig issued guidelines that would be enforced under the GCQ beginning June 1. It said: “Outdoor non-contact sports and other forms of exercise are allowed for senior citizens (and) those who are below 21 years old.”
The same guidelines said “walking, jogging, running, swimming, playing golf, tennis, and badminton” are forms of exercise allowed within the city under GCQ.
‘We have the power’
Rebecca, who has lived in the UK and the Netherlands, spent part of her childhood in the Philippines when her father worked at the Asian Development Bank.
“I knew that policemen here are aggressive, but I didn’t expect them to be this aggressive overseeing children outdoors,” she said. “The policewomen kept saying, ‘We have the power, you must follow us!’ but I have always been law abiding. I follow the rules.”
When another policewoman brought out the handcuffs, Rebecca’s little girl began to cry, thinking her mother would be taken away. Rebecca stopped trying to reason with the police and headed home.
Crown jewel loses luster?
Bonifacio Global City, also known as BGC, is home to thousands of expatriates drawn to the café culture, parks, and safe, family-friendly atmosphere. But Taguig’s crown jewel may be losing some of its luster.
Rebecca is just one of several BGC moms who recounted a similar experience with police officers this week.
Carolina Machado, who is from Brazil, told ABS-CBN News about a similar experience two days before.
Carolina took her two young sons out to ride their bikes on June 1. Moments after they stopped for water at Burgos Circle, a siren went off.
“I didn’t realize that the siren was meant for us. The police officer kept shouting. But we weren’t doing anything wrong. I read the circular. In Taguig this is allowed. It was so embarrassing. I’m really traumatized. My two sons are now afraid of the police,” Carolina said.
Other BGC moms also shared similar stories, videos and photos on Facebook. One Israeli mother who said she was bullied by police is packing her family’s bags and leaving the Philippines for good.
‘Are police coming to get us?’
“If a child witnesses her mother being accosted by police in camouflage and being yelled at, it is possible the child would become psychologically distressed,” said Karen Macalinao, a professor of Psychology at the Far Eastern University.
“There could be difficulty in daily functions like sleeping. The child might have nightmares or experience regression like bed-wetting. Or the child may develop a fear of authorities.” Mothers may be psychologically distressed, too, Macalinao added.
Days after the incident, Rebecca and her daughter continue to feel anxious. “I’m still shaken. I can’t focus on my work. And my daughter keeps asking me, ‘Are the police coming to get us?’ ”
On June 4, the BGC Estate Association issued a circular that identified Burgos Circle as a “safe zone” where children, senior citizens, pregnant women, people with disabilities and people with comorbidities are allowed between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The circular was, in effect, a validation of Taguig’s guidelines allowing children to be outdoors under certain conditions.
Simple neglect of duty
Taguig’s Chief of Police Celso Rodriguez has apologized for the behavior of police personnel who accosted the mothers.
“I’ve seen the video and I can already tell you the policewomen were wrong,” he said.
“I apologize. My directive to Taguig policemen is to be respectful at all times. Unfortunately the policewomen involved in the incidents last week are not from Taguig. They are from the NCRPO and were sent to augment the personnel of Precinct 7 in BGC.”
Rodriguez said, “I’ve asked them to see me on Monday to explain, but they could be facing simple neglect of duty and suspended up to three days for being discourteous.”
Taguig City Mayor Lino Cayetano has yet to comment.