The police beat

AT 20, I was already covering the police as a reporter for the defunct Times Journal. Later, I would always tell media colleagues and my journalism students that the three years that I was pounding the police beat were actually the most challenging –and toughest – years in my daily reportage work.

I even asked my late kumpare Max Buan, to convince my editors to allow me to continue covering the police beat when I was being reassigned to cover politics. Max was already the chief of reporters in our sister publication, People’s Journal, when were covering the Northern Police District (NPD), which then still included Quezon City apart from the CAMANAVA area. He wasn’t really a mentor, but I would always watch him because of his style in covering and writing his police stories.

Before that I briefly covered the Southern Police District (SPD), and I had to compete with the best police reporters during those days. The joke was that police officers knew that I was a “cub reporter” because I don’t look like the other reporters who can be mistaken as police characters.

I was really upset and I told Max that if I am offered a job as a police reporter by another paper, I will leave the Journal, although we were supposedly receiving higher salaries compared to the other dailies during the martial law years.

What I hated was that the police was being considered a training ground for newsmen, and once you are out of the beat that was deemed as a promotion.  I’ve worked with the best journalists who started and retired as police reporters.

I never tried to “orbit”, which was often the reason cited by some editors why some newsmen refused to leave the police beat. It was really the camaraderie among the newsmen despite the competition.

All the police headquarters that I ‘ve visited looked like improvised toilets and they stink. But as Max said, “Pero d’yan ka sa police makakakita ng mga tutoong kaibigan.” And he was right.

Yes, I always envy the camaraderie among journalists and their sources in the police beat. It was in the police beat that I experienced eating siopao and pancit right inside the morgue of local funeral parlors because we were like investigators. The police were gathering evidence, while the police reporters were digging for facts. Police reportage was all about intrigue, conflict and drama.

But I must admit that I’ve also seen several “psychos” in the police beat. That included some colleagues who would just punch some arrested suspects, and their excuse was that these were rapists if not murderers.

During those days, it wasn’t really uncommon to hear that policemen were involved in torturing the suspects to talk. I really hated it, but I’ve also seen the dedicated lawmen who found time and patience in solving criminal cases with passion and determination.

The Commission on Human Rights said that there are more than 200 cases of police maltreatment. It just happened that in the case of Senior Inspector Joselito Binayug and 13 of his men, who were allegedly involved in torturing a robbery suspect, were exposed because of video footage which was later shown on national television. Now it’s a running story both in the national and international news.  This also explains why I miss the police beat.

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