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Philippine police try to spice up image with Santacruzan procession

TACLOBAN (UCAN): Beset by allegations of playing an active role in hundreds, if not thousands, of drug-related killings, the Philippine police have sought to boost their battered image by holding religious pageant in honour of the Blessed Virgin. 
In Tacloban, Leyte, in the central Philippines, about 300 policemen held a Santacruzan pageant to promote what they said are the police’s core values: “pro-country, pro-people, pro-environment, and pro-God.” 
The Santacruzan, derived from the Spanish words for holy cross, is held towards the end of May honouring the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena, mother of Roman emperor, Constantine, and was introduced in the Philippines by the Spanish friars in the late 19th century. 
The pageant, known in  some parts of the country as Flores de Maria (flowers of Mary), features a parade of reynas (queens) and sagalas (maidens) and their consorts.
At least 24 police (Santacruzan) queens from different areas in the Eastern Visayas region took part in the event on May 29.
In Santa Cruz, Laguna, the annual event was also staged by police officers for the first time.
Laguna police chief, Kirby John Kraft, said it was a good way to engage with people as part of the police’s community relations efforts.
A similar event was held in Camp Crame, Metro Manila, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police, on May 31.
Father Ramil Costibolo of the Archdiocese of Palo, in Leyte, said the processions “only show that our police are just like us, normal people, spiritual people.”
He said, “It’s very normal among Filipino Catholics to have this activity to show our devotion to our beloved Mama Mary and at the same time celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ.”
Father Costibolo said he was impressed by the police initiative. “It’s very nice,” said the priest, adding that police “are ordinary people given extraordinary tasks in our community.”
“We should understand them. They are seen to be tough but they have feelings. They are not robots. They have spiritual lives,” the priest said.
Nova Jane Barbosa, who was Queen Helena in the Tacloban pageant, said the aim was to show to people the true appearance of the men and women in police uniform.
“Behind these queens are the virtues that they exemplify that should be practiced to contribute to the betterment of the individual and the entire organization and the community,” Kraft explained.
Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan expressed the hope that the country’s police will show more sincerity in efforts to address criminality and human rights abuses.
“It would be better if the (police) genuinely practice the progressive and meaningful teachings of Jesus Christ and his mother Mary, that are love for the poor and genuine service to the downtrodden,” Palabay said.
However, Carlos Conde, of Human Rights Watch, said, “No amount of prettifying ... can hide the fact that the Philippine National Police is implicated in the unlawful deaths of thousands of Filipinos in the so-called drug war.”
Conde said the only way they can improve their image in the eyes of the public is to “stop the summary executions of drug suspects, bring the perpetrators of these killings to justice and uphold the rule of law and due process.”
Human Rights Watch says at least 12,000 people, mostly from urban poor communities, have been killed in the drug war of the president, Rodrigo Duterte. At least 2,555 of the killings have been attributed to the Philippine National Police.

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