The Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) is back on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Manila but now motorists may have a different experience when being stopped for a traffic violation. As an alternative to intimidating armed male officers, HPG is fielding 23 female police officers from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

What is raising some eyebrows is that the physical appearance of the women played a key role in how the members of the “ladies strike force” were chosen and deployed. Putting aside any concerns of making a sexist statement, MMDA traffic Czar Edison Nebrija replied “Girlfriend material” when asked by Cignal TV’s One News channel as to the standards of appearance required by the new officers.

He went on to express that conditions on EDSA are “stressful enough” and that “head turners” on the busy avenue could ease tensions during traffic stops. Nebrija added that the move to include female cops in the traffic force is part of HPG’s gender equality program.

Compared to the United States where any comment with even a hint of sexism, racism, etc. will be quickly condemned, the Philippines is quite paradoxical. In most households, boys are allowed the freedom to play while girls are quickly steered toward learning domestic chores. Women in the Philippines are more educated and learn to speak better English on average than their male counterparts. But men still dominate the post-college professional workplace.

Beauty is quite valued in the Philippines, a country that often has a finalist in the running for Miss Universe and other pageants, but this comes at the expense of those not so blessed in the looks department and those of a darker skin tone. And while respect for the elderly runs deep in Philippine culture, rampant ageism is constantly on display at retail outlets where most employees are attractive females under 30 years of age.

In this “climate” of accepted sexism, Nebrija admitted that armed police officers can be intimidating, even mentioning that motorists will say, “Ay pulis yan, sumunod tayo” (That’s police let’s obey). With officers who look like models they will say, “nakakahiyang mag-violate tayo, may mga magagandang babae pa man din diyan ng HPG. (It’s a shame we violate, there are still good girls out there from HPG)" cowering to a different type of intimidation, Nebrija said.

PNP-HPG spokesperson Lt. Col. Ritchie Claraval admitted that while looks played a part in the selection, the new officers all had to learn to ride a motorcycle. He might have been trying to sooth other female officers not chosen when he said all female members (approximately 100) of the HPG were good looking. Time will only tell if this is an effective measure to control traffic on EDSA or a distraction that will make matters worse.

Catriona Gray
Catriona Gray of the Philippines smiles after being crowned the new Miss Universe 2018 on Dec. 17, 2018 in Bangkok. Getty Images/Lillian Suwanrumpha