By Marilyn Mana-ay Robles, VERA Files
Iloilo is a province of equanimity. Ilonggos, as they are called, are known to be mild-mannered and peace loving. They are a tamed lot.
From this lot one of the country's outstanding policemen this year has been chosen. Ironically, one who had to struggle with lupus, a disease which in Latin means "wolf" because of the patient's bouts of wildness and irrationality.
Senior Police Officer 3 Rhia Benigla Sotomil is one of the 30 police officers keeping peace and order for some 44,000 residents of Pavia, a bustling town 9.6 kilometers north of Iloilo City. Her police station has consistently been rated No. 1 in the province.
Sotomil made it to the Final 10 of the annual search for the Country's Outstanding Policemen in Service or COPS, a joint undertaking of the Metrobank Foundation, Rotary Club of New Manila East, PSBank and the Philippine National Police to recognize the dedication and professionalism of policemen and policewomen to their sworn duty.
She is one of four policewomen who made it in the usually male- dominated competition that is now on its 10th year.
Sotomil is among the six non-commissioned officers adjudged this year's winners. The others are Police Officer 3 Eduardo D. Santiago (Pangasinan); Senior Police Officer 3 Renjun O. Bagaman (Koronadal City); Police Officer 3 Mary Jane B. Perez (Cotobato City); Senior Police Officer 4 Ma. Rosario Y. Suarez (Davao City); and Senior Police Officer Robert U. Fabregas (Quezon City).
The four commissioned officers named outstanding cops are Superintendent Belli B. Tamayo (Quezon City); Chief Inspector Vicente S. Cabatingan (Laguna) Senior Inspector Charity S. Galvez (Butuan City) and Superintendent Bernard M. Banac (Quezon City).
"This year's batch of outstanding policemen and policewomen serves as a testament to our police force's continuing dedication to their sworn duty and professionalism towards performing their responsibilities," says Metrobank Foundation president Aniceto "Chito" M. Sobrepeña.
In Sotomil's case, she was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic auto-immune disease where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, in 2003. Most Filipinos identify lupus with the late President Ferdinand Marcos.
At the time, the police officer suffered from debilitating body pain, amoebiasis, falling hair, extremely sensitive scalp, insomnia, edema, anorexia, butterfly rash and high fever.
Sotomil knows fully well that lupus is a physically and emotionally demanding disease that can wreak havoc anytime, anywhere—and can be fatal. But these possibilities do not deter her from carrying out her duties as a policewoman.
Though lethargic at times, she just keeps going, religiously manning the Women and Children Protection Desk with competence, devotion and zeal. She is on call 24/7. In 2011, she attended to 130 cases against women and children, 80 situations of child abuse and 60 incidents involving children in conflict with the law.
Pavia's campaign against illegal drugs is a personal advocacy for Sotomil. Alongside with the town's ongoing four-year PEACE-PACT Project, an all-out war against criminality and drug addiction, Sotomil designed Project BISNID or "Be in Sports, not in Drugs."
The campaign is designed to promote sports development among children and adolescents. Sotomil believes sports is an effective tool to mentor the young on how to establish and achieve their goals. "Their energies are released in a positive way and it makes them do away with drugs," she says.
Sotomil's passion to eliminate drug addiction in Pavia stems from her personal experience as a caregiver to a drug dependent uncle and concern for her two adolescent children. Her being a registered nurse has helped in her advocacy.
Sotomil enlisted with the Philippine National Police in 1996. A year later, she married college sweetheart Mark Anthony Sotomil, who is at present a Pavia Sangguniang Bayan member. They have three children: Marianne, 16, Marco Guel John, 14, and Paolo Santino, 4.
In her seventh year with the PNP, Sotomil developed lupus. It took her months to recuperate. Two years ago, after several years of remission, she was diagnosed with nephritis, inflammation of one or both kidneys—a condition dreaded by lupus patients. She was hospitalized late last year for exhaustion. She readily recovered, as almost all lupus patients do, even after the harshest flare.
Of late, Sotomil keeps guard of her eyesight as her corrective glasses have to be adjusted every six months. Cataract looms but is kept at bay with medication. Her nephritis is closely monitored by her rheumatologist. All told, everything remains well on her front.
Sotomil declares that the recognition from COPS has reinforced her conviction that "despite the physical prohibitions of my disease, this will not stop me from doing my duties and responsibilities as a protector and advocate of women's and children's rights and welfare."
The awardees will be feted together with the winners of the Search for Outstanding Teachers (SOT) and the Search for The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers (TOPS) on Sept. 5 during Metrobank's 50th anniversary.
COPS winners will receive a cash prize of P300,000 and a trophy courtesy of the Metrobank Foundation. PNP will also confer them the Medalya ng Katang-tanging Gawa, a testament to the exemplary service of COPS awardees to the police force and the country.
(This story is part of Reporting on Persons With Disability, a project of VERA Files in partnership with The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")