Editorial: ‘Arrestoguinaldo’

·2 min read

CAN an arrest prank be as threatening as a bomb joke?

The Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) and the Philippine Air Force (PAF) took the ingenious initiative to hit the streets to play their “arrestoguinaldo” prank, flagging unsuspecting motorists and individuals, feigning an arrest, but only to surprise them with a Christmas package.

Two things about the staging of this arrest drama. On one hand, it must have come from well-meaning, imaginative Santas in the organizations, but on the other, it is hard not to miss the subtext that it toys around the idea of the rather threatening presence of cops in our neighborhood. It’s like a psy-war thing, intimidation with a twist of reward. It is also not hard to miss that ever since the pandemic, our cops have been dolled up in battle gears, standing tall like a bully in the presence of vulnerable citizens.

So just when the PNP and the PAF think they can beat the impact of that one magical realist softdrink ad that had gone viral, the “arestoguinaldo” prank didn’t sit well with netizens.

The SunStar Cebu Facebook post on the prank on Dec. 15, 2020, was a blast with 1,200 shares, 432 comments and 3,500 interactions, and the dominant mood was that of “anger” in a span of 19 hours. You want measureable impact, social media churns out the numbers.

It doesn’t help that the prank is preceded by years of messy “tokhang” operations, extrajudicial killings and arrests of activists and critics of the administration. It doesn’t help when public perception of the police has been mired by persistent reports of human rights violations. It also doesn’t help when the enabling Anti-Terror Act has been on the roll. It doesn’t help that the prank also comes at the time of debatable red-tagging.

So one doesn’t get the feeling of relief after a loaded release from an “arestoguinaldo,” but a confused one, anxiety even. The prank has been going on for a number of Decembers now, but today’s context gives it a different twist.

We do laud the PNP and the PAF, but only for the gesture of gift-giving. They may have to rethink the way it is carried out. The prank feeds on the fear of people and is rather distasteful and manipulative.