Here’s one for history: First policewoman 2-star generalBy DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Lina Sarmiento was an accidental policewoman.
In 1980, the fresh chemistry graduate, then 21, took and passed the exam for a forensic chemist’s job at the crime laboratory of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
She had no idea what she was getting into.
“She thought she was just applying for a chemist’s position,” her husband, Avelino, recalled. “It turned out that the position was for a police rank. So when she finished the training after six months, she was already a policewoman.”
Over the next three decades, Sarmiento, who would become the mother of four children, would blaze a trail through the ranks of the male-dominated police organization.
Victory for women
And on Friday, the 53-year-old chemist made history by becoming the first female police officer to wear two stars. She was conferred the police director rank by PNP Director General Nicanor A. Bartolome, who also appointed her to head the PNP’s Community Relations Group.
The rank of police director is equivalent to major general in the military.
“This is a victory for the women in the uniformed service,” Sarmiento said in her speech during the promotion ceremony at Camp Crame, headquarters of the PNP in Quezon City.
“We all know that in the past it was unthinkable for a woman to hold a key position, much less, head a large unit in the armed services,” she said. “But as the PNP moves in step with the times, policewomen are now emerging as key players in the world of law enforcement.”
Years ago, Sarmiento said, policewomen were relegated to administrative and desk duties.
“Today we see them side by side with the men in dangerous police operations,” she said. “Where before we were only at the receiving end of commands, today we also see women officers giving commands to male subordinates.”
But in an interview with the Inquirer, Sarmiento admitted that there had been moments when she felt she was discriminated against because of her gender.
“I felt I had to work harder to be recognized because this is a male-dominated organization,” she said. In the police force, she said, “if you’re a man, you just need to be present.”
But the times are changing, she said. Gone are the days when women were only assigned to “family-oriented” positions in the organization.
Fruit of hard work
“I’m so lucky because the PNP is so progressive as far as working for gender equality is concerned, compared with other agencies,” Sarmiento said.
But what made her promotion sweeter, she said, was knowing it came from her own sweat and hard work, and not through connections or being a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
She recalled one conversation with a senior officer many years ago: “One late afternoon, while we were waiting for a meeting to start, the officer told me: ‘Lina, why do you work so hard? It’s useless. We’re not PMAers. We will end up with nothing here. We’re only up to this level.’”
“I remember answering him: ‘Sir, I don’t think about that. I just want to do my best in whatever I do. If we think that way, then we should just resign this minute.’”
“At the time, the thought of getting a star was farthest from my mind,” she said. “It only dawned on me when my peers were already getting theirs. Now I am getting my second star. For a woman in a male-dominated organization, this is truly a gift.”
Bartolome said he chose Sarmiento to head the Community Relations Group not because he wanted to appoint a woman but because of her own abilities.
“I think you will agree with me that she is tailor-fit for the job,” he said.
In the interview, Sarmiento said being a woman in the police service was challenging.
“We have dual responsibilities, one in the home and one in the office,” she said. “Of course, while taking good care of the children, I have to see to it that the house is managed properly.”
Her husband, Avelino, a businessman, said there were times when Sarmiento would not be home three or four days in a row. This forced their children to learn to fend for themselves very early, he said.
“They learned to take care of themselves,” he said. “They learned to cook their own food.” That explains why their eldest son Mark Alvin became a chef, he said.
Their other children are Matthew Allen, 27, who works for a bank; April Madeline, 24, a medical student; and Aileen Marie, 23, a law student.
Since joining the police service as a forensic chemist, Sarmiento held various positions in the PNP Crime Laboratory, Directorate for Operations, Police Regional Office and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
She served as director of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office and the Police Security and Protection Group before earning a slot on the PNP Directorial Staff.
Sarmiento is one of only two female star-rank officers currently serving in the PNP. The other is Police Chief Supt. Lorlie Arroyo, director of the PNP Crime Laboratory. The post of police chief superintendent is equivalent to brigadier general in the military.
There are 11,000 women in the 143,000-strong PNP organization, PNP spokesperson Senior Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr. said.