From nurse to SM Mall of Asia shootout hero

Bea Cupin
Four female police officers will be given an award on April 7 for their quick response when the SM Mall of Asia was robbed on March 30

SUNDAY HEROES. Four female cops and members of the Pasay SWAT team are praised by the PNP for their response to the SM Mall of Asia shootout over the weekend. Photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Police Officer 1 Maricel Rueco was not supposed to be a cop.

After receiving her nursing degree, however, Rueco was left with little options for employment. After a nursing boom in the country, graduates were aplenty but stable jobs were few and far between.

It’s what drove Rueco to pursue a career in the Philippine National Police (PNP).

At first, Rueco said, her family was against her joining the police force. Not too long ago, 3 of her relatives died when they were ambushed by suspected rebels in Rizal.

“‘Yung tatay ko at nanay ko, siyempre ayaw nila noong una, pero noong nakita nila na nagpupursigi ako, siyempre wala na silang magagawa. Sabi na lang nila na mag-ingat ako,” she said on Wednesday, April 2. (At first my parents didn’t like the idea, but they saw that I was persistent in fulfilling my requirements. So they just told me to take care.)

Rueco is one of 4 lady cops who were among the first responders during a shootout at the SM Mall of Asia on Sunday, March 30. Rueco, along with her colleagues PO1 Juliet Macabadbad, Delia Langpawen, and Marcelina Bantiyag, engaged in a shootout after armed men robbed a jewelry store inside the mall.

They will receive an award from the PNP leadership on Monday for their heroic act.

Three of them – Rueco, Langpawen, and Bantiyag – trained together with the Regional Public Safety Battalion in 2013. When the robbery in SM Mall of Asia happened, they were a little over a year in service.

Macabadbad, the 3 womens’ direct superior, is ahead by a year. The 4 were assigned to the mall to augment Pasay City police personnel.

A man’s world

It’s not easy being a woman in a institution dominated by men. Bantiyag, Rueco’s partner, says gender discrimination is an issue. But sometimes, she says, it can be an advantage.

Meron ding ganyan na parang tulad ng nangyari [sa Mall of Asia]. Siguro dahil nakita nila na babae kami, siguro akala nila na hindi po kaya ang ginagawa ng lalaki,” Bantiyag said. (People sometimes underestimate us, like when the robbery in Mall of Asia happened. Maybe they assumed that we weren’t capable because we’re women.)

They proved cynics wrong. On Wednesday, the PNP presented to media the 4 lady cops, alongside 7 members of the Pasay City Police Special Reaction Unit. Macabadbad, Rueco, Langpawen, and Bantiyag will be formally awarded and recognized by the PNP on Monday, April 7.

Bantiyag admitted, at first, she didn’t tell her family about the incident because they would worry too much. But the cat’s out of the bag. The 4, after all, were commended by President Benigno Aquino III himself during the PNP’s Araw ng Parangalan sa Kapulisan.

The award – either a Medalya ng Katapangan or Medalya ng Kagalingan – is unexpected. But it’s a welcome pat on the back for the Rueco, who says all she looks forward to is a clean career in service – hopefully, without injury.

Pangarap ko talaga na hanggang matapos ko ang serbisyo ko, walang mangyari sa amin, kasi siyempre ‘yung family ko nagwo-worry, pero siyempre pinakaimportante makatulong kami sa mga tao nang wala kaming nasasagasaan,” said Rueco.

(My dream is to be safe, healthy until I finish my service. My family worries. But of course, what’s most important is to be able to help people without hurting anybody.) –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.