I was born in Manila, went to college there, and studied law there. I am now making a living there as well. I thought that I had conquered the city and that I had nothing to fear as I am a true-blue Manila girl… up until that day.
Being an ordinary citizen, like every average Joe, I commute. I take the jeepney to get around, I ride a bus to go to work and return home (I live in San Juan). Occasionally, I get picked up by either my dad or my boyfriend when I stay out late, but in all my years of thriving in the city, I’ve never felt it was as dangerous as people said it was. I mean, come on, I actually fit the perfect victim profile—I’m petite and very weak-looking—but for ages I had been strutting around with nary a dangerous encounter. The worst experience that I could think of up until that day was when I got harassed by a dirty-old-man exhibitionist in a bus. But even that was years ago, in my first years in college.
On that day, however, I was left with an extreme feeling of vulnerability, fear and paranoia. On my way home from work—and it wasn’t even dark yet—in a G-Liner bus bound for Cainta and halfway between Park n Ride and Quiapo, I got held up. I don’t mean held up like “I’m late because I got held up in traffic.” I mean I was robbed. In terms of the law, I was forcibly deprived of my lawful belongings (a wallet and a cell phone) by a man with intent to gain who sat beside me in the bus.
At first I thought I was imagining it when he told me in Filipino to give him my cell phone and wallet, but when I felt him pressing something pointed at my side, I just blanked out. At that moment, all I could hear was a buzzing sound in my ears. I felt faint, I definitely felt nauseous. But then, weirdly, I also felt calm.
I made no move to look at him, I just handed him my cell phone and wallet and kept my head down. It took a while before he left, and that was even worse because he was still sitting beside me the whole time. I felt frozen—I was in shock most likely because fear didn’t hit me until well after the incident. And even after he disembarked in Quiapo, I still wasn’t able to do anything, I couldn’t even react. I didn’t say anything to the conductor or the driver. I didn’t even go to a police station to file a report. I just went straight to a friend’s apartment near school, and later, even after advice from friends on the pros and cons of filing a complaint… I did nothing.
I became a statistic—just one of the many victims of crime in the City of Manila.
But I guess that despite being another crime statistic, I am luckier than most. In the news recently, a fellow alumnus of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila was killed in a robbery (although in a jeepney). In the Internet, it circulated that there was also a doctor who was allegedly killed in a G-Liner bus. I am lucky because all I lost was money and a cell phone that wasn’t even that expensive.
But thinking about it now, I lost something more valuable in that encounter. First and foremost, I lost that irretrievable feeling of safety and security. I lost the belief that if you’re alert, you will never be a victim. That day, I felt frail, helpless, and infinitely mortal. Whereas before, I could brag about how I had always managed to spot dangerous situations and how my hypervigilance had served me well, I am now left with a feeling that I can never and will never be safe no matter what I do. That at any time, any minute, a crazy criminal can kill me for only a couple of thousand pesos. That a fellow passenger can be a homicidal robber. And that the bus driver and even the conductor are in cahoots with thieves.
Paranoid? Yes, obviously. After that encounter, who wouldn’t be? I also felt rage—incredible, incendiary rage over how lousy the state of peace and order in this city is. I thought we had a lawman for a chief executive? I thought Manila, going by the tenor of his interviews, was safe? Where were the police, our law enforcers, when you needed them? Out politicking? Getting a doughnut?
I guess, though, that no matter how much I rail against the injustice of it all, I can’t change what happened to me on that day. And without a shadow of a doubt, I believe it will happen again, if not to me, then to another hapless passenger or pedestrian. After that day, I will forever have nightmares about the mean streets of Manila. Where is the League of Shadows when you need it?
Joan Carla V. Guevarra, 29, just graduated from San Sebastian Recolletos De Manila Institute of Law. She is a member of the legal staff of the Manila City Council.