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All the frisking going on

I remember the first time I saw it.

I was in a drugstore. A man was being frisked by the security guard on

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his way out. Wait a minute—on his way out? Before I could close my mouth, another one came out from a back room and was frisked, too.

Have we gone over the security top, I thought, protecting the great outdoors?

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But it was not it at all. I have seen dozens of such moments since in groceries, department and hardware stores, bakery shops, gated villages. I even saw a man being frisked coming out of a walk-in freezer.  Whoa! Could he be concealing a side of beef?

It would have been funny if it weren’t so tragically sad and degrading for our poor, struggling workers. Every time I see it, I feel bad for their dignity and their option-less predicament. Smartly uniformed, made-up, coifed and stockinged salesladies, charming to boot, being frisked by women guards: There is almost an oxymoronic look to it.

How did we descend to this? What does it say about our culture?

The high level of mistrust in our society is evident. I once watched a checker in a members-only store do his inspecting.

He counted, lifted, checked and counterchecked every bit of item in the cart. Have you seen those grocery bags tied shut on top?

The number of salespeople in department stores also astounds me. I can be served very well with less than half of what I see in some areas—in furniture and linens, for instance. So it must be about security. In some checkouts, there could be enough people there to fit a jeepney!

The explosion of private security guards is unprecedented. From the moment you park to the time you enter a mall, you would end up encountering at least four to six of them. Then, every eatery, grocery, bank, drugstore, etc.—every nook and cranny inside the mall—has a security detail. You can’t even have a freaking cup of coffee without a guard pacing to and fro in front of you, conjuring images of Rizal’s guards sans rifles.

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Then there are armored vehicles in our streets. The traditional trucks look like moving bank vaults, but these other ones are more like APCs (armored personnel carriers). It feels like there is a SWAT team waiting to spring out the moment one such hulking vehicle stops. It sure looks out of place in front of Red Ribbon.

Walking past these fearsome vehicles is an exercise in body control. No sudden moves, no nose-picking or auction-like signals, got to keep looking straight ahead. The two heavily armed, dark uniformed and nonsmiling dudes standing by the vehicle look like they are full of themselves. My feet can’t move my body fast enough every time I pass by such a sight.

I don’t know about you, but the more I see guards, the less safe I feel. It’s counterintuitive, because it is symbolic of potential dangers lurking all over the place. In fact, we have the poorest ranking in safety and security in Asia, according to prosperity.com; just nine points better than Iraq, the lowest-ranked country in the survey.

But this situation has become so ubiquitous that we have gotten desensitized over time. Ask a first-time balikbayan, though; many of them come from countries without private security guards. There are usually none to be seen in banks, in fast-food outlets, in coffee shops. You can walk, bike or drive through the innermost enclaves of the very rich. There are no fences, no gates, no stickers, no guards. Closed-circuit televisions and mall guards are a very recent addition in some jurisdictions, but these are exceptions.

If somebody checks on you in a public venue, it is all right to feel incredulous, and you have every right to ask why. Workers being frisked on their way out? Never happens. If a store manager does it, he or she can be sued for harassment.

Will we ever achieve an “honor system” in the way we conduct ourselves? I think poverty is at the heart of the problem, rather than lawlessness. Many years since, I still wince at the memory of a teenager being frisked as he left a store to help a customer with his groceries.

A symbolic “National Frisking Day” to protest corruption is one worth considering. What a thought, eh?

Edwin de Leon, MEd ([email protected]), a retired teacher, principal and a secular humanist, is a regular balikbayan.

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TAGS: frisking, mistrust, Society
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