Oct 13, 2010

[Metro] Crime In The City (A Ramble)

Flickr: Allan Reyes - MRT Buendia
MRT Buendia
by Allan Reyes via Flickr.

In my seven plus years of living on my own in Metro Manila, I've had a few run-ins with the less than lawful segments of the population. And I'm not just talking about your average jaywalker or cars that go down one-way streets, but actually becoming a victim of a crime. Thankfully they haven't been violent ones thus far, and I do hope that I never have to experience that first hand.

Yesterday my wallet was stolen during my MRT ride home - just snatched right out of my pocket amidst what felt like hundreds of other commuters. I understand that I should have taken better precautions given the circumstances - the very close proximity to one another during the train ride acts like a lure for any city predator after all. Despite numerous trips home on the same route without incident, this one trip had to be different and naturally I feel bad about it.

To quote a famous animated monkey after hitting a lion on the head with a stick, "It doens't matter. It's in the past" which was eventually followed by "Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or... learn from it."

So what am I supposed to learn about this, exactly?

There's a local saying that I'll paraphrase as "There are no criminals if there are no stooges," which essentially means that if we all remain highly vigilant, then the criminals with have little opportunity to further their more or less dark desires. There's wisdom in the statement, but like all analogies it's not perfect. As much as we have a responsibility to safeguard our valuables, I'd like to think that the rest of the population has an obligation to behave like decent human beings, yes? Or am I shooting for the stars here?

Ugh, barely five paragraphs in and already I'm rambling. My apologies - still getting it together after the theft. I'm even experiencing "phantom wallet" pains every time I tap my pants pocket to check if it's there. Oh well.

Yesterday's theft marks my fourth run-in with local crime. The first time was a major fluke - I was walking home in Pasay (yes I lived there) and a guy in front of me started to slow down. He eventually turned to face me and revealed this wicked looking knife - over 6 inches and all stylized and curvy. He asked for my wallet and my mobile phone, but caught me on a bad day since (1) I had less that PHP 50 in my wallet at the time,(2) I didn't own a mobile phone and (3) I was cranky since I was pretty tired after a long night of work. So with the sun already making its way up given is was sometime after 06:00am and I ended up snapping at the guy, complaining that I was getting held up so near my home.

I was lucky that I somehow scared the guy off - more likely because he was just desperate and his heart wasn't totally in it. Plus it was a daytime attempt on an increasingly busy road didn't help either. I did feel somewhat brave after this incident, although also wary of my own reckless bravado in the situation.

Some time after that (this was still 2004 I think), I was victimized by the usual routine of the fallen coin in the jeep trick. As I bent over I assume one of the accomplishes fished my wallet out of my rear pocket as the guy directly in front of me was busying keeping my attention by nudging my foot and urging me to get the coin that had fallen.

This incident left me feeling horribly stupid and thus everyone cautioned me about the need to better secure my things and stop putting things in my rear pocket. I kind of resisted that (as obvious given yesterday's incident) since it's still the most convenient way for me to carry my wallet around.

In 2008 my previous partner and I were victims of a break-in. While luckily we weren't home, my laptop and my Sony DSC-H50 were stolen and one of the kitchen knives was menacing left at the computer table. They didn't take anything else, although I never saw my G1 Scorponok figure ever again sometime after that. That totally left us feeling vulnerable and in just over a month we had managed to move out to a safer location in Makati.

And now I'm sort of back in that feeling of weird discomfort that comes with being the victim of any kind of crime. My ride home today was a tad awkward - I was extremely paranoid that someone would try something again, even though I had little left to steal. I hate these irrational fears that pop up as I make my way through the city, but it comes with the whole experience of losing something of value to someone else in this manner.

As much as crime is often a result of poverty, which in turn is a systemic / social disease, it still doesn't justify these actions. The world is not divided into the haves and the have-nots, thus somehow justifying such desperate Robin Hood style actions. Because the people who truly control most of the wealth of this country aren't the victims of such crimes - it's just the average folks who are affected instead. That doesn't really help any of us in the long run.
And despite how unfair it is, it's human nature for me and other victims of crimes to blame ourselves for not being careful enough or not paying for additional security for our homes or whatever. As much as I want to learn to trust people more and feel a stronger desire to help my fellow man, situations like this really suck and make it hard for me to feel bad for other people.

And the cycle continues.

Beyond the basic lessons about being more careful and finally giving up on keeping my wallet in my rear pants pocket, what else am I supposed to learn here? That the average Filipino isn't worth trusting? That I should treat every other stranger on the street as a potential criminal? That I need to look out for myself and myself alone and let all those outside my social circles be damned? Call me bitter or ironically idealistic, but I don't think that's a good way to view humanity, what more my countrymen.

I'm going to spend the better part of the next few weeks getting all my ID cards replaced and my other cards reactivated or whatever. It means a lot of extra paperwork, a lot more hassle and all that good stuff we just have to deal with. Oh life.
Sorry about this - I just needed to get this off my chest. I'll try to get back to our regularly scheduled programming by tomorrow.

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