Petty Crime and the Philippines

For the ordinary Filipino like me, petty crime is very much a part of our everyday lives. Let me share this recent story and reflection so people will know what most Filipinos have to go thru. Between 200-2007, I lost about three celphones, and two wallets to thieves. Three celphones from your neighborhood “celphone-pitik” persons, and two wallets from pickpockets. And those are the only ones I can remember.

Between 2008-2009, though, I had not lost a celphone or wallet to thieves. But that was because I was out of the country 80% of the time. And also since around that time, I had learned to put my wallet into my right front pocket. That’s a basic survival tip in the Philippines: Put your wallet in your front pocket.

As 2009 came and nearly went, I thought I would have at least two years of break from petty thieves. BUT, that was not to be, because as the year 2009 came to a close, a close call incident took place, which showed how rampant petty crime really is in our country.

‘Backpack Stealing Attempt’
The incident occured in late December 2009, on the overpass between the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and Robinson’s Galleria. I carry a black North Face backpack, but I usually don’t carry anything valuable in it. Just an umbrella, an extra ‘bimpo’, some papers, ballpen, etc., certainly no electronic device. I usually slung it over my right shoulder while walking. Having parked my car at Galleria, I proceeded to cross the overpass to the POEA.

That overpass tends to be crowded, so its natural to have people crowding you in front, and behind. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then I heard a lady behind me talking about something. Then I feel a press on my backpack towards my back once. Then it happened twice, and then thrice. After the third press, that’s when it just suddenly occured to me: Someone is trying to access my backpack from behind.

I immediately stopped, stepped to the side, and swung my bag in front. And true enough, the zipper of my backpack was open, when it should’ve been closed. I let the person who was behind me pass, and then looked. It was a lady about 5’2″, with shoulder length hair, probably in her mid to late twenties. She didn’t look like a crook at all, dressed like your average Pinay on the street.

She turned around to get a passing glance at me, and touched the knapsack slung over her right shoulder also, pretending as if she was worried somebody was going after it. She was with another lady dressed in black, but whose other details I did not notice as they were gone down along the overpass in a matter of seconds.

‘The Backup’
It was then that I noticed the guy following right behind them. While the ladies continued on, the bastard sort of stopped also, stepped aside for a moment, and then looked at me from the side of his eyes. He was thin, dressed casually, about 5’6″ and had flat, black hair. His eyes were narrow, and his face had that look of people who are used to, and are prepared for violence.

Then it clicked on me: ‘Ah, the backup.’. He was probably observing what I would do. But since I didn’t do anything, like make a scene, or accost the women, he just continued on. His job, was obviously to try to protect the ladies against anybody who would accost them, or make trouble.

At that moment, I had this fantasy of drawing the SIG-P250 that I owned and wished I had with me then, and putting a round right into his temple as he was checking me out from the side of his eyes. The image was so vivid, so strong, that I felt my heart racing then. I felt violated, challenged, and abused. If I had the gun, I probably would’ve done it. Or at least accosted him.

Its typical of this country, that here I am, looking a three people so desperate to get money that they would turn to petty crime, while just a couple of blocks away is Virra Mall, where the “beautiful”, rich people go and shop, or just hang out.

It shows the gap between the rich, and the desperate, while the rest of the ordinary Filipinos ending up as probable victims. Thanks to a high population growth rate resulting in overpopulation (over 92 million Filipinos in 2009), which, in turn results in not enough economic opportunities for many. So much so, that they turn to crime.

In the Philippines, you cannot leave your bag on your seat for a moment, and expect it to be still there when you get back a minute or so later. Putting your celphone down on top of the table in fast food restaurants? Do it enough number of times, and one day it will be gone.

This is the reason why, whenever I have visitors coming over from other countries, I try to brief them beforehand what to expect. I don’t just give them the negatives, though, I try to mix in the positives as well, so they won’t feel so intimidated, or that they will not be enjoying their stay. Its not easy explaining this concept and maintaining a positive vibe, but it has to be done, to save everybody the trouble.


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