“Bawal mag shoot dito!” (You can’t shoot here!)

Have you ever seen security guards chasing down Filipinos with nice cameras, just because they are not foreign tourists? Vague policies will give rise to something much worse than a misinterpretation of policy: discrimination.

I am not a professional photographer; I am merely someone who carries a camera around as a memory aid because I believe that a picture paints a thousand words.

During the last lunar eclipse, I set up my Canon 450D camera with 200mm AF zoom 2x extender at an open space at Bonifacio Global City. Just before the moon was eaten by the earth’s shadow, I saw a security guard on a motorcycle to my east. He shouted at me from a 40-meter distance, like Santa Claus.

“Ho! Ho! Ho! Anong ginagawa mo diyan?”

I ignored him because I was adjusting the lens I borrowed from Arnel Ceriola of St Luke’s Medical Center. At the same time I noted his need for more training in courtesy and customer relations. A minute later, another guard on a motorcycle parked near my car approached me from behind asking why I was taking photos of the building at three in the morning.

I politely told him that I was shooting the moon, not taking photos of unfinished buildings. His moonlit face showed bewilderment. I noticed that he was not going for his holstered gun. I clarified that I was taking photos of the lunar eclipse and saw his bewilderment change into interest because he didn’t know what a lunar eclipse was to begin with.  He called for reinforcement and as expected, more guards arrived and proceeded to encircle me.There was much chatter about aswangs, wakwak and dragons from their radios.

Two of the guards argued that the eclipse was merely a half moon. One noticed that the moon was unusually red. Realizing that these guards were ignorant of both photography and lunar eclipses, I allowed them to take a peek at the moon through the viewfinder. I explained to them that with such powerful lens, I can take photos of The Fort from Planet Mars. I didn’t need to be so near to take photos of a simple building.

After seeing the craters and shadows on the moon’s surface, they were transformed into grade school pupils and I,  their science teacher.

Guard 1: “Hindi ba iyon dragon na kumain ng buwan, sir?

Guard 2: “Tama, sir. Nung Grade 3 ako sa Alamada, Cotabato, itinuro ito sa Atomic class namin.

Guard 3:  (Relaying over his radio) “Sabi ni sir, hindi wakwak ang lalabas pag dumilim na ang buwan.”

The breaking dawn made me realize that our security guards also needed to be oriented on science and technology as well as the basics of photography as a profession, hobby and art, beyond the logic and essence of the regulations they are enforcing.

In another instance, I was confronted by a security guard at the 6750 building. Admittedly, I didn’t look as sophisticated as the usual Makati posse in my cheap slippers, faded cargo shorts, and plain T-shirt. I had gone to the area to take pictures of the Makati Shangri-La Hotel and its surrounding areas when this security personnel in a barong Tagalog confronted me, claiming that what I was doing was against the rules. I needed permission, he said, to shoot any building in the Ayala Complex.

Me: “Hindi naman building mo subject ko ah.”

Feeling a bit miffed and eager to test my tourist-discrimination theory, I claimed that I was taking photos as a tourist. I could not believe that they would have the audacity to forbid tourists from taking photos. He then demanded:

Guard, looking at me from forehead to slippers: “Bakit, turista ka ba?”

Me: “Bakit, hindi ba pwede maging turista ang Pinoy?”

What ensued was an annoying confrontation that had this guard attempting to confiscate my camera. Besides that, he wanted me to beg for a permit from Ayala Land to take photos of the Makati Shangri-La Hotel and Glorietta. Permission to shoot pictures of common buildings that have long made the Makati skyline famous?

I had enough of this. I signaled to my driver to bring the Toyota Camry so that I could get out of this. When the Camry came round, the guard promptly masked his escape by walking back to the reception counter of the building.

Did he see the kink in their policy? Or was he intimidated by the car? Regardless, he was discriminating.

At Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, I asked security guards if I could “ take pictures inside the mall.” The two guards, in unison, said, “Sure sure, sir! Please take many pictures and tell the world about Marina Bay Sands and Singapore.” This is “security as a marketing tool” in action.

Having a bunch of security guards going ooh and ahh  (or worse, showing alarm) at the thought of a photographer catching a lunar eclipse (while making an occasional reference to aswangs) shows us that people who are naive about certain things are bound to misinterpret  many other things.

Have you ever seen security guards chasing down Filipinos with nice cameras, just because they are not foreign tourists? Vague policies will give rise to something much worse than a misinterpretation of policy: discrimination.

 -Ace Esmeralda is the former regional security director of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. He was based in Makati Shangri-La Hotel while his regional role covered the stretch from Australia to Dubai, and parts of China.


6 thoughts on ““Bawal mag shoot dito!” (You can’t shoot here!)

  1. Sir, as per my observation, most of our guards choose not to
    confront foreigners since they’re anxious to speak with them. Yung mentality po
    na “Foreigner ito, spokening dollar ito, hindi kame magkakaintindihan nito”
    kaya simply deadma nalang po sila, which is not good for others. Best thing to
    do is to teach our guards correctly. 🙂 

    1. Thanks for your inputs, Dalica. 
      Since the standard practice of government is to get the lowest bidder, our parks are not getting the more competent guards who are taken in by private companies whose contract with agencies is based on performance rather than head count. 
      Teaching guards correct english (or courtesy) may take more than their normal 40 hours training period. 

  2. Hi Ace,

    thanks for sharing your experiences on our security personnel weaknesses, or call it inaqequancy becaue of lack of training.

    Training essentially is function of Management, ultimately, absorbed by the Leadership, either ground or top.

    At the ground level, it is shared by the direct Commander (in an outsourced scenario) and the Client Security Officer or manager as the case maybe, given the fact that we absorbed that responsibility of training and educating the people under our Command.

    Poor or substandard training is an Industry problem.  It has to do with Regulatory Agencies implementation of standards and quality control (training schools and trainors accreditation; training module compliance); Agency Operators’ awareness and consciousness of personnel quality; and client’s screening of personnel.

    I hope that through your story, all concerned will awaken to the reality that security is a critical social function of peace and order and economic impact to both public and private sector.

    Again, thanks for sharing.  Best regards.


  3. Guards all over the Philippines are ignorant and discriminative. Maybe because they cant own a camera like ours, they’re kicking as off. Or maybe because we’re wearing light clothes that enables us to shift positions easily and take the best angle photos, we’re being looked down and talked down. I think this issue is common to Ayala lands. Even here in Cebu, IT Park guards are effin stupid chasing us away with their scooters. Why in the world would we be afraid of terrorists when we arent their primary targets in the first place? Once I was in a grocery store in Walmart (Lex, KY) everybody was happy to see me bringing a camera so that I could help them popularize their place. Years later, I found myself at Shopwise here in Cebu, taking pictures of my family in this newly opened grocery store (that by the way, needs popularization) I was stopped by a man wearing a dark blue top and slacks, tucked in boots and x-ray vision eyes. “It is prohibited to take pictures here, Sir” Really?! Why dont I see any sign telling me photography is prohibited here? Your effin guard running up to me and stopped me made me feel stupid in the midst of other shoppers in the grocery store. Well, sorry Shopwise-Cebu… I DESPISE YOU! Fooda Savers Mart is just a couple of meters away from your store, I will spill all my grocery money there and tell all my friends of the BS that you just did to me. Sir Ace, if you build an army of photographers against “BMSD” count me in. I’ll serve as your Battalion Commander here in Cebu. Awaiting orders, SIR!

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