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.