Thursday, August 4, 2005

A small scary story

While big national issues rage, while the big guys slug it out in the national arena and play to the bloodthirsty gallery, many Filipinos continue to live their lives in the shadows and in quiet desperation. If these skirmishes were projected on the big video wall, we, the spectators and passersby could only cower as the big, dark shadows and images overwhelm us. The cheering and the cajoling come from the bettors lusting for the spoils.

Many Filipinos continue on with their day-to-day chores wondering when and how it will all end. In the meantime, the stereophonic, cacophonic, dumbing din becomes even more assaulting to the senses. We are the proverbial lonely crowd waiting for an intermission and the exit door to swing open so that we could take in a chestful of fresh air.

While the fighting goes on in the big arena, thanks to its life-size projection in the media, our so-called peace and order guardians are busy looking after the top. The rest of us down below have to look after our own survival and safety. Evil is abroad in the land and stalks its prey with freedom and impunity.

During the President’s State of the Nation address, when it seemed all the police and security forces were concentrated in one battle area, the petty and big criminals must have had a field day.

Here is an account from Cierlene Rivera, a mother who saw evil up close. The incident happened two months ago when the ``Now Showing’’ political drama was just unfolding.

``Last June 3, at about 9:30 p.m., my seven-year-old daughter, her yaya and I had dinner at Pancakes on Quezon Ave. When we were almost done, a man came inside the restaurant, headed straight to our table and pulled out a gun. He pointed the 9mm at me and demanded for my cell phone. I was stunned and tried to convince myself that it was a dream. After all, I was inside a respectable restaurant.

Again, the man asked for my phone and then my bag. Out of fear for our safety, I handed them over. He then pointed the gun at the yaya and my daughter who was trembling with fear. The man wanted my daughter’s backpack and the yaya gave it to him. Then he went out of the restaurant.

``I immediately held my daughter who was trying to hold back her tears. She had turned white and couldn’t speak well and just kept on mumbling. I looked at the waiters and the lady who looked like the manager. They were all standing by the counter, looking at us as if watching a movie. When I asked if nobody saw what happened they answered that they saw a man come in, go to our table and point a gun at us. They said they saw him take all our belongings. `Akala ho namin kasama ninyo,’ (We thought he was your companion) they said. The manager even insisted that she thought the man was my husband!

``I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand how someone who was supposedly my companion (or my husband) would do such a thing and divest us of everything at gun point. Even if that were so, would they allow a crime to be committed right inside their restaurant? They just stood there and worse, after the incident, nobody even bothered to call the police. The only call I heard was that of the manager calling someone from her cell phone to say that a customer will not be able to pay because she was just held up!

``I had to take my daughter to the area near the kitchen which was farthest from the entrance because she was so scared the hold up man would come back. Everyone was just staring at us. I even had to instruct the manager to lock the door so that my daughter would have some feeling of assurance.

``I was so furious and disgusted at the manager and staff of Pancakes for not being able to do anything. I asked where the security guard was. There was none.

``I then thought of the cell phones, the credit and ATM cards that were taken. I asked the staff if I could use their phone so I could have the cell phones blocked. Their phone had no dial tone. This was Pancakes at Quezon Ave. The manager lent me her cell phone but I was trembling and had a mental block and I could not remember any number. I sought their help for the hotline of Smart and Globe and the credit card companies and the banks but nobody knew anything. I just dialed home.

``On June 15 I reported the incident to the Baler police station which had jurisdiction over the area. Everyone in the station was surprised to learn about the incident. They wondered why no one from Pancakes reported the incident right after it happened so they do an investigation. On my part, I could not report right away because I wanted the phones and the cards blocked that very night. I did not want my daughter with me at the police station as that might add to her trauma. We also had a death in the family and school was about to start.

``Friends who learned about the incident wondered why I was the only one held up and why it happened when it was almost closing time, why the hold up man did not go to the cashier to get the day’s cash and instead chose to get my bag, why only my phones were taken and not those of the staff, why none of the waiters went to seek help from the guard of Red Ribbon next door.

``Now my daughter is suffering from her trauma. She is fearful of men who enter restaurants. She asks whether I am holding to my bag tight enough, where my cell phone and car key are. She is scared someone might take her and that she would never see me again. Her school guidance counselor has been very sympathetic and has counseling sessions with her.’’

Cierlene says she is still waiting for the police report which Pancakes claimed they had.