IT was about 30 minutes past nine in the morning of Thursday, October 10, 2013 when I walked into an HMR Philippines store at Santa Rosa City. I paused briefly by the door, waiting for someone to check my bag. Not finding a guard, I proceeded to a corner that was approximately 10 feet away from the store’s main door and got a shopping basket for my early Christmas shopping spree.
Still, there was no guard. Did I have to wait longer for someone to whom I could entrust my bag for safekeeping as I have been doing in the past? I decided I should not as I wanted to return as soon as possible to Laguna BelAir to monitor the repainting job of our house in the subdivision, and post a for-rent sign at the gate.
But an unfortunate incident cut short my early Christmas “shopping spree” and a possible story about the joy of giving. Instead, I am telling an embarrassing and humiliating experience to warn other shoppers against the bullying by HMR store’s security force which is tolerated by management.
Here is my story.
I was accused of shoplifting two items—one was worth P25 and the other P10. For P35, I was detained inside what I would call a holding room. I was to learn later during my “detention” that one of the two security men who detained me was Danny but would later on refuse to give me his family name, and Monico Angana, the store’s acting officer-in-charge.
At about 12 noon, I paid for the two items that I had bought that day. Yes, for more than two hours, I went around the store trying to find more articles to buy. Finding none, I decided to pay and leave.
After paying the cashier for a box of 3-D cards that cost P15 and for a mini flashlight at the same price, I returned inside the store while waiting for the clerk at a counter by the door to check the receipt and the items I had paid for. A few minutes later, I went back to the same counter to claim them. It was at this point when my agony began.
Angana, the acting officer-in-charge, checked my bag which I was carrying hanging on my left shoulder during time I was inside the store hopping from one table of goods to another. As ordered, I opened my bag, poured its contents on the table and among them were a pack of four pentel pens and floral wiring contained inside a small plastic envelope.
Angana immediately confiscated the two items, which, incidentally, still had the store’s bar code; he refused to let me go, accusing me of having stolen them from the store. What an unlucky day for me!
Then from somewhere, Danny appeared and similarly accused me of stealing. He and Angana forced me to go with them into an office which, again, I would call a holding room. Who could and would defy an order of two security men who must have been trained to frighten people into admitting a crime!
Danny claimed: “Ako ang chief of security dito.” His title suggested to me that he supervised a number of security men but not one of them was around when I entered the only door that also serves as the store’s exit. HMR’s security people may be guilty of desertion of post.
Inside the holding room, Danny ordered me to sit. I obeyed, then asked him his name. Apparently, my inquiry about his identity irritated him that he rudely told me: Ikaw ang iimbistigahan, hindi ako [You are the one under investigation not I]. He insisted having seen me put the two items inside my bag. I reasoned out that it was true he had seen me did what he said I did, but I retorted that I was only returning my things after I poured them out of the bag for Angana to inspect them.
Inside the holding room, I was already feeling very hungry. Despite hunger, I was able to make two requests: one was for them to bring me to a nearby police station. They refused, perhaps fearing they would not be able to justify my “detention.” Then I asked that I be allowed to have a lawyer. Again, Danny and Angana ignored my plea.
What a humiliating experience! Imagine being accused of stealing! Danny even ordered a lady employee to take my picture against my will. My protestations have fallen on deaf ears. Danny even doubted my being a columnist of The Manila Time as shown in the identification card issued to me by the paper. He asked for another identification card. This time, I handed me my Land Transportation Office-issued driver’s license.
Did the investigation push through?
It seemed to me their kind of investigation was unique in the sense that they kept pointing to the two items they took from me without saying a word. All the while it seemed to me they were waiting for me to admit guilt. Danny even did some name-dropping saying: “Tinawagan ko na ang legal department.”
The HMR lawyers must have told Danny to continue holding me because as much as I wanted to leave, they—Danny and Angana—refused to release me. I had no choice but to stay even though I knew they had nothing against me.
Briefly, Danny disappeared and came back with what to me was good news: the two pentel pens and the floral wiring have been fully paid. I felt relieved only to be frustrated by Danny’s persistence that I stole them. “Wala sa pangalan me [It’s not in your name]?” When has HMR’s Santa Rosa City store recorded the articles sold with the buyers identified in the cash register? It has never issued any such receipts in my name for my previous buys.
Feeling desperate in forcing me to confess to having stolen the store’s property, Danny said he would let me go but ordered Angana to prepare a document on amicable settlement that he would have me sign. I refused. What amicable settlement? I protested. At this point Danny knew he had lost his case but would not admit it.
Danny made sure I was out of the store. He told Angana to escort me out to my car when I had no car. Accompanied by Angana, I walked out of the interrogation room feeling humiliated as I felt people were staring at me. I felt a sudden pain in my stomach. How could this have happened to me?
I am relating here the pain of having been unjustly detained for a crime I did not commit and would never commit. I wish the agony I suffered at the hands of Danny and Angana employed by HMR security men should serve as a warning to the store’s shoppers. Beware of the store management’s policy that their customers are potential shop lifters if they do not “surrender”—that’s the word used by Danny and Angana—their bags to the guard upon entering the store. If they are caught with earlier purchases inside their bags that they did not “surrender” to the guard, the burden of proof of owning them would be on them.
It seems to me “Double 10” is not my lucky day. But the question that begs for an answer is: Do I have a case against HMR? I think I will need a good lawyer since the company employs a number of them in its legal department.
Editor’s Note: The Manila Times on Sunday tried to get HMR Santa Rosa’s side on the issue, but no one was available for comment.