IN Palawan last week having a look in the craft shop, in which I always try to have a look when visiting Puerto Princesa, I spotted a crocodile’s skull. Being a collector of unusual things a crocodile’s skull is, of course, an absolute “must have.” After some negotiation a price was agreed representing what I thought was quite a good deal; but then the market for crocodile’s skulls in Puerto Princesa particularly at this time of year may be a bit depressed.
So in possession of my newly acquired skull wrapped in newspaper and in an environmentally unfriendly but very convenient plastic bag, I later arrived at the security check of Puerto Princesa airport. As with most provincial airports, there are two security screenings within about 10 or 15 paces of each other (a somewhat inefficient use of scarce resources).
I managed to get through the first one complete with my skull thanks to a bit of light-hearted banter with the security people. “What’s in the bag sir?” A crocodile’s skull, I said. “Ha, ha, sir.”
But in the second security screening, the banter was not particularly welcome. When I said “a crocodile’s skull” the disbelief on the face of a Mr. Lorrca was plain to see and he obviously thought it would be fun to give somebody claiming to be travelling with a crocodile’s skull a hard time. So I went back and forth through the metal detector, quite a number of times and each time forced to wear less on my person. To further add inconvenience, he tried to get me to check in the skull since it was a “hard object”—sort of like the laptop computer in my backpack.
Of course, security checks are necessary at airports. But everybody knows that they are a pain in the neck for the several million travelers a day who are not in fact intent on hijacking or blowing up planes.
The procedure can be done either in a nice way, or in a very unpleasant way. I must say that in the thousand of times that I have been subjected to the procedure, in the vast majority of cases it has been at best quite courteous and helpful and at worst neutral. Not too often are you given a deliberately difficult time and to be frank at least to my knowledge there are not too many cases recorded of people using crocodile skulls to hijack planes.
Moving on from the irritations of travelling by air and turning now to the theme that “a society that has no trust surely cannot survive” we can look at the other major security issue which seems to be peculiar to the Philippines, the ubiquitous identification card (ID).
You certainly can’t get too far without being asked to produce one of those—to enter an office building, a subdivision, to use a credit card, to withdraw money from a bank—any formal transaction or permission to enter almost anywhere requires an ID—no matter that to get one forged is easy. Why on earth should it be assumed that everybody is someone other than who they say they are?
The need for universal notarization is yet another example of guilty until proven innocent in action, or is it the manifestation of a reaction to the fact that many people claim, “I didn’t sign that.” Can it really be the case that dishonesty like corruption is an endemic characteristic?
Surely not, but the way in which things are done can certainly foster that idea in the mind of the visitor and it is not the sort of impression that a self-respecting nation should project. Every nation has its bad people but they don’t generally publicize a mistrust of all the people—ironic really when it is the lawmakers who seem to have profited most for themselves from the “cookie jar.” I wonder if politicians have to show IDs when they go into office buildings? Most likely not I should think.
Security is often a necessary thing but it bestows on the people responsible for it a degree of power that has to be used in an intelligent and “pakikisama”-like way. Alas, in so many cases it is not, there are just too many people involved in it in the Philippines and in a nation in which power is so difficult to come by it can be no great surprise that it is often misused. Worse is that the impression gained by the visitor is of a nation “on the edge” with crime in the street when in fact most of the crime is committed in rather more “comfortable” places.
Mike can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org