• Say cheese, Philippines

    Ben D. Kritz

    Ben D. Kritz

    Over the next few days a couple of weighty topics will occupy the business pages. Later today the government will release the third-quarter GDP figures, and the results of today’s much-anticipated meeting of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) will also send analysts and pundits into a frenzy.

    Neither of those subjects is likely to be particularly encouraging, so before we enter that maelstrom, it might be worthwhile to pause for one that is.

    For a country that aspires to welcome visitors and promote its rich culture, the Philippines sometimes finds ways to antagonize tourists and culture aficionados. A case in point: the “Bawal mag shoot dito” prohibition against photographers found in many areas. For reasons that are not entirely clear, cameras are regarded as dangerous weapons, and those wielding them are often harassed off the premises or at a minimum, charged a fee for a “permit” in order to be allowed to continue their preferred method of enjoying the local scenery.

    The peculiar prejudice against cameras is not limited to the private sector; most government facilities are off-limits as well, which makes sense for places where security is a real issue, but does not when it is applied to parks, museums, or other cultural sites. And the prejudice is, indeed, applied to cameras rather than photography in general. Earlier this year a request I made on behalf of the Philippine Outdoor Photographers to be allowed to have a shooting get-together at the Coconut Palace (the official residence of the Vice President) was denied for “security reasons”—which was mildly amusing because I had been part of a group of about 30 visitors just days before who had energetically photographed the place from top to bottom with their cell phones.

    Until recently, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig was another of those places where photographers are unwelcome, probably one of the top three areas—along with Intramuros and the Ayala-controlled parts of Makati—to provoke complaints of harassment from photographers and photography groups. But photographers venturing into BGC have begun to notice something unusual: Signs announcing “BGC is photo-friendly.” Unfortunately, that was apparently news to some of BGC’s security force, who recently stopped one photographer from shooting, citing the familiar “Bawal mag shoot dito” policy.

    A complaint to the Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation (FBDC), however, elicited an encouraging response. Marc Buencamino and Manny Blas of FBDC invited the aggrieved photographer to their offices to offer an apology and an explanation. Buencamino and Blas, who happen to be hobbyist photographers themselves, manfully admitted they had “blown it” with regard to effectively communicating the BGC policy on photography to the security force, and promised to correct that shortcoming.

    For the record, the BGC policy basically welcomes any kind of non-commercial photography done with self-contained equipment. For instance, a camera with an attached flash and mounted on a tripod is okay; extra equipment such as separate lighting units or additional props requires permission, as it may be disruptive to other visitors and workers. Film shooting and commercial photography activities also require a permit, and certain areas, such as banks, schools, embassies, and utility areas are sensibly off-limits for safety or security reasons. Photographers may still be approached by security and asked about their activity, but a simple explanation will suffice so long as the photographer is otherwise following the guidelines and not being a nuisance to other visitors and people going about their business.

    FBDC’s response should be taken by other property authorities as a lesson about how to properly handle balancing public activities with public safety and comfort. When it comes to photography in particular, given the fact that most people now carry around everyday mobile devices with photographic and video capabilities that not so many years ago would have been found only in high-end equipment, proscriptions against a particular kind of camera equipment are rather thoughtless. More generally, regulating public activity in a considerately minimalist way is good for business. Rules that make common sense and are courteously enforced do not make people uncomfortable and reluctant to visit, because it demonstrates a clear effort to maintain a pleasant, welcoming environment. Arbitrary and officious regulations, on the other hand, send a distinctly different message: Take your business elsewhere.



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