THEY are paradoxically among the most visible and invisible members of our society, and the controversial case of the security guard struck by a motorist in Mandaluyong on June 5 seemed to highlight their plight.

The visuals of the incident's aftermath were particularly disturbing. While the admitted perpetrator Jose Antonio Sanvicente and his family were treated to a press conference and an embarrassing public display of deference by acting Philippine National Police chief LtGen. Vicente Danao Jr. on June 15, two days later news viewers were treated to footage of the victim, security guard Christian Joseph Floralde, still limping from his injuries, being frog-marched like a common criminal into the Mandaluyong Hall of Justice for inquest proceedings.

The Sanvicente-Floralde case has inspired a public conversation on the tribulations faced by the more than 500,000 registered security guards in the Philippines, and it is a conversation that is long overdue.

Common complaints among security guards include low pay, often below legal minimum wage, long hours, difficult working conditions, and other abusive practices by the agencies that employ them.

These unpleasant realities seem to stem from the generally low regard society, and particularly law enforcement, has for security guards. While many security personnel are appreciated and treated well on a one-to-one basis by the businesses and residents in place where they are assigned, as a class they are not accorded much respect. Most are regarded as low-skilled workers unable to get a job doing anything else, or washouts who failed to meet the qualifications to become "real" police officers.

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Security guard Floralde's case is sadly typical of the dim view the public seems to take toward security guards. Floralde was assigned to direct traffic at the corner of Julia Vargas Avenue and St. Francis Street in Mandaluyong City behind Megamall. Attempting to stop Sanvicente and direct him in the proper direction of traffic flow around the busy mall, the latter simply ran the guard over and fled. We would hazard a guess that if the traffic enforcer had been a regular PNP or MMDA officer instead of a mere security guard, Sanvicente might have swallowed his annoyance, followed directions and not taken aggressive action.

Security guards are true frontliners in the most literal sense of the word in almost every place they are assigned, often carrying out duties that go far beyond just providing security. They are almost always the first person a customer of business or a visitor or resident of a condominium or village encounters, and as such, are expected to be intimately familiar with the workings of their assigned place. As ersatz customer service agents, they are expected to render assistance to patrons, and often bear the brunt of dissatisfied customers' ire.

The real value and dedication of security guards was never more apparent than during the long pandemic lockdowns. Stories abound of security personnel sacrificing their own peace of mind and time with their families to remain at their posts, often for weeks on end. Their service undoubtedly made life easier for the rest of us during those difficult times, and yet they remain under-appreciated and under-compensated.

As a general principle, we view initiatives singling out specific groups of workers for better treatment — such as the numerous so-called magna carta that are supposedly applied to groups like domestic helpers or health care workers — with a bit of skepticism, as all workers, regardless of their jobs, should be treated with dignity, properly paid and assured of safe working conditions. However, the plight of the nation's security guards may warrant an exception, and a detailed inquiry by the Department of Labor and Employment and Congress.

Carrying out that inquiry would serve two important purposes. First, the inequities in pay and working conditions for security guards in particular could be addressed and corrected. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the inquiry would shed light on persistent abuses that may be endured by many other groups of workers as well, providing an opportunity to revisit the minimum wage framework, the Labor Code and other pertinent laws that are either not being properly enforced, or are lacking in some areas.