An illustration of Alchie Paray escorted by police: Why do we keep hearing he’s a hero? Artwork by Chris Clemente
Culture Spotlight

OPINION: Security agencies should stop abusing the very people they arm with guns

If there’s anything Alchie Paray and Monday’s hostage drama should make us realize, it’s that the routine mistreatment of our more than half a million security guards may well be the most understated threat to this country’s social order. 
Gian Lao | Mar 04 2020

If you really think about it, it’s terrifying.

Security guards are everywhere. Many of them are paid below minimum wage. A lot of them—as in Alchie Paray’s case—are used as pawns in some skeevy management modus. “Hindi mo ba ako kilala,” they hear when confronted by the angry Fortuner driver wearing a Lacoste shirt—offended that he wasn’t made an exception to some dumb parking rule. “Sige, kukunin ka ng guard,” they hear from lazy mothers scaring their children into compliance. “Walang kwentang sekyu,” they read on social media whenever there’s a viral image of a sleeping security guard. These are only some of the messages they hear every day: You are subhuman. You are scary. You are worthless. Oh, by the way, here’s a gun.

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What should surprise us is the fact that the Alchie Paray hostage taking took so long to happen.

There are more than 500,000 security guards in the Philippines. For comparison, the AFP has just 125,000 active military personnel. The PNP has less than 200,000 police officers. Theoretically, if our security guards pooled their resources and banded together to overthrow the government, then well, the government would have a fight on their hands. And given the generally dire situations in which security guards often find themselves—whether it’s illegally low wages, disregard of labor laws, or outright lack of public respect for their profession—one has to admire the restraint of these 500,000 armed men and women.

Paray accused his superiors of crruption and was unhappy with his work hours. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

So, if you really, really think about it: Maybe the only thing preventing Manila from plunging into complete and utter mayhem is the good nature of our security guards.

Subconsciously, we already know this. The Greenhills incident was the ending of a movie we’ve all seen before. We know the abuses the common Filipino endures every single day. And if we followed Alchie Paray as the protagonist of his own movie—the Alchie Paray Story, if you will—then we would meet his family. We would witness him getting home tired every day, with not much to show for it. We would hate the jerk who wanted to get into VMall without ID—who paid Alchie’s supervisors 5,000 pesos to reassign him to an untenable shift. We would see Alchie snap. But then we’d also see him telling his eventual hostages that he won’t hurt them; that he just wants to get a message out into the world; that he’s okay with dying for it. We, the audience, would love him.

Now, it’s definitely not okay to take grenades into a crowded public place, take people hostage, and traumatize them for life. But why do we keep hearing that Alchie Paray is a hero? Could it be because he is the prototypical movie anti-hero—driven into a corner and deciding, finally, to fight back? How much of Alchie do we see in Julio Madiaga? The Punisher? Walter White? Or The Joker? Actually: How much of Alchie do we see in ourselves?

The routine mistreatment of half a million people with guns may well be the most understated threat to this country’s social order. These are people who manage crowded places everyday. These are people whose job is to secure our malls, offices, and public spaces. And the capitalist structure around them is doing its darndest to transform them—those who are supposed to defend us from threats—into threats themselves.

We really ought to take care of our security guards—and not just because we fear what they’ll do if driven into a corner. We ought to take care of them because it’s the right thing to do. Yes, a big part of doing this involves major structural changes. We need to make it harder for companies to pay less than minimum wage—and we may need to raise those wages too. We need to make it easier for laborers to go to government to report violations of the labor code, instead of having them spend a week queuing for their fifteen minutes in the Tulfo court. It’s a lot, I know.

How much of Alchie do we see in Julio Madiaga? The Punisher? Walter White? Or The Joker? Actually: How much of Alchie do we see in ourselves?

But there’s also something we can do tomorrow. Number one would be treating security guards like human beings who are just doing their jobs. They don’t make much to begin with. Don’t give them a hard time. Look them in the eye when you thank them. Make small talk. Help them feel like they’re not alone.

Our interactions with them may last for five seconds, at most. But we all know that these five second interactions can be much more human. It might change little in the grand scheme of things, but it might make their day a little better, and that’s still worth doing.

After 10 hours, Paray steps out of the mall after releasing the rest of the hostages, which numbered to around 30. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

“All it takes is one bad day,” the Joker said in Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke.”

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.”

Part of the job of being a security guard is being in the peripheries of city life. People pass you by when they board the MRT, when they clock in for work, when they visit the mall. They check our bags and welcome us to wherever we’re going. But when was the last time we really had a conversation about them? In a sense, their jobs stand as symbols of the ills that plague us. We know they’re just standing there. We hear them say things. We just never bother to listen. And that should change.