‘Arrested’ at the terminal

A WAVE of nostalgia swept over me as I stood inside the Ecoland bus terminal a few days ago, taking in the whole scenario and noticing a lot of changes after just 21 months of being away.
Gone was the jovial atmosphere when the terminal served as a huge arrival and departure area, bustling with life and activity and filled with people from all walks of life. The whole place is now fenced and strictly secured, serving only as a mechanical jump off point for passengers.
Everyone is required to go in through only two entrances and one exit point, bags will be checked and passengers frisked. Nevertheless, it was still the same terminal which I considered my second ‘home’ before I decided to settle for a regular job in Davao.
Finding the urge to capture human interest stories to file in my image bank, I excitedly fished out my point and shoot ‘toy’ camera from my shoulder bag and looked for an interesting angle. Little did I know that just two shutter clicks later, I would be ‘arrested’, right at the place I called ‘home’ for a long time.
The first frame captured passengers about to board a bus, while the second captured the familiar row of small stores displaying pasalubong and food items. Turning around, I trained the focus on a vendor busily selling waffles in a stall and was about to press the shutter when my target unexpectedly went out of focus and a uniformed Task Force member filled the frame. Surprised, I looked up and heard a shout at the same time.
“Why are you taking pictures? Where are you working? Did you ask permission from our chief?” were just three of the barrage of questions the soldier fired at me that registered. As can be expected, a crowd started to gather around me and I did not like it a bit. I thought the soldier’s attitude out of hand as he brought me to a police officer and reported as though he was very sure he caught a spy or a terrorist red-handed. The two started to lecture me on security protocol, blah, blah within earshot of the crowd even after I presented a couple of reporter’s identification cards and handing over my camera. I told them they can just erase the two photos if it was going to cause too much trouble but they insisted on taking me to their chief. I saw no problem with that so I went with them. Thankfully, the chief listened and explained it was just security measure. He told me nicely that I if I wanted to take photos, I only need to coordinate with them and there’s no problem. He let me go after a few minutes.
I wanted to tell that TF member that if I had wanted to “plot,” I don’t need a camera because I had spent a good part of my life in that very terminal, helping my stall-owner friends serve coffee to customers and sleeping on folding beds each night, suffering the cold rain or the bite of mosquitoes and waking up at 5 a.m. when all folding beds have to “disappear from sight.”
I wanted to tell him that the daily routine of the place was familiar to me from the time the first bus leaves or the last bus arrives, even the passengers’ mixed reactions of anger or irritation as the vendors grab them and shove durian candies at their faces.
Most of all, I wanted to tell him that I know how shocking it feels to jolted out of your sleep because of an explosion, because I was there, a few meters away from the first bus which was ripped it to pieces by a bomb a few years back.
I guess homesickness prompted me to take photos of everything — the streets, the jeeps, hotels and buildings, food, children, trisikads, sidewalk vendors, parks, durian, and almost everything that is Davao. I still take photos but I’m now cautious because I don’t fancy capturing a uniformed soldier again or face an interrogation after.
Maybe posting ‘no taking of pictures inside the terminal premises’ signs can prevent others from doing so without proper coordination.

Ah, I miss the old Ecoland terminal where men in uniform were still scarce because although they present safety and security, their scarcity before meant the non-existence of the threat of terrorism.

Sunday, September 9, 2007
By Raquel C. Bagnol / Local Color

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