Sunday, October 21, 2007


THE MALL attacks last Oct. 19 reveal our new vulnerabilities.

Last Friday, I left my workplace, pleased to finally get back in the open. But in the jeepney, I inwardly kicked myself when I saw the slow-moving traffic leading to an uptown mall. Selecting the place for a rendezvous was not a bright decision as a mall-wide weekend sale was just kicking off.

However, this mall had the nearest Vhire terminal, convenient for the person I was seeing, so there was nothing to do but queue up behind the lines, first of motorists, then later of pedestrians. Weekends, as well as major marketing events, funnel many Cebuanos to the malls.

Taking a shortcut to the atrium, I met newsroom colleagues setting up for a pictorial. Alex, the newsroom’s chief photographer, explained that there was a last-minute shift in photographer assignments due to the standoff at a Mactan mall, shut down for alleged violations by Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Arturo Radaza.

Our groceries! I groaned for the second time, before remembering that we had just shopped a day ago at a grocery located at the same Mactan mall. Though my reaction is irrational (we are within driving distance of at least three other malls), any modern neurotic can sympathize. Locked in by timetables, we nurture habits, shaving off minutes from errands and hoarding time by, for instance, getting groceries at the one store where we know a can of milk costs P5 less than in uptown places or where the check-out counters have an unbeaten lightning record of efficiency in scanning, swiping and bagging.

At home, we swallowed our dinner, washed down with TV reportage of not just the Marina Mall closure but also the explosion at Glorietta 2, which killed eight and injured scores of victims. Like its Cebu counterpart, the latter mall had also the usual weekend crowd, swollen by a mall-wide sale.

At 7 p.m., surfing for Glorietta, I got, among the first 10 websites in a Google search, three reports on the 2003 stakeout at Glorietta by 300 soldier-rebels. At 8 p.m., as my mother was wrapping up our phone chat, she mentioned my choice of this uptown mall for fetching a friend.

I groaned, not for the last time that day. I’m sure, behind her solicitous inquiries, Ma was just repressing an outburst: whatever were you thinking? You’re in the media. Don’t you know better than to choose a mall after what happened in Mactan and Glorietta?

Less than five years ago, I got the surprise of my life when, at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas Cebu College, a batch of sophomores tried to beg off from a feature writing assignment that required them to report about shopping in Colon. What do we ride, 04B or 04C jeepney? Pwede Ayala na lang, Ma’am?

Medora, another student, stuck out, primarily because of her mall-going habits. Asked about Oscar Lewis’ treatises about poverty, I suggested that Meds check out a Lewis title or two in a bargain bin at an uptown mall. The campus activist, a regular fixture in street rallies, told me she hadn’t been inside a mall for years.

I’m not betting there are two Medoras out there. It’s more likely that I have several clones who, like me, can’t afford to even windowshop and trawl for brands but enjoy every mall’s centralized cool atmosphere, bright lighting, clean restrooms, civilized queues at adjacent Vhire and jeepney terminals.

Malls, sprawling networks of interconnected retailing units, have taken root in suburban life. No longer just about shopping, the mall is touted as the next evolutionary step in living. While downtown is the bombed out remains of a former civilization—a place now lost to pickpockets and lack of parking—the mall is the modern walled city, impervious to petty crime, weather change, last season’s trends.

But apparently not all that impervious. Last Friday showed that every mall, thrumming with the masses, is an open wrist under the knife of opportunism. 09173226131

No comments: