*This article was first published in the Animated Me column of the July 01 issue of the Baguio Midland Courier

Last Thursday, while my friend and I were walking from the city market and going up the footbridge at Maharlika, she was helplessly victimized by a pickpocket who worked, as I assume, so nonchalantly, so deftly, in order for both my friend and I to be hardly aware of what he was just doing. Suddenly gone were my friend’s favorite Dinosaurman purse which included inside it some bills totaling to nearly a thousand pesos, her school ID and ATM card.

It was sort of funny, how in a matter of seconds, we can become poorer by a thousand pesos, and also temporarily disabled to enter the school library and full of anxiety and regret after just losing valuables in a busy, crowded place. In a society where every day we find it more difficult to survive and cope with the price of living, incidents like this are just sufficient to make us judge a day to be a bad one and make us learn a lesson in the hard way.

At the beginning, it was easy to get mad at the poor stealer. Especially when after what he has done, you felt like you have just been a bad child to your parents who break their backs in the day and hardly get a rest in the night just to send you to school and send cash allowance that you need in order to live in a far city. It was easy to blame the thief and others like him who turn to doing things like that instead of doing something more decent and lawful in order to cope with their own lives.

Then there could be a phase of self-blaming too. How, for instance, we could have been more careful with our belongings, more watchful and guarded of seemingly naïve pickpockets who are just waiting for the perfect timing while we are all rushing through the unsleeping parts of the city. How we could have tucked our wallets and gadgets inside our pockets where they are less likely to be taken by people with wrong intentions. How we could have refrained from withdrawing money from the ATM and hence, give away a lesser amount to a thief who is an expert of his “craft” when all is said and done.

However, a clearer thought can allow us to look at the roots of incidents like that and might keep us from blaming either the thief or ourselves and our carelessness. We all know how widespread and how countless are the thieves lurking in the streets we pass by every day. The fact that they have devised ways to make themselves appear less suspicious requires us to be even more cautious and careful. For all we know, that stranger sitting beside in a jeepney or that person behind us in a grocery counter is planning to steal something from us. Not even the fact that we are in a public place can assure us that we are completely shielded from those who have intents of stealing something from us.

In our society where poverty reeks at every corner, where people struggle to feed themselves, and much more send their children to school or their sick relatives to the hospital, we have all learned a variety of ways just to get through every day and find ways to live. Unluckily, stealing, among other crimes like kidnapping for ransom, smuggling goods and gambling, are just some of the means we have utilized for the sake of providing for our needs. In that sense, we are not inherently to blame at all; resorting to lawless tactics just to survive is not entirely unforgivable given the circumstances that always pressure us to do the things we do.

What we must pay more attention to is this pervading social condition that breeds thieves, smugglers, kidnappers among others. It is a social condition where people can hardly afford the things they need because they do not have jobs that can enable them to pay for what they need. We are all in a society where even having a job does not secure us to obtain all our basic needs. For in this society, most of the jobs do not provide payments commensurate to the work done by the individuals and likewise to the expenses entailed by a daily, decent living. For the record, the 426 peso minimum wage in Metro Manila is not even half of the 993 peso cost of daily living allowance for a family of six members.  Given these conditions, how can we be so surprised when a lot of people turn to stealing and other lawless acts just to provide for themselves.

In the end, this is not to condone what the pickpockets do. This is just a reminder that behind these acts are larger conditions and operations in the society that force them to resort to such acts and make anyone of us all prone to be victimized. Hence, more than cursing these criminals, we must rage against and strive to adjust the social setting where these kinds of people are bred.

As for my friend, both of us just opt to think in more humane terms: Isipin na lang natin, may sakit ‘yung nanay nung magnanakaw tapos kailangan niya ng pambili ng gamot.

This is how we succumb to funny tragedies. And unless the conditions that can force us to resort to lawlessness are terminated, we cannot stop from consoling ourselves with such humane thoughts.