Monday, July 20, 2009

Side-view mirrors

This is my column today.

Within a span of 30 days, the cars in our neighborhood that were parked along the street lost side-view mirrors, not once but twice. The first time it happened, which was barely a month ago, the culprit—or culprits, since it is hard to believe someone could pull off theft involving about 20 cars in one sweep all by his lone self—harvested both side view mirrors of all the cars parked on two parallel streets.

And then someone else—or possibly the same felon or felons—came back last week to repeat the dastardly deed. This time, though, only the side view mirrors facing the side of street were harvested. We didn’t quite know what to make of the selective theft. Was it magnanimity on their part? Perhaps the thieves had a sudden attack of conscience since it was the second time in a month that they were stealing from the neighborhood. Or it could have been because they were in a real hurry. Or, who knows, they probably just had a perverted sense of humor.

When I told friends about the thefts, most of them simply shrugged their shoulders as if such thievery was commonplace. Imagine my consternation to discover that, indeed, the theft of side view mirrors is so commonplace there is a brisk market for stolen side view mirrors somewhere in Evangelista, Makati and in Banaue, Quezon City.

One friend told me to be thankful that the thieves only took side view mirrors. He said that he had heard stories of thieves not simply being content with stealing side view mirrors; they also left some kind of signature by doing damage to cars. He said some splatter brake fluids on the car destroying the paint in the process, or leave wide gashes at the side measuring the whole length of the car. Of course, some take more than just the mirrors, some cart off with the car mags or all four wheels. A number simply take the whole car. His theory was that the thief or thieves that honored our neighborhood with regular visits must be small-time crooks, content with making quick money out of filching side view mirrors.

Another friend told me, as if to provide consolation, that at least I didn’t have to go through the harrowing experience of seeing the theft being done with my own two eyes. Apparently this happened to her once. She was stuck in traffic along Araneta Avenue in Quezon City when a band of juvenile teenagers suddenly materialized on the scene and started removing the side view mirrors of the vehicles stuck in traffic. They even had the temerity to give drivers the dirty eye as if daring them to come out of their cars and engage them in a fistfight. She could only watch helplessly while the goons dashed off with their booty to the nearby squatter areas.

Yet another friend told me to think of the loss as some kind of assistance to someone who was probably in need. He romanticized the thief by asking me to imagine that perhaps the poor blokes who make a living filching side view mirrors were in a dire situation, perhaps someone had a child in a hospital (with leukemia, maybe) and really needed money.

It dawned on me that these indeed are the ways we deal with criminality in our country. We justify, philosophize, even romanticize the misdemeanor and make allowances for certain human frailties. It’s like that famous anecdote about how people that got held up in a bus were thankful to the goons who held them up at gun point for giving them fare money so they could still get home in one piece. “Mabuti na lang mabait yung holdupper at binigyan kami ng pamasahe” (It was a good thing the robber was kind; he gave us fare money). And then we shrug off our shoulders and suggest practical things that need to be done.

What I learned, quite painfully, was that the theft of side view mirrors is rampant today. It is possible that such is happening because there are more cars today, most of them parked on streets at night, and therefore pose as easy pickings.

But the more plausible reason is because there is a market for stolen side view mirrors. There must be a syndicate somewhere that collects all the stolen stuff and pools them in one location.
The first time we lost side view mirrors, my brother went to the auto shops along Evangelista Street in Makati to buy replacements. He reported being besieged by itinerant vendors who offered various types and makes of side view mirrors—from original ones to substandard ones (ordinary mirrors cut to size), to surplus (euphemism for recycled goods), to ones of dubious origins (in all likelihood stolen). I didn’t know if my brother was serious or was simply kidding but he said someone asked him what type of side view mirrors was being required and offered to come up with the mirrors at half the price provided we were willing to come back in the afternoon. It wasn’t hard to presume that the side view mirrors would be sourced from somewhere, presumably filched from some cars nearby.

Of course I asked my brother to buy original ones. Another friend was incredulous when I told him how much the darn things cost me. When I told him I didn’t want to buy stolen goods – or even those from dubious sources – he snickered and told me “what’s makes you so sure that the ones you bought from the store were not stolen either?” He had a point. One cannot be absolutely certain these days. I should have asked my brother to go straight to the casa where they charge and arm, a leg and a whole torso. Standing one’s ground and sticking to principle is not easy in this country. Not when the alternative to being practical is to be so impractical as to fork over thousands of pesos at a casa for something that costs only a few hundred pesos on the street.

So we bought brand-new side-view mirrors twice in a row within one month. The story does not end there. The rampant theft of side-view mirrors has apparently spawned a new cottage industry as there are now various gadgets and contraptions designed to protect a car’s side view mirrors from being stolen.

I was told of a contraption that one attaches to the edges of a car’s side view mirrors, like some kind of a guard that would prevent the mirrors from being taken out of their sockets. The downside is that these things cost money and they are quite conspicuous—it’s like one is openly daring thieves to make one’s day. Still another option, I was told, was some kind of a contraption that encases the whole side view mirror installation, locking it off. Another suggested having the replacement side view mirrors glued firmly to the sockets which would mean that the mirrors would have to be destroyed first before they can be taken out. It’s a variation of the loss-loss strategy for dealing with criminals.

And oh, you may have wondered where the much vaunted barangay tanod were when the two thefts happened. Unfortunately, we don’t have any. We used to have some, but they were paid for by the neighborhood rather than by the barangay. But the guys soon found better employment. We happen to have a barangay captain who can’t be bothered about these things. The ironic thing was that he himself lost a car parked in front of his house.

There are various lessons to be learned from this story and the side mirrors are metaphors to what we go through every day. It’s also a sad reflection of the state of things in our country.

2 comments:

Contents under pressue said...

Call me evil, but I look forward to the day these thieves try to steal from another wayward car in traffic, only to be greeted by the business end of a .45 M1911, held in the hands of a very, very angry cop on his way home.

Hey, if the PNP's gonna have a rep for being trigger-happy imbeciles, why not just point their barrels at something worth shooting at?

John Michael said...

So true - these thieves won't stop and would always come back... =( Too bad that barangays can't do anything.