Photography is a strong arm. Here in the Philippines, the House Bill 4807 boner is proof of this. You don’t mess with photojournalists. Photojournalism rules! I’d like to think, in this democratic population, while civilian authority reigns supreme over military, photojournalists reigns supreme above all.
But no. For we have another sector which doesn’t budge to photographers and reigns topmost in this hierarchy — the Security Guards.
You see, where the power of camera ends, security guard supremacy begins. Thou shalt not mess with the sekyu. They don’t bend to photographers and photojournalists’ carte blanche. They can declare NO PHOTOGRAPHY and they don’t even need a legislation from your friendly neighbor Congressman.
A recent brush with a security guard made me dig up past experiences involving photo refusals and run down this 10 No Photography Places in Manila (Metro Manila if you will). Keep your cameras low on the following places and no Stormtrooper will ever bug you.
From the least strict to the most forbidding now:
10. NAIA Terminals
Taking photos inside any of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals is prohibited only in security-sensitive areas, immigration and customs. Other than these spaces, you are free to enjoy your camera anywhere. However, it doesn’t mean the guards can’t question you at his discretion. In any case, NAIA terminals seem to apply a bit of leniency to shutterbugs so the airport goes to number 10.
9. Churches/Religious Temples
I have been turned down from shooting inside religious places at least twice. (Maybe I should refrain from asking?) Although most houses of prayer don’t really mind you clicking around, it would be a courtesy to ask first or shoot only on special occasions.
8. Shopping Malls
This article arises from a recent incident where I was stopped by a sekyu from taking shots of an installed artwork inside the posh Greenbelt 5. It’s easier to comply when asked politely so I act as ordered. Malls are privately owned so there’s no contending with their rules. And naturally, the classier the place, the more they are ‘attentive’ to mall-goers.
7. Rizal Park
You can’t shoot Rizal.
The idea requiring commercial photographers to secure a permit first before shooting around here is ridiculous. Why do photographers have to pay a fee for using a public place since they have already paid for it in the form of taxes? The park exists because of taxpayer’s money. Park officials ‘rationale’ behind this permit thing is pros make big bucks out of the place, so they should be willing to at least give something back. In this case, something could reach as high as a five-digit figure. A total cut-throat. And as if this isn’t insane enough, see how they distinguish a pro from a hobbyist, up next on my list.
6. CCP Complex
The Cultural Center of the Philippines applies the same ‘no permit, no photography’ policy as in Rizal Park. How they draw the line between pros and hobbyists is mind-boggling: I was shooting around the place one afternoon when a security officer walked up to this young lady beside me who was taking shots as well. The next thing I know, she was already leaving. What does she have (that I don’t have) that made the guard single her out? A tripod. She was deemed as professional photographer by the “professional” equipment that she have. When the poor girl couldn’t show any permit, she was shooed away.
Other insane ideas as to how they judge pros from non-pros include the use of DSLR, powerful telephoto lenses, big removable lenses, or if they find you working as a group. Amazing.
5. Light Rail/Metro Rail Transit facilities.
I’m not into trainspotting but Manila street photography is not complete without images of the bustling railway stations. The level of photography restriction here is somewhere between no-nonsense to iron-fisted. I can tell by the way the guards yell at violators. In spite of this, I still find a way to elude the guards’ train of thoughts.
4. Makati Central Business District.
Privately owned by the Zobel de Ayalas, the whole of Makati CBD is a no-photography area. My first acquaintance with security here was way back in ’97 during a hunt for a cityscape to grace the cover of a souvenir program. I have a short ‘unguarded moment’ along Ayala Avenue before motorcycle-riding police showed up on my face. Since then I’ve had many occasions with the guards here with the most recent at Greenbelt 5. Now it feels like there’s always one out to get me for every swing of the camera. Do not presume they don’t exert great effort in enforcing the no-photo policy here because they do.
3. Bonifacio Global City
Another Forbidden City. How come they always build high rise cities then bar photographers? Fort Bonifacio used to be an idyllic photographer-friendly military grounds. When it grew from grass to glass, it has become boom town of paranoia. The only time I enjoyed the full liberty of snapping around here was during the PHOTOMARATHON event of 2013 wherein we were provided with IDs, permits and everything we needed to keep the guards off.
2. US Embassy
One of a few interesting landmarks in my neck of woods that I have yet to get my lens on. You can’t say you’re not warned here. You can’t miss the glaring NO-PHOTOGRAPHY sign complementing a bunch of poker-faced guards neath a line of CCTVs. Though the policy is standard procedure in American embassies the world over, some countries believe there is no legal right to enforce this photography ban. If security is such a big issue here, why do they allow Google Street View to have photos of the embassy from the ground and above?
1. Camp Aguinaldo
No other place gets my no. 1 spot in the most restricted place for photography in Manila. My experience in this military headquarters dates back many years ago. I was nabbed upon entering the gate and taken for questioning inside this miserably awful interrogation room. All for carrying a camera inside the premises. They even tried the equipment on me to see if it is functioning the way it’s supposed to be. But that was long ago. I wonder if they still exercise their draconian policy in this age of camera phone.
There’s a great deal of no-photography places in Manila aside from what I have laid down here actually. BAWAL MAGSHOOT DITO (No Shooting Allowed Here) — a group of photographers fighting for unjust policies in the Philippines — provides a list of these places in their Facebook account. Many of which I find mental. Photography ban in Manila stems from the idea of either gaining profit from commercial photographers or simply out of paranoia. Beyond this, it’s overreaction. Should House Bill 4807 push through, it will only reduce further the already shrunken world of Pinoy photographers.
We used to shoot around freely once upon a time. When digitization made photographers out of everyone, the whole town shut the doors upon us.