Feb 8, 2013
This is your magical African-American friend Ruby Knight for another Opinion article. A couple of weeks ago, we had a situation in Megamall in which alleged members of the Martilyo Gang (now said to be Ben Panday Group) broke in a jewelry shop at the basement floor of Building B. While this was happening, the first day of Otaku Expo 2013 was also happening at the Megatrade Halls in the 5th floor. A gunshot was heard, and evacuation took place. Maybe or maybe not, regular mall-goers who were with their families saw cosplayers among the people being evacuated. (That’s coming from what the news reports say and the eyewitness accounts of cosplayers who attended the convention). Good thing I was unable to attend, as I went home ASAP after passing by Ateneo to meet up with an old friend.
I just found out about the incident while talking with my little brother when he showed me a friend’s Facebook status. Instantly, I logged into FB and checked if people who attended Otaku Expo earlier were safe. Fortunately, no one was harmed.
Okay, enough of the stories and let’s proceed to my take on this. I believe what happened earlier was planned, in the sense that it was timed during a day when there was a high volume of people in Megamall. They exploited the fact that it was a weekend, and the first day of the Expo meant more people would be rolling into the mall. They could easily blend in as regular customers at the front, and if they managed to reach the 5th floor, blend in as regular congoers (thankfully, they did not go up). Looking back, there have been many untoward incidents in SM malls even on regular days. I once chanced upon a robbery at SM Fairview years ago, then a shooting incident in SM Pampanga was shown in the news about a year or two ago. Despite “tightened security measures” and phasing out toy guns in their stocks, crimes still happen. Same case with the Martilyo Gang, they still manage to pull off heists in broad daylight despite these measures being implemented. But to cut SM security some slack – maybe or maybe not, they overlooked the presence of the gang and focused more on the crowd control at the 5th floor.
Since I mentioned the Martilyo Gang, they were allegedly wearing fatigues according to the initial reports. Succeeding reports dismissed this, stating that the culprits were dressed in “shirts and jeans”. However, given that a cosplay convention was taking place at the same time, the “three men make a tiger” scenario (in which people tend to accept inaccurate information as long as it is repeated by enough people) is unavoidable, thus labeling the Martilyo Gang as “cosplayers”. With this link comes the generalized stigma that the cosplayers were the ones behind the heist. We shouldn’t throw the baby with the bath water just yet and blame the cosplayers at the 5th floor who just want to have a good time. Conventions have been held in the Megatrade Halls for years despite being comparable to a sardine can whenever there’s a lot of people, but this is the first time something untoward happened. In the end, though, I’d call lax security on this one, putting emphasis on the failure to identify and distinguish real weapons from the prop ones that allowed the pundits to get their weapon in.
Therefore, if given the chance to suggest one universal safety rule during cosplay conventions, I’d propose the “orange muzzle tip” rule currently implemented in Robinsons Malls. This involves inspections of gun props by security personnel, after which orange tape is applied to the prop gun’s muzzle to identify it as a non-working prop that cannot be loaded with live rounds. I experienced this months ago during PCC 2012 at Robinsons Midtown. Upon seeing that I was holding gun props, security personnel approached me to inspect my lever action rifle and revolver props. Once confirming that they were non-working ones, they put orange tape on the muzzle and thanked me for my cooperating. I believe this rule will go smoothly once implemented, as long as there is cooperation from the side of the cosplayers themselves.
Apparently, amidst all of the fiasco, someone tweeted about cosplayers being the ones that should be looked out for rather than gun owners – complete with an “anti-cosplay bill” hashtag to boot. He eventually retractred and apologized, passing it off as a joke. However, some cosplayers did not take the said tweet kindly and started reacting violently. Others stepped in, blaming the lynch mob for not seeing sarcasm and being “stupid”. If you ask me, tweeting something along those lines was rather ill-timed and disrespectful. Emotions were already at a high level since almost everyone was fearing for their safety and that of their loved ones, and it would be necessary not to add more fuel to the fire. Once again, the “think before you click” adage comes in; people in general should not make snide comments just to gain attention during a critical time. Putting this into perspective, it would be like a Westboro Baptist Church member coming to a US serviceman’s funeral with a God Hates Fags poster and telling the serviceman’s family that the man deserved to die since he was punished by God for befriending gay people.
To end this short piece of mine, all I can say is that this untoward incident may serve as another deathblow to the already dying cosplay community. I just hope that the remaining decent cosplayers stand up and shrug this off.
But most importantly, stay safe everyone.
(According to news sources, a different group, with no connections with Ben Panday or Martilyo Gang, is responsible for the Megamall heist. SM Megamall is back to business as usual, with guards heightening security.)