Conversations: When she lets her guard down

She sorted several keys in a plastic box, separating the old from the new. It was her second night in Ipil Residence Hall, but she said she will soon get used to it. A ceiling fan creaked above the counter, its artificial wind brushing her long hair. She wore a grayish sweater over her signature navy-blue uniform, and peeking from the left collar is her nameplate—Editha L. Piedad, 168 Security and Allied Services, Inc.
Edith, a nickname she had since elementary, had just been assigned to the co-ed undergraduate and graduate dormitory after serving more than four years in Kalayaan Residence Hall. The reshuffling of dormitory security guards placed her in Ipil, a stark contrast to Kalayaan which housed the newest faces in the University of the Philippines.
“I have less work here than in Kalayaan. I don’t need to whistle every now and then to call the attention of a noisy group. But the happy atmosphere is missing,” Edith said after labeling the last key Rm. 129 E.
A native of Tugegaro, Edith has been working in NCR for more than 20 years. She has been among the first batches of clerks and cashiers in SM City North Edsa after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. When her contract expired, she applied and became a regular employee in Uniwide for three years, until it closed because of bankruptcy. Uniwide paid its employees for compensation, but Edith again found herself hunting jobs in the streets and offices to survive the city.
“I graduated AB Economics but never got to practice my course. Those were difficult times, especially in the province. You get hold of whatever available job, even the low-paying ones,” Edith said.
The closest she got to being an economist was her secretarial work in the provincial capitol of Cagayan Valley. She had to leave that job, however, to join the flock of Ilocanos trying their luck in the city.
In 1997, Edith’s wanderings led her to a security firm in Cubao, Quezon City. She enrolled herself in a 2-week security guard training course, giving her a first taste of the industry that has sustained her for nine years. They were taught self-defense and firearm handling, and were subjected to a rigorous physical fitness program. After two weeks of crunches, push-ups and joggings, she was given her first post—the Sucat Branch of Banco de Oro.
“It’s not my first post that’s memorable. It’s actually the resident guard at my first post,” Edith said with a smile, referring to her husband, Dante Piedad, whom she met in Banco de Oro’s Sucat Branch.
Edith opened the counter’s drawer and took a makeshift key holder containing about a dozen keys of varying sizes. She strode past the counter to the iron door of the dormitory, the jiggling of keys following her footsteps. She had opened and locked dormitory doors countless times, but Edith still remembered her first night in the university at Molave Residence Hall.
March 22, 2003, 7 p.m.—Edith was a reliever guard at Molave. A reliever is a contractual guard with a six-month cycle of work and rest, she explained. Molave is rumored haunted by dormers and guards because of its rundown condition. Some university legends also say the dormitory was once a hospital with the basement serving as morgue.
Despite the warnings and taunting from her fellow security guards, Edith said the noisy and nocturnal students of Molave were more bothersome than the supposed ghastly occupants of the dormitory’s basement.
“They said strange sounds are heard from Molave’s basement. When I guarded the place, I only heard cats and students,” Edith said with a laugh.
After Molave, she was stationed to several other buildings around the university including the College of Law and Yakal Residence Hall. Edith stayed longest in Kalayaan, taking the night shift and once in a while the morning one. She was partnered to a senior guard and one or two relievers.
Edith took her white ceramic mug from the counter’s cabinet, tore a sachet of San Mig Lite Coffee, and paced the lobby to the graduate wing to get hot water. She walked back to the guard’s counter, wisps of coffee aroma trailing her and filling the room. A whirlpool of coffee was visible while she stirred. She took a sip but her face contorted as if to say the coffee was too hot for her tongue.
“A guard’s main enemy is sleep. In Kalayaan, I was allowed to take a nap but Ipil is different. I need to stay awake because there is no curfew,” Edith said.
Her night duties in the dormitory begin at 7 p.m. She takes the post from her partner and starts by making rounds, one wing at a time. Edith takes care of Ipil’s eight wings, housing more than 300 residents from different provinces all over the country. She checks corridor windows and light, function rooms, electric fans, the kitchen and the students.
Edith said her unholy hours start around 2 a.m. when students begin to sleep and only a handful stay in the lobby to watch action or anime series. Around this time, too, she starts her waking routines. She drinks coffee, soft drinks or other caffeinated drinks, listens to rock music, walks around or even sweeps the floor. She said her secret is constant movement, aside from caffeine, to keep herself from falling asleep. She also sleeps at home before her shift to store energy.
“When the world is awake, I sleep. And when everyone’s asleep, I am wide awake,” Edith said with a tone of irony. “I guess being a night shift guard demands a different lifestyle. I have no regrets, except that I don’t get to be with my children when they’re awake.”
Edith’s duty ends after 12 hours at exactly 7 a.m. During this time, her two daughters are preparing to go to school. She usually reaches their house in Balara on time to bid them farewell. After sending them off, it is her time to enjoy the comfort of her bed and pillows.
“A guard’s life? It’s not so interesting. We guard buildings and walk around with batons, a flashlight, arnis stick, keys, a pistol sometimes, and a lot of courage and self-defense skill,” Edith said between yawns.
“Not so many are interested to find out what we do or how we work, so I’m happy when one or two students chat with me until the wee hours in the morning. They get to know a guard better, and all the more, I see my job’s purpose.” Edith wheeled out of the counter; a resident was knocking at the iron door. She had to open it to let him in, and close the door again like she had done countless times in different UP dormitories.
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