Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Resilient Filipino

(Please press PLAY and read while video loads)

I have been trained to be strong in times of distress and calamity, to focus on what I can do rather than on my feelings or reactions to the situations around me. Well, I have been trying to be strong since Saturday, but I can't hold back my tears anymore.

I weep because of the tragedy brought about by the typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines, the increasing number of confirmed deaths, the stories I hear from the traumatized survivors who have barely escaped from the flood, and the overwhelming destruction to real and personal property. It happened to people close to me. As one TV announcer said, every Filipino was either directly hit by the flood or knew someone who suffered from it.

Yesterday, I wept during my prayer time, asking God who among our leaders failed us. I badly wanted anybody who had been negligent in any way in their duties however small, or who had pocketed public funds meant for the upgrading of facilities that could have saved more lives and property, to be held responsible and to be penalized. I cried, but I knew that anger would not solve the mounting problems being highlighted by this event - ranging from erosion to garbage disposal to disaster preparedness.

Today, I wept because of the goodness of the Filipino, and our resilience. We are no strangers to disaster, as I have personally witnessed how we have stood up after every storm. I have survived the flooding of 1988 (we slept in our school), the earthquake of 1990 (we held classes in makeshift classrooms after our school building was condemned), and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 (the roof of our house in Olongapo fell because of the ashfall). Mt. Pinatubo, in particular, led to something beautiful, for I heard that it had become a must-see natural resort, and I plan to visit it one day.

What triggered my emotions tonight was this information I got from an FB friend, who also reposted it from someone else:

Caught on TV- Man rescued in a rubberboat asked, "28 na ba ngayon?" Cameraman: "Opo, 28." Man somberly replied, "Birthday ko na pala." Rescuers who were paddling hard turned to him in surprise before slowly singing, "Ha...ppy.. birth..day... to you..." Even in the midst of devastation the Filipino spirit never ceases to acknowledge and celebrate the gift of life.

I wept for our people who, in the midst of tragedy, could still break into smile and wave when they saw TV cameras; who, while watching floodwaters rising last Saturday, danced and jumped in the rain; who, after losing everything to the flood, still could joke that their TV had become an aquarium; who, while waiting for their rescuers atop their roof, could still eat litson manok and count themselves blessed as others had nothing to eat for days; and the stories continue.

I wept because we had become so used to disaster and tragedy that we simply find comfort in humor, in food, and in music; instead of wanting more, or demanding what was due to us.

On the news and all over the Internet, there were many stories of real-life heroes: those who lost their lives after saving many other lives; those who gave out of their bounty; and those who gave out of their need. So much love was being poured; and it felt like one big family effort to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick, and bury the dead.

Of course, there were evil spirits as well that had triggered text scammers to pretend to be Ondoy victims, looters to take advantage of the lowered defenses of people, and campaign managers to discredit and doubt the generosity of their political opponents by spreading ugly rumors through every channel possible. These untimely, uncalled-for, and unbelievable actions should be flushed out together with the floodwaters. I choose to believe that even while there are still some who do not listen to their conscience and continue polluting and abusing the environment, and renege on their duties as public servants by considering their own welfare above those of the people whom they serve, that there still many more who respond to the call to give whatever they could to a people in need, once more.

There was news of that judge on jetski in Palmera IV, Quezon City, who rescued many neighbors and led people in prayer. Then there was the highly-applauded young man who saved several people and animals, but who died while in action. We heard about that actor who helped and refused to be recognized for his efforts. And there was a report about that famous TV personality/singer who made sandwiches and distributed them herself.

Even those seemingly in need also gave out of the generosity of their hearts, and because of their deep gratitude at being saved, like that poor government employee who showed up to help others, even if he himself suffered the wrath of Ondoy's flood, and that child who gave up his toys and wanted to make sure that the children in the evacuation centers got them.

There is still much to be learned, seen, and written because of this ongoing tragedy and triumph of the Filipino. The job of picking up the pieces and starting over is more difficult given the financial, emotional, and psychological issues that surround a disaster of this magnitude, but one thing is certain: we can weather this storm. We have been through a lot, and we have the means and the tenacity to survive this one.

My prayer though is for every Filipino to wake up one day to terrific good news, whatever that may be; to know how it is to thrive instead of just survive; and to personally see for themselves the fulfillment of the promise as symbolized by the rainbow after the rain.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shameless Plug for Jollibee :)

I passed by Jollibee before going home to claim some freebies courtesy of my BPI Credit Card (ayan may free advertisement pa ng aking paboritong fastfood at paboritong bangko, Proudly Pinoy). I meant to eat something on the way home as I had anticipated that the rains would cause streets to be congested all the way to QC. I was right.

I was snacking on the regular fries while waiting for a taxi outside Robinsons Place Manila, my newest hangout due to its proximity to my office, when a man, who must have grown old begging, held out his palm to me. I stopped chewing mid-fry and handed him the packet of fries that still had a good amount of potato left. The man eyed my Jollibee bag and said, "Tinapay!" (Bread!). I shook my head and said, "Para po sa anak ko ito" (This is for my child).

I didn't know what came over me. I didn't have any children. What I had was pasalubong for my parents and my balikbayan aunt, and I guess I was looking for gratitude in the man's eyes. I didn't see any. Then he said, "Barya na lang" (Give me coins then). The lady standing on the taxi lane before me interrupted and said, "Manong, binigyan ka na nga ng pagkain eh" (Brother, she already gave you food). The man walked away, sad.

I was saddened by that incident, without knowing that I would later on give the Double Yum with TLC in my bag to someone else: the cab driver.

The Taxi Lane was not moving, and irate shoppers were picking on the mall security guard for allowing people who did not fall in line to get the cabs that refused to stop in front of the designated space. I already had enough bad experiences with cabbies to know that I might have to wait for an hour in that kind of situation. So I did what I had to do. I called my regular cab company, Reno, the garage of which was just five minutes away from my house. They never refused passengers who wanted to get to Don Antonio, as that was their home base as well. I was at ease with their drivers, since they knew that I knew where they worked and could thus report any undesirable behavior.


I waited for ten minutes in front of the Padre Faura exit of the mall, away from the taxi lane so as to avoid having to "fight" for my cab, and when I saw the plate number I was given on the phone, I hailed the cab, and the driver saw me. It was a rainy night and the end of a very long work week. Before I could get in, a man (in black) also hailed the cabbie. I saw the driver motion with his left hand that he was answering a client's call and was not available. As I was taking my seat, I heard a loud thud and immediately saw another man (in white), apparently the companion of the one who hailed the taxi after I did, violently hit the hood of the taxi with his bare hands.

Man-in-white shouted to the driver, "Pulis ako!", and proceeded to hurl expletives at the driver. I gathered that he thought the driver was just being picky, so I attempted to talk to him and explained that I called the taxi company and he was just fetching me as scheduled. Man-in-white refused to even acknowledge my existence. He looked drunk. He then twisted the radio antenna of the car, and the driver protested. They had a heated argument, and man-in-black intervened. He closed the door of the cab, but man-in-white opened it again, all the time shouting expletives at the driver, who was regally defending himself.

Eventually we were out of danger. Or so I thought. The driver could not get over what happened, and made a U-turn to drive directly in front of the men-in-uniform, but a mall security guard stopped him, thinking his passenger (who was me) was alighting, and asked if he could let the "man from Immigration" ride the cab. The driver asked the guard for the man-in-white's name, but at this time said man already flashed the dirty finger to the driver, and they exchanged another round of obscene four-letter words.

Now, I had had a rough week. Month. Year. I was in a car accident last week. The day after, my vertigo struck as the cab driver wound his merciless way around the streets of Manila. Worse, I could not contribute much towards the hosting of my aunt from the States as I got sick with the flu over the weekend. My work was stressful enough for ten people, and I had all the stress-related symptoms ever invented. I was just diagnosed yesterday as having Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) or being in the pre-diabetic stage, and was given medication, and was studying a new diet and exercise plan more suited to my situation. Two weeks ago, I kept a close friend of mine company after her car accident. I had yet to see my first government paycheck for this position. The actual list of whines is much longer. You get the point.

My natural reaction would have been to panic at the scene played in front of me. But I could not afford to panic. I tried to calm the driver down and to dissuade him from courting disaster. He kept saying he could get any policeman dismissed from the service, as he had done so in the past, when his rights were similarly trampled upon. This man, he said, was not even a real policeman! He was not afraid! His taxi company would defend him! He had a witness: me! He had a defender: Tulfo!

I had to agree with him that he did nothing wrong and to utter other words of assurance that he was victimized by a government employee who was on a power trip. I then reminded him to flag down his meter because he had completely forgotten it, so engrossed was he on thoughts of revenge. We had a very long discussion as traffic was bad (usual Friday rainy night stuff), and to cheer him up, I offered him a Jollibee yumburger.

He unwrapped the juicy burger and quickly bit into it while he was driving. He said that he didn't realize that the incident had left him hungry. At last, I heaved a sigh of relief. It was only then that I ate my favorite Jollibee hotdog, which I had been wanting to sink my teeth into ever since leaving the mall.

It was a scene straight out of a Jollibee commercial. Comfort food. Pampalamig ng ulo. Pag may karapatan, ipaglaban mo. Mag-Jollibee muna tayo. (Sorry, there simply is no appropriate translation for that.)

I got home safely and paid the driver the usual fare, even though the taxi meter showed a much lower amount, since our drive from Faura to Quiapo was not registered. I still had a Jolly hotdog and a Cheesy Bacon Mushroom to share with my family. I wasn't able to tell them about my eventful night because they were engrossed with the last episode of Tayong Dalawa. Yes, this entry is so Pinoy!

Tomorrow, or sometime this weekend, I will write about two office outfit disasters that eventually turned into blessings. Safety pins and shawls are involved. ;)

By the way, I am not getting paid for this by Jollibee. But if the people behind it chance upon this blog, a two-piece Chickenjoy meal will do. For me. For cabbie (I can get his name from the company). For man-in-black. Even for man-in-white (Cabbie is going to research his identity). Might change his ways, who knows.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shaken, But Not Stirred

Since I can't sleep anyway, I might as well write.

I got hit by a bus. The car I was driving, I mean. I'm fine, and the car will be fine after repair, but it was another harrowing experience.

Is it just me, or have bus drivers, especially those plying the Fairview-Manila route, worsened in their blatant ignorance of all traffic rules and regulations? I must have been thinking of them too much and getting affected by their snake-like driving from Commonwealth to Taft Ave. that one night, I just found my car being slowly hit by a bus.

It was a rainy night, and rush hour traffic was moving slowly. I knew I was sticking to my lane, however narrow it was due to the inexistent lane division on that part of Quezon Ave., when all of a sudden I felt the collision, and to my utter horror, the bus driver did not stop. It only meant that he did not notice that he was already about to run over an entire car. He was oblivious to my car's blaring horn. He only stopped the bus when he heard a loud, scraping sound, and I don't know, maybe his passengers who had better eyesight and awareness of their surroundings noticed what he was doing.

I was all alone, and no matter my 10 years of practice, I still could not compose a single lawyer-like sentence to defend my rights. The driver, his conductor, and ten million other uzi (Pinoy term for people who like to ogle during the oddest and most inappropriate times, like accidents) proceeded to my side of the car. Driver insisted that it was my fault, because, if he had been the one at fault, I would have suffered greater injury. Then he asked me to move my car because his passengers were being inconvenienced. I felt my blood rising.

I should have thanked him for doing a Chavit! (Chavit Singson is the notorious "state witness" who told on his ex-friend Erap, thus starting his impeachment case, and who recently told the media that his lover and her new bf were lucky that he only hurt them and did not have them killed, after he caught them in the act of making love). Oh, thank you bus driver, that I only suffered that injury!

I told him instead that it the vehicles should not be moved until the police officer had had the chance to inspect the scene and make a sketch of the collision. Well, maybe in not that clear a manner, for I was in distress and close to tears. I willed myself not to cry in anger and frustration. I had to think.

It was hard to think. I could not focus. It was dark, it was raining, and I had been in that situation before, but for some reason - tiredness, maybe, or panic - I could not think straight. After a couple of minutes of quick prayer, I told myself that I had to pull myself together. I called up my family and friends to ask for help. I was so helpless and alone and I needed a lawyer, a policeman, a family member, and a friend.

I got what I wanted. They all came at the same time. The traffic police came first, and he was very efficient. I trusted him on instinct, and he was nice to me. I don't think it had anything to do with where I worked. He must have seen that it was the bus driver's fault and I was the victim, for he walked me through the entire ordeal and made me feel safe, that everything was going to be alright.

My brother was in a meeting, but he sent my sister-in-law, who immediately took photos and assured me with her presence. I wanted to cry when I saw her, but stopped myself again. She accompanied me to the police station, and only left when my friend, the lawyer, arrived.

My lawyer was no stranger to car accidents, having herself been in one last week, where I played the role of lawyer. She was the calm one while I tried to control my anger, and came up with a wise strategy that solved my problem for the night. She advised that we aim for a cash settlement outright. The policemen were very, very helpful. They did their job well without a single centavo from any of the parties. There is hope for this country. Goodness still exists underneath the rough exterior of people.

After a long, restless wait, the bus company operator arrived and the dreaded negotiation began. I tried to recall everything I had learned about those situations, but no concept or idea came to mind. That was what TSP was there for. She assisted me when I began arguing with the obviously drunk operator. The policemen let us come up with an agreement before they came in. They too were surprised that the owner/operator paid in cold cash, although his hands were shaking while he was counting the money.

This experience woke me up to many things, but one thing I know, is that when trials hit one after another, instead of complaining, I should be grateful, that God provides the means to triumph over them one by one. Worst things could have happened, my parents said when I related the story. I could have been hurt. My nephew asked his mom to tell me that he was glad that I was not hurt and that he loved me. I had wonderful friends who were praying for me and who offered help even though they could not be physically present.

Ironically, it's the bus operator's statement that summarized the experience. "Nobody is perfect on the road," he said. That's right. I realized that if accidents happen, as they sometimes do, there are much more things to be grateful for. As I told a friend when he asked me how I was after the accident, "I'm shaken, but not stirred." It was a bad thing to happen, but good things came out of it.

I close with the psalm for today that I read this morning before going to work:

I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart in the company and assembly of the just. Great are the works of the LORD, exquisite in all their delights. (Ps. 111, 1-2)

For what can I say? He answered all my prayers tonight. I will sleep with that comforting thought. I will bring the car to the talyer this weekend. No driving for me for a few days.

Will also pray if it's time to move.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Unplanned Three-Day Weekend

It was announced only last Friday that Monday, September 7, would be a holiday in honor of the departed head of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC). As such, I had made no plans to drive out of town, even though I had been wanting to go to either Subic or Tagaytay for a brief break from the city life.

Due to a prolonged wait for my initial salary (I work for the government; this is normal), I had been avoiding unnecessary expenses so even short-term plans were out of the question. Add to that my proximity to the central temple of the INC, where all the traffic was, and I was trapped for three days within my corner of the world.

Coming from an exhausting week, for just driving to and from work was a major event for me, and I had failed to walk around UP campus due to heavy rains, I had a slow Saturday. I woke up at 7 a.m. but was back in bed immediately after, and was awakened at 2 p.m. by my grumbling stomach. I had wanted to indulge in one of my favorite chores - doing the laundry - but typhoon Labuyo had prevented me from doing so. So I looked around my room for things to clean. I started with my shoes, then moved to my shoe rack, which was made of canvas and thus needed hand-washing; then took out all my makeup sponges and brushes. Unsatisfied, I went to my mother's dresser and cleaned all her makeup brushes as well. Whenever I use soap and water to clean something, I feel cleaner inside. This may be an obsessive-compulsive disorder developing. Who knows.

I stared at the work I brought home and said to myself that I needed a break from all that. So out came the DVDs I borrowed from a friend. I went on a movie marathon in my room. This was followed by my FRIENDS boxed set, which really had me laughing until late into the night. All by myself. My real-life friends were texting about several things - a choir practice, a spa visit, a walk (in the rain?), but anything that was going to be held to the right of Commonwealth Ave., I said No to. No way was I driving through the sea of cars and people.

Sunday was my duty day as Lector, so I did that, followed by other duties in the parish. I had lunch with my parents and got invited to a choir member's birthday celebration, to the left of Commonwealth. I slept again all afternoon and then went to the party. I sang videoke and had a score of 2.0. Out of a possible 100. That was a broken machine, everyone could tell. My highest score was 77. Highest score before I left was 94. Suffice to say that I went home frustrated.

Monday, I worked slowly, as my mind was still at rest. I finally did some laundry, although the sun still had not come out. I watched more Friends episodes. I repaired some clothes whose buttons were either missing or loosened. I tried to read a book but both books in my current reading list were heavyweights, and I had to put them down for they were causing me to get depressed too much.

I tried a little writing but my uncooperative mind refused to budge. Then I attended another birthday party, had some wine and coffee, and stimulating conversation. Then it was time to go home. And three days had passed.

Tomorrow is the start of another work week. I hope to be productive, and to have less rough roads than last week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Voter's Voice

These are very interesting times. The icon of Philippine democracy has died, but in her passing a country of passionate people has awakened.

Perhaps it is pre-election year, that is why everything is heightened. Politicians are everywhere, adding color to every major religious gathering in the country - from the blessing of the humongous El Shaddai building, to the Central Temple of the INC where the remains of their leader lie in state currently, to historic restaurants where shifts in the tectonic plates of political ambition have taken shape repeatedly.

I am a voter, and my vote is up for grabs to the best bidder. I will not accept money or any promise of position or power for my vote; instead, I will give my vote to he or she who will stand to fulfill everything that is taught the children in school.

That is, if they still teach children about honesty being the best policy (and not just a standard slumbook or Facebook answer to "what is your motto?"); if they still teach in Admin Law that "a public office is a public trust"; if they still hammer to history students the details of how a peaceful revolution that a united Filipino people put up won against a 20-year dictatorship (I am told by young friends that their knowledge of the EDSA revolution is vague and blurred); and how our parents promised that they will never let anyone squander our riches and curtail our freedom again.

So much has happened since my student days. I grew up and then learned to grow deaf to the nonstop exposés in the Senate that only seemed to indicate that in lieu of the crony-concentrated corruption during the Marcos era, people power only opened the floodgates of the national treasury to greed that permeated every level of government.

I stopped voting at some point. I forget when. I stopped caring. All politicians started to look alike to me. I decided to look away from the headlines and refrain from taking part in the battles waged there. I paid my taxes, worked in government, served in church, but I left it to others more inclined to fight head-on. I went to Edsa twice to topple undesirable presidents. After a while it became a futile exercise, a game of jumping from the frying pan into the fire, and I refused to be used anymore.

There are others like me, who pray for a better tomorrow for our country but feel they are so ordinary and actually have also become too jaded to really believe in genuine and lasting change.

But Cory died, and while mourning for her, my tears, and probably those from those who belong to the undecided, apathetic sector like me, awoke the hope that has been buried in me for a leadership that shows quiet dignity, simple bravery, and humble integrity.

Will history be kinder to us Filipinos now that we are hoping again, opening our hearts again, wearing yellow again? I do not know much about Noynoy Aquino, at least not to the extent that I would normally vote for him to the highest position of the land. BUT. I cannot deny that there seems to be divine interference in the turn of events. Ambitious people who have been jockeying, lobbying, and parading years into the elections were faced with true people power, and heard once more the voice of a people who have long suffered repeatedly under the abusive hands of a succession of disappointing leaders. Plans have to be radically changed now. Dreams have to be realigned.

The choice I want to make when I vote next year is a clear one - black or white, Ginebra or Tanduay, Spandau Ballet or Duran Duran - like in my younger days, KBL or UNIDO PDP Laban - red and blue, or yellow and green. All the other insignificant colors have to fade. All the other inferior choices have to give way.

It is my generation's time to shine. I have held back hope, and I have hidden my vote for so long. Next year, I want to confidently cast it. And I am praying really hard that the one whom I will vote for will not waste it.

I am a voter, and my vote is up "for sale" to the highest, mightiest, worthiest bidder.