STREETCORNER SOCIETY (50)
The story of Rene Castaneda (coded name), from Dupax de Norte, Nueva Vizcaya, an Isinay-Ilokano who drives a cab in Metro Manila, is an example of people who have not benefitted anything at all from the President BS's presidency.
Worked for an oil company for 10 years, then separated with by reason of consolidation and merger. Paid some small amount, which he used to buy a lot in Payatas, the dumpsite that saw hundreds of people dead a decade ago.
I flagged his cab from Meralco in Concepcion, down from the boondocks where I live.
When I feel like talking to cab drivers—when I want to clear my thoughts of so many things that get in there simultaneously—I sit by the passenger side in front. You see me seated in front, it means only one thing: You ought to be prepared because the investigator-cum-interviewer is ready to do his work.
Which I did.
Had done errands for the 8th Nakem International Conference, paid here-and-there bills for this this, met with suppliers, and now ready to go for another meeting in one of the posh hotels in Pasig, close to the posh but architecturally ugly malls of rectangles and boxes where the poor like me go to forget our poverty.
So, how is the situation on the road? That’s me. It is SONA time and having been a veteran of the SONA (or anti-SONA) force, I knew this would create jamming on the road.
Jamming here has nothing to do with joyful singing and sweet laughter and rowdy celebration.
It has everything to do with fighting for your rights, and fighting for the truth of that life but insisting that these leaders ought to be transparent and honest with us wretched citizens of the wretched land.
Which means demonstration.
Which means rally.
Which means carrying those banners and streamers and chanting those quick, cadenced, rhythmical slogans addressed to the perpetrator of the greatest crime of all: social iniquity.
Even while living abroad, I had attended those at Commonwealth.
I got past the sentry by walking and by wearing some kind of a press ID as a journalist.
Not so long ago, I saw Mar Roxas the presidential wannabe (in 2016) directing traffic.
He was a senator at that time, with the smallish lady as the president (of course, she lied a lot too in her SONA), and so many benefitted from her lies until one day, a general-turned-minion could no longer see hope that one day, yes, one day, he decided to quit life but blowing his head off at his mother’s grave in Loyola.
Ilokanoka? Ah, I smell Ilokanos wherever they are. That’s me the investigator-cum-ethnographer. (What is a better way to justify one’s questioning than assuming an ethnographer’s role?)
Yes, sir. And Isinay too. That is him, this barbangisit man whose skin, dark and glowing, suggested living in the far reaches of mountains and rivers and fields and Ilokano breeze.
From where are you? Ah, do not tell. You are from Cagayan Valley. You have a different way of saying things.
From Nueva Vizcaya, sir.
Ooops. Yes, I know. I recognize how Vizcayanos say things. Which part?
Dupax, sir. Del Norte.
That explains your being Isinay then?
Yes. Parents are mixed. So we know both.
I know a famous Ilokano writer there. I tell him of the famous Roy Vadil Aragon who hails from that place.
I heard of him, sir. But I had not met him. You read those names on magazines and newspapers. I know some others. But all in name.
His car is tuned in on 90.7 and lo and behold, we overheard something, a male teacher talking, in a comic but tragic way, which runs like this (not verbatim, but rephrased):
“Ah, class, this is you assignment. But before I give you your assignment, this is what we are going to do first. You buy from me. I have puto, bibingka, suman, siopao, tuyo, tanginge, spaghetti, pancit, ice candy.” (Well, the list is endless.)
We both laughed—and laughed so loud.
We know that scene, and we know that narrative underlying that anecdote of the hard life of teachers, particularly public school teachers in the provinces.
They make ice candy in the evening, these teachers.
From their liquid form, they have these tube-like sweet things packed on their freezer until solidified.
In the morning, they put them on their Styrofoam bucket and bring them to class.
Oh, it is not a giveaway. It is to be sold, and sometimes, some children bring this all over the school and sell them in behalf of their teacher.
That is entrepreneurship.
Good Lord, I said.
That is true, sir, he said. And he laughed more and more.
I sensed he had not laugh for a long while, not with a passenger like me.
We were in inching our way to C5 to go to where we can take a turn to that posh hotel.
But the roads all lead to jamming—not to anywhere else.
I glanced at the meter and it kept on ticking and ticking, and the meter reached two hundred even with this short distance that we had covered.
And we had yet to cover a longer distance, and then on to the business district in Pasig that meant more of those jams.
I never minded the meter after that.
That is familiar to me, sir. I lived in Dupax, in the barrio, and studied high school there, and these scenes are familiar to me. It happened in our place everyday.
Yes, sir. Before we start our class, our teachers announced what they have got. Ah, we would never go hungry in school because we can always take out a loan out of these goodies. That was how it was.
Did you learn at all other than eating the goodies of your teachers?
Oh, yes. We learned a lot. During our time, elementary and high school education meant you have to stay in school for the whole day. Today, they speak of MLE—what is this again? —but they cut down the school hours. What do you learn?
You mean the K-12?
Yes, this change they put in. Two more years. What is the point if you put in fewer hours? You will only have more people in schools, and more expenses for parents like me.
They say it is going to solve so many of our knowledge issues.
I do not think so.
You want to teach these kids, teach them well. We do not have good facilities. We do not have good books. And teachers sell good instead of teaching because they are not paid well. It amounts to the same thing. Or even worse.
You mean it is not the length of education in terms of years? That’s me probing, probing.
Not at all, sir.
The jam got worse. On top of us is a skyway that leads to Katipunan, on to Ateneo, Miriam, and UP Diliman.
I imagined groups of activists massing up at Diliman, their placards ready for waving, their bandana ready for the rain, or for the fire hose. Or both.
You were with a Petron company, you say?
Yes, sir. A subcontracting company. Ten years. I was a mechanic. Could have been a good life, but some things end. The company decided to merge with another, and the owner started another one. He paid us some amount. I used this to buy a right in Payatas. I have a small house there, but far better than having had to shell out rent money each month.
Payatas, of course, is this metro’s dumpsite.
The smell of the site is enough to kill you, and sometimes, it just goes through this physics of combustion and there, the smoke would kill you twice.
Those accustomed to these things are no longer bothered by it. Immune is that they call.
But those who lived with the breeze could not stand the smell, much more the smoke. People here have respiratory issues, a logical consequence.
What are your plans?
A cousin in America promised to start a two-cab company. I would be his manager. I know how to maintain cars so we will be partners. We will start with two units.
How much would a unit cost, franchise and all?
About Php800T, sir.
That is a lot.
Yes. But if you know how to cut cost, it can be done. I promised my cousin that I would take care of his investment. He will not have any worries with me.
As we hit Meralco Avenue, I saw him stretching, and fighting off drowsiness. It was now the midday hour, and farming people take a siesta after having a simple lunch of dinengdeng.
Ey, do not sleep I told him, as we wait for the light to turn green.
Yes, sir. Do not worry. Must be the farmer in me.
We headed to all those high rises in Pasig, past snaking roads and glistening windows and coiffured ornamental plants. So much for the artifice of a city.
I got down at that hotel so many hundred pesos poorer.
I was going to a meeting to advance the cause of cultural democracy and linguistic freedom.
--Pasig, Las Islas Filipinas, 23 de Julio 2013