The other side of Dasmagate
A nameless, faceless man walked uphill on Amorsolo Street, in the December heat that all but crowded the enclave he was trying to exit.
Hard of hearing, I asked him his name as I helped him into the car, his body brittle but upright. He pointed to the laminated ID that almost weighed down his gaunt frame. It said his name was Florencio – all of 89 years, possibly ulyanin (forgetful), and before I turned around to give him a ride, he was struggling with his cane and limbs up the mile-long road as SUVs with bejeweled matrons and speeding drivers whisked by.
He was once one of them, for 30 years in the employ of a certain Mr. H_____, who lived several blocks down the road and conveniently forgot an appointment they’d made in advance. His heart medication almost out, and his mind foggy and speech slurred, he told me where he was headed.
From the gate he would likely have to scale 4 flights of uneven, unfinished concrete steps and a mob of hardened commuters before getting into the train, which even on off-peak would never yield a seat, let alone a smile. Then a bus ride on the coastal road, past the crush of humanity in Baclaran, and into stifling streets and teeming rowhouses of Las Piñas where he hoped his family would be waiting.
Having an hour to spare, and no trepidations, we crossed the threshold into the miasma of EDSA, through the darkened tunnel that resembled a scene from a Paul Walker movie, and emerged unscathed to turn into Ayala. There, surrounded by poshness and dangling cardboard snowflakes hung across the lamp posts, and last-minute shoppers playing Frogger through the traffic, we got to know each other.
A widower, he raised 3 children, all of them struggling with their own dependents, one of them disabled as a truck driver in the Middle East, a single parent with children. He’d come to his amo (boss) to ask for assistance, pensions being unheard of in this country of virtual serfs and gaping social nets. He tried to stay healthy over the years, enough to allow him to give back what he could with his family – the time his job took from him, and little else.
He chided me for being single – I had just ended a relationship – saying all the pains were worth it, and to watch over someone, have each other in your thoughts, was what made his life worth living. He asked me my name so he could offer a prayer for my own happiness – “ito lang kase ang maigaganti ko sa iyo” (This is what I can only offer).
There was gentleness etched in the furrows of his cheeks, and in his eyes darkened with time.
The business district gave way to crumbling buildings, cracked pavements and street urchins hoarse from singing, ducking smokebelchers that would have gone on reverse had they hit one. He told me vignettes of the same life story; I didn’t mind at all, and thought of my mother and grandmother, their memories fading as I write this.
Mang Florencio refused to give directions past the bus terminal, and firmly asked me to stop, until I did. We parked by a McDonalds, and as I helped him down he winced from some unknown pain. I wrote down my name and number, placed it in his frayed shirt pocket.
He refused the money I’d concealed in it, and as I tried to be clever and give it back, he reached and took out a yellowed rag, took off his glasses and began to cry into it. I shut up and held him, trying to stay strong. He was trying to say something through the tears. I didn’t want to hear it.
I remembered a line from Gatsby about how he loved large gatherings because they were so intimate, and in that sea of humanity at the intersection of Taft and Buendia, we were given a moment that we could never erase, one where nothing and everything mattered.
This isn’t about a random act of kindness, a sob story, or even a tale of two cities. It’s about who we are and what we’ve become, and how a gaudy holiday makes it so clear.
In this country where the personal is truly political, it’s not about the helplessness of the poor, but the pervasive callousness of the shrinking, but ever-so hardened elite who’ve led us all here. And on both sides, how a true sense of community – let alone civility – is dying.
It is – or can be – about the sacredness in the ordinary. Genuine connections amid the crush of techno-narcissism and yawning inequality. It’s about what we stand up to notice, act on, and hold on to.
I think we honor the Mang Florencios of this life not just by remembering them or doing what we can.
Beyond the current disaster relief efforts and anti-corruption protests is a silent space where we need to stop and ask: “How did we get here?”
A hundred million souls and counting, a nation that bites off more than it can chew. From the unplanned children, unpaid debts, to crimes unimaginable and unaccounted for – in this day and age where we can live on so little. All while our chosen leaders, many of them hiding in gated villages like this – arguing about pork and VIP treatment -– noisily pilfer the whole lot.
I drove off, planning to have a word with Mr. H______ when he returned from his holiday vacation, and a dozen other things in the new year for the country many of us chose to come back to. Crossing back into the contrived oasis of the village, the first thing I did was find an abandoned lot to park by until I dried all the tears I’d held back for many seasons.
I came home to my loved ones and spent the happiest Christmas of my life. – Rappler.com
Quintin Pastrana is a corporate executive, founder of the Library Renewal Partnership (www.librarypartner.org), convenor of the Movement for Good Governance, and manager of the Philippine Rowing team. He was educated at Oxford, Cambridge and Georgetown, and is focused on sustainability in the private, public, and civic sectors.