In my extended trips to the Philippines, I am constantly reminded to take care (“mag-Ingat”), to stay alert, be wary of my surroundings, to watch out and beware of others. I’ve been conditioned to never trust anyone, and that every Tom, Dick, and Harry (in our case, Pedro, Juan, and Maria) is out to exploit everyone else! I have always ignored those warnings and never regretted that decision.
Some recent examples:
Malolos, the capital of Bulacan province, is home to the Museo ng Kasaysayang Pampulitika ngPilipinas (Philippine Political History Museum) and was my destination one sunny Tuesday morning in February. It was no surprise to me that I was the sole visitor to the place -- Filipinos are notoriously non-culture freaks. The maintenance person (“janitor,” in his words), Jorge Valerio (Manong George) welcomed me, turned on the exhibit lights, and enthusiastically guided me through the various galleries, pointing out significant details, showing off the 3-D virtual reality model of a Spanish galleon, photographing me in front of the huge interactive Pilipinas map sprawled across an (almost) entire gallery floor. It was a thoroughly enjoyable (and educational) experience! At the end of the visit, I offered him a gratuity, which he graciously refused to accept. It was that moment that I truly appreciated the man, and his pride at the dignity of his labor.
Baliwag-bound (Menchu, my spouse, is a born-and-bred Bulakeña), I hopped onto the front bench of a jeepney, bracing myself for the hour-long hassle that has afflicted millions of Pinoys with PTSD (post-TRAFFIC stress disorder). The driver (who shall remain anonymous, no thanks to my senior moment) and the conductress (his nanay) were an amiable pair, and the kilometers sped by quickly. It was classroom dismissal time, and the jeepney was soon cramped with schoolkids on their way home or to the neighborhood SM/Robinsons. We chatted about the weather, the route’s environmental evolution from rice paddies to factories and housing. We discussed family and changing moral values, politics, inflation, global warming. When I got off for my connection at Plaridel, they respectfully declined my 20-peso pamasahe (fare)! Once again, The Golden Rule (“Do unto others...”), my faithful mantra, rang true.
On one of my casual Baliwag afternoon strolls (I aim for 10,000 steps daily), I chanced upon a street that was ankle deep in murky flood water. A passing tricycle driver insisted I jump on the back seat, dropped me off at the end of block, and rushed away without giving me an opportunity to thank him. Not once did compensation arise in our (fleeting) interaction.
The continuing saga of Sonny & DMensch’s Adventures in Public Transport, we tackled the MRT(Metro Rail Transit, aka, “the trains always breaking down”), shuttling between the Balintawak and Quirino Stations. Nowadays, a contemporary urban Manila adage goes, “Sa pagko-commute, papasok kang estudyante, lalabas kang mandirigma” (Commuting: enter a Student, exit a Warrior). To get on the MRT, you must endure a security checkpoint and endless queues at the ticketing booths (although senior discounts do apply).
My Menchu is a (sweet) sweet potatoholic, and we had just purchased, and half consumed a couple of sticks of kamotecue. The pointy bamboo tips had apparently caused a ruckus at the Cubao Station previously--a passenger accidentally poked another, and a riot ensued! The lady security guards cautiously allowed us to ride that day, although with a few precautions. With a courteous and jovial “Ma’am Sir,” they wrapped our treats in some old newspapers that just happened to be handy, and we were soon on our merry way.
I could go on and on about cases of benevolence I’ve confronted to date. Suffice it to say that the nobility and generosity of our kababayan, specifically, the poor and downtrodden, never cease to amaze me. Whenever I am admonished to “mag-Ingat” (be careful), I do acknowledge the fair warning. However, I still refuse to alter my heartfelt belief in the inherent goodwill of all.
Senen “Sonny” Siasoco (see photos) is a retired (but not expired) physician seeking a life beyond Medicine. Aside from part-time caregiving, he writes for (his own) pleasure, and to avoid the dreaded Housework. His other excuses include tennis, tracking telenovelas (he is particularly distraught at the conclusion of Ika-Anim Na Utos), and discovering what’s around the corner. He appreciates any and all creative solutions to his dilemma at firstname.lastname@example.org. And yes, DMensch has been trying to get him to shave those danged whiskers for weeks.