As Dirty As A Charcoaled Rug

Everyone in the in the compound seemed to be awakened by the loud voice from the entrance. Even a nocturnal guy like me who spends the wee hours of the morning watching tacky movies like Bruno and Borat was moved out of bed by the obviously jovial yet familiar voice of a man.

I was not mistaken. It was Kuyang Rey, the buddy of my father-in-law, whose loquacious nature had made the people in the barangay  think that he is good for nothing except for gossiping.

At first, what he was saying was confusing but when I heard the whole conversation between him and two of my uncles, everything became clear.

“We already have a ‘poso’ (manual water pump) and it was courtesy of Kumpareng Andong.”

“Also, just to inform you, since my kumpare is running for the seat of barangay captain, everything that we request from him would be granted.”

“Mind you people, this is our opportunity.”

Once called as ‘barrio’, a barangay is the smallest administrative unit in the Philippines headed by a ‘kapitan’ (captain or chairman) and several ‘kagawads’ (assistants).

All these news elicited excitement from the faces of my aunts and uncles. Some of them inquired if the candidate would be willing to donate a truckload of gravel and sand, hollow blocks or even an entire roof for the house!

One even asked if on the day before the election, Andong would seal his victory by giving every voter of Barangay Burgos five-hundred pesos (about US$ 10).

Amidst the bewilderment, my cousin boasted that the other candidate is capable of providing what this aspiring barangay captain could give.

Manong Tolome can double what you’ve been receiving from your Andong,Untoy (my cousin’s nickname) said with some pride and a look that seemed to challenge Kuyang Rey.

“I heard that Manong Tolome shouldered the electric bill of the Tolentinos, provided all the bottles of beer during the birthday of Sidro, and this is the real kicker–he’s been giving a thousand pesos (US$ 20) to every single voter of Purok 2 in our barangay.

The statement caused quite a stir as well as excitement among my relatives. As for me, I was half happy to hear that Kuyang Rey’s family does not have to go to the neighbor to fetch pales of water to flush out their shit, since they already have their poso.

Although it was such a big deal for them, I was more sad than happy.  Ah, I almost forgot that in a couple of weeks, barangay elections would again take place.

Campaign materials for the Barangay and SK elections along Roces Avenue in Quezon City on May 10, 2018. Photo by Maria Tan

The pomp and all to sudden generosity that we only witness from the mayoral and congressional wannabes had already seeped into the barangay level.  It is just amazing, fucking amazing to witness how some kagawad and barangay chairman candidates could provide a poso or visit a birthday celebrant’s party and shower them with a variety of gifts.  They attend the funeral rites of a friend of a friend, meet and greet the elders, have pictures of them taken carrying a child or kissing a filthy old man and whatever.

They visit you, shake your hands and beg for your vote. Together with their so-called supporters, they roam the streets riding an ‘owner jeepney’ equipped with a loud speakers playing a song by Inigo Pascual with modified lyrics to promote their advocacies.  Same old stupid scene.

What are their advocacies? It varies from very personal to general, but regardless of what their advocacies are, what they would do remain blurry and puzzling.

And let us not forget the one-liners of these “prominent” candidates. Their print ads read “Maaasahan mo” (Someone you can lean on), “Ipaglalaban ka” (I would fight for you.), “Ang Tatay ng Barangay” (The patriarch of the barangay), “Kay Dodong, Panalo Tayo” (With Dodong, We are the winners), “Una Ka Kay Manang Tasya” (You are the priority of Elder Tasya) and other fascinating promises.

No matter how sweet and promising their one-liners are, they do not seem to meet or even exceed the standards of good governance.

The country is very notorious for its corruption –down to the ‘barangay’ level

A perfect example would be the one who campaigned that he is “someone you can lean on”.  Leaning on, in the context of public service, is neither the kagawad who would provide the cases of beer during the birthday party of a barangay member nor the barangay chairman himself would shoulder the sacks of cement for a house construction.

Being “someone to lean on” is a leader who organizes scholarship funds and livelihood programs . To see to it that the jobless are encouraged to join  a business cooperative.  That every barangay member are taught garbage segregation and proper disposal.  That no one is seen consuming alcohol or smoking in public places.   Or, even simply to espouse cleanliness and discipline is to say that the barangay chairman is genuinely someone you can lean on.

Ipaglalaban ka” does not mean that when a person is the cause of a brawl, all he has to do is to ask for the help of kagawad and his wrongdoings would be tolerated and that he would be defended no matter how wrong he is.

When a candidate pledges that “he would fight for you”, it means that he will defend what is morally right even if the deed deems to be unpopular.  Fighting for someone is fighting for the rights of the oppressed whether he is your associate or not.

When someone claims that “he is the patriarch of the barangay”, he should see to it that his words and actions are within the level of acceptable behavior.  He should take concrete steps in maintaining the health and well-being of each and every barangay member by integrating medical missions –just like a father who wants all his children healthy.

He should not take sides during barangay hearings but rather, punish the wrongdoer.  And the punishment should be like that it’s coming from a concerned father who does not want his son to become the bane of the barangay.  The world simply has too many assholes already.

While the candidates enjoy the perception that they are appreciated by the people with their advocacies and promises, they appear to be ignorant with regards to the long-term needs by their constituents.  What they usually offer are short-term and patch-work solutions to the same old problems  that had been haunting and destroying the Filipino values for centuries.

This is where I pity Kuyang Rey and the majority of the Filipino people. While the deed of the politician in providing the poso, the construction materials or even cinema passes (yes, free movies) appears a class act, it totally defeats the concept of self-reliance and value of hard work.

Having lack of money is not an excuse for working-class Filipinos to be dependent on other people –especially the politicians. By giving Kuyang Rey’s family the poso, the candidate did not really help him. It only made Kuyang Rey even worse.

Money for your vote.

After all, it is not the barangay chairman’s task to provide a family a deep well pumping machine; it is the job of the padre de familia to invest all the essential things needed by his family. It’s not the church, DSWD, PCSO or other charitable organization who is responsible for one’s need but the person himself.

Instead of the poso, a well-meaning politician would rather coordinate with the water company so that everyone in barangay would benefit, not only a few families.

Instead of construction materials, why not help the person find a decent job so he can gradually build his own house from his sweat?

Instead of movie passes to get the teen votes, a resource speaker can be invited over to the barangay hall to give English-proficiency classes.

Poso is good for only one family, but an efficient water distribution system is good for the entire community.

A hundred-fifty hollow blocks is good only for Aling Bebang’s comfort room but a job opportunity would enable every father in the barangay to build a house of his dream.

A movie pass or two would be a temporary escape to the harsh realities of life but an English proficiency class could equip them with confidence in finding a job..

Ah, to hell with the shallow minds of these politicians. Politics is as dirty as a charcoaled rug.

As I write this, my drinking buddy texted to inform me that Andong would come over to our compound tomorrow to shower us with paper bills.  Lots of one that depict the face of a brilliant senator who was assassinated at Manila’s main airport in the early ’80s — the five-hundred peso bill.

Maybe the money is enough to buy myself a good pair of jeans, or a cellphone load good for a month, or even a wax and tire black for my dying jeep. After all, the entire barangay won’t even know if I sold my soul or not.

Nah, I’ll just sleep all day tomorrow and Kuyang Rey will never be able to wake me up even with a megaphone.

Between the Giant and Rationality

If one is observant enough to look at the outskirts of urban Philippines particularly Manila, one would never fail to notice the peculiarity of the scene: mothers spend countless hours sacrificing household chores just to play bingo, tong-its’ (local version of poker) or mahjong.

They are mindless of their children crying at the top of their lungs and unaware that they are burning the hard-earned money their husband had brought home from scavenging or construction work. Look around and there would always be dirty kids running and playing and not giving a damn if they have taken a bath or not. There would also be kids who, instead of being in school, have to work day in and day out to help their parents make both ends meet. Their jobs vary, from digging the muddy and heavily-polluted seabed of Manila Bay to get pieces of metals they call ‘kalakal’ (merchandise) to sell at opportunistic junk shops, to carrying heavy loads of fruits and vegetables in the early hours of the day.

In the streets, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see able-bodied but jobless men on drinking sprees in front of ‘sari-sari’ (a small family-operated shop typically attached to the house) stores, laughing heartily at their senseless conversations, amidst the fact that they don’t even know whether they’ll have something to feed their family the next day. They flaunt their big bellies, their tattooed arms and worst of all, they brazenly display unproductiveness.

On the next block, it is also hard not to notice a group of teenagers, most of them thin as bamboo and nutritionally deficient like dying carnations. A few of them could be seen playing ‘cara y cruz’ (heads or tails), some would be smoking weed, others snorting ‘shabu‘ (crystal meth) and some would be sniffing ‘rugby (contact cement) filled plastic bags to get their highs to temporarily mask out their miseries. These youngsters are not few. Like a vicious cycle, they spawn like rabbits, and would join similar ill-fated, innocent souls in sordid existence.  But, is it all about fate?

Take a casual walk on the streets and you would notice how informal settlers have mushroomed all over the country; be it in the urban or rural areas. This is where we would realize that we have not really seen and experienced the worst in life. This is where we would see how any materials beyond use are utilized in making their shanties. This is where we would see occupants as many as fifteen trying to fit themselves in a ramshackle abode as small as a bathroom of a middle-class family. This is where we would see that the strength of the roof is based on how many dilapidated tires are placed on top of it. This is where we would see what the houses are made of – recycled plywood, flattened biscuit containers, plastic rice sacks, damaged tires, tarpaulins of stupid politicians or B-movie ads and an assortment of junks. No architectural plans, no concrete, no hollow blocks, no metal trusses, no hope.

In search for a better life had led to this...
A common sight in the urban areas of the Philippines due to overpopulation

Emotions would be mixed on seeing the vile living conditions of the increasing number of Filipinos. Some would feel sorry because of the plight the children have to live in.  A child has to compete with seven other siblings for the little amenities their parents could shower them with – toys out of rubbish, one meal per day, an educational privilege good only until the 8th-grade, a house comparable to those of pigeons and a whopping PHP 150 peso a day take home pay by the breadwinner. What a fucking way to live a short life.

To observant eyes, how some parents managed to have too many children -without any means of providing them a good foundation in childhood like regular meals, decent shelter, education, clothing, toys, play time, etc. – clearly borders on ignorance.  But, regardless of how we come up with the reasons why these people are wallowing in poverty, there is only one thing clear to everyone: the Philippines has swiftly become an overpopulated hell.

The problems that stem from overpopulation is beyond count. One frustration is that locally-produced agricultural products would always be insufficient to feed the entire population because there is a mismatch between the producer and the consumer. The population -an, consumption- simply overpowers production.  Surely and steadily, more and more Filipinos are filling their pie holes with imported products, which is a bane to the economy.

Another hassle presented by population sprawl is on job opportunities. Millions would compete against each other over a few job openings; it would be a dog eats dog situation. Newly-minted college graduates would not be prioritized as smaller companies tend to hire only the seasoned workers. College degrees would be useless, diplomas would be senseless. Only a handful with the skills (and, the right connections & recommendations) would be lucky enough to secure employment and the rest would be jobless, unable to support their families.

Overpopulation would also take its toll on the services extended by the government to the people. As the populace grows larger, fewer benefits would be shared by the proletariat. Let us take medical services as a perfect example. Already-burdened public hospitals will suffer from patient overload. A filthy bed would be shared by three or more patients, one with tuberculosis and others with dengue fever. On the ER, serious conditions that need abrupt medical attention won’t be met all at the same time.  Victims of vehicular accidents would have a very slim chance of survival because only three exhausted doctors are attending to twenty emergency cases.

Inside the maternity ward of an overcrowded hospital in the Philippines

The educational system is another government service that would suffer greatly as a result of overpopulation. How can we have quality education if one classroom holds one hundred-plus pupils? How can these students focus on learning if they are packed like a can of sardines?

Can senior high school students comprehend solid mensuration or even the basics of Algebra if their classroom is as hot as an oven toaster? Can grade ten students appreciate the epics of Homer and Ovid, the novels of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, if they do not even have a decent chair to sit in, a hygienic restroom to relieve themselves, a comfortable library where they could read books or even write poems? What about the teachers? Can we expect them to be effective?  By holding a class in a jam-packed room, precious time allotted to teaching would be wasted calling the attention and reprimanding the foolish ones. With a ballooning population, schools would just turn into a chaotic mecca.

An elementary classroom crowded with students is typical in the Philippines

As stated earlier, overpopulation will just bring infinite aggravation and as this currently troubles us, majority of Filipinos are unaware of the inconvenience it brings to our economy and to our future.

It is also worth noting that overextended families come from the poorest sector of the population. A friend of mine told me about a friend of a friend who has nine children, with the eldest being twenty-two and unable to finish high school.  The youngest is in the first grade, barely bringing a meal to school because of abject poverty. The bold, or should I say, stupid father has no other source of income but through driving a tricycle which he does not even own. Working such a financially-rewarding job, this family head brings home PHP 150 pesos day and it is up to the readers to imagine how the family gets through with the daily expenses.

How can a financially-strapped couple summon the courage (or, have the common sense) to have such a big family? Could this be simply attributed to the Filipinos penchant for the  ‘bahala-na-ang-Diyos’ (God will provide) mentality?

What could possibly be the culprit in this vicious cycle of boundless reproduction? Is it the administration? I’m sure the government is doing all it could in educating the people about family planning. Is it the easy access of today’s youth to pornographic and lustful websites? Perhaps, it could be a factor but it is controllable. Working or not, there are countries that censor the Internet to filter the materials its people can see. Is it the people themselves? There are many factors that are hitched with the ballooning of the population. But, in the Philippines, there is one uncontrollable, very strong force that cannot be stopped when it comes to the pyramiding population: the Catholic Church.

The church is opposed to artificial contraception and this belief dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. Such acts are intrinsically disordered because of the belief that all sexual acts must be open to procreation. There was even a point in time when the church allowed birth control – but only through abstinence. The Vatican even released a document entitled “Vademecum for Confessors” which stated “the Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception”.

Furthermore, the church had always pointed to the Holy Bible as it   lies in Genesis 1:28 which states “God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and the animals that scurry along the ground”. The fanatics and the Bible warriors do have a point though. Who else is to govern all the blessings this world has to give, but the people. Who else is to harvest the products of the fruit-bearing trees, and to cut the wood afterwards not minding landslides and pollution, but the people. Who else is to fish the sea in an insatiable manner using dynamite and toxic chemicals, but the people. Who else would carve the beautiful and natural shapes of mountains and hills just to get precious stones, but the people. Who else is to hunt the rare and exotic animals for money’s sake, but the people.

We, the people, are commissioned by the Creator to be the stewards of nature. And, as the logic goes, we should multiply. Even if multiplying is limitless. Even if multiplying equates to self-destruction. Isn’t it more sacrilegious to multiply when the posterity, like a virtual time bomb waiting to explode, will just damage His wonderful creation?

Who can contest the church’s uptake and exposition of inscriptions when, for a thousand years, they have been used to punish those who dare to question, to subject them to inquisitions, to tell everyone that the Creator’s grace and mercy is exclusive to those who kneel before man-made images purchased in the streets of Tayuman, and to baptize an innocent infant before he even gets a chance to choose the faith he prefers.

The Manila Cathedral in Intramuros serves as the Episcopal See of the Archbishop of Manila.

It has become our habit to follow and believe whatever the man in the white suit, whose car displays the Veritas sticker, tells us. We follow without question. We follow with the highest reverence. We follow with the fear of hell if we do not follow. It is funny that after the priest chants a Latin phrase, of which the significance or meaning is unknown to many of us, we instinctively chant ‘amen‘. It is funnier that the Filipinos, majority of whom are Catholics, abstain from eating pork during Lent to shun extravagance, only to fill their dining tables with more expensive seafood fares like lobsters, grilled blue marlin and huge prawns. These make me want to fry hotdogs using floor wax.

Church crusaders should be more realistic in taking a stand when it comes to the increasing population and traditional faith. While priests are busy preaching ‘multiplication’ and procreation, overpopulation is markedly taking its toll on the Filipinos – hospitals becoming smaller, schools becoming canned sardines, job opportunities becoming elusive, farmlands turning into subdivisions virtually overnight.  While the gross domestic product (GDP) becomes bigger our per capita income becomes smaller.  And, as always, the rich becomes richer and the poor…whatever!

Is this what the Creator planned our country to be? I doubt that He really wants us the majority of us to live in dire poverty and disorder. I also doubt that the church is accurately amplifying the Creator’s orders based on how He wants things to be. A little coherence and correction would not destroy the credibility of the church. And the correction should be made in its teachings regarding procreation.

For the country and the people that have long been under the grip of a compelling and untouchable force, the price of enlightenment is beyond purchase.

Tata Fidel

He used to come often to our store/house in Baclaran (a ‘barangay‘ in the, then, town -now, city- of Paranaque, which is a mere 2.5 miles south of Manila) to visit his younger brother (my father) as well as to acquaint us with his latest interest — which was quite diverse.

Those years were in the 70s and 80s when I was old enough to comprehend the things he discussed with my parents. It was also in those days that I was able to glean that, he, not only was my uncle but also was my grandfather by co-sanguinity — his wife (whom we fondly called, “Lola Paring”) being the aunt of my mother.

Most of the time that he was with us in Baclaran (and, if I also happen to be at home), there was always a discussion -over cups of instant coffee- that centered on his wide-array of interests: honey bees, silk culture, alfalfa, grapes, pigeon-breeding, vitamins, mushrooms, asparagus sprouts, oranges and many other agri-related topics.

His interests and how he explained them to all of us, was with so much enthusiasm and persuasiveness, such that he was also able to convince my mother to sell those pure honey contained in ‘patis‘ (fish sauce) bottles in our store.

Every New Year’s Day, when he was still residing in Grace Park, Manila (part of what was then known as ‘Manuguit‘ or presently, Jose Abad Santos Avenue in Manila’s district of Tondo), our family made this annual trek to their house, as it was his birthday.

I used to recall those visits with so much anticipation because it was one of those very rare occasions that our store will be closed. Not only will we be free from store work for the entire day but we also always looked forward with delight as to what Tata Fidel and his family will serve for us that day.

I specially loved the fried-chicken – the house-special – and the very delicious cakes and pastries that they made.

I knew he was not a good cook but it happened that one of their tenants in the mixed-apartment building that they own, was a restaurant and that, for a time, they also operated a small bakery in the same building. Hence, while there were plenty of good foods, good talks were also awash every New Year’s Day.

Growing-up, he would badger me -as well as the rest of my siblings and cousins – to take up courses like orthodontics, X-ray tech, baking, and always reminded me of the benefits of taking-up short courses at PCAT (the Philippine College of Arts and Trades, presently known as TUP, Technological University of the Philippines).

But what I remembered best about my Tata Fidel was his passion for looking for natural methods to keep fit, trim and healthy.  It was only a natural diversion for him after being a successful businessman that operated a battery shop and then, an auto-parts shop in Pasay City, right after World War II ended.

He also ventured into other businesses including the small bakery as well as in small garments-making, after he semi-retired in the early 70s. These were not long after he made sure that his family was secure financially by making some brilliant real-estate investments during the years they still operated the auto-parts shop.

Tata Fidel Carpio: The Carpio of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija
Tata Fidel (extreme right, with sunglasses) with siblings and mother. Author’s father is at far left. From left to right: Kiko, Amado, Terya, Ambo, mother (Lola Belay), Oliva and Tata Fidel. Not in picture is Tata Mundo.

He was so much into health and organic foods such that he bought a parcel of land in Plaridel, Bulacan (adjacent the Tabang Toll Booth of the North Expressway) so that he could put into practice his interests for them.

There, he planted (or, tried his best to) grapes, mushrooms, asparagus (these were not known to grow very well in the country’s tropical climate — much more, in very humid Metro-Manila at that) as well as a variety of crops common in the region.

The place was a proverbial gardener’s garden with the modest house -made of wood, bamboo and concrete- in the midst of all the greenery. He even had a ‘mini-lab’ in the basement of that house where he kept his collection of seeds and various plants whose names I didn’t even knew existed in the Philippines!

Those were the days I remembered my Tata Fidel best.  Except for a mild hearing loss that he remedied with the use of a hearing aid, he was energetic, so full of life and still very strong even when he was already in his early 80s. So strong that he can still crush those bottle crowns with the force of his fingers using only one hand – while I watched with awe- at that advanced age. A feat I wasn’t able to accomplish at my relatively young age of 30 something or so, way back then.

The last time I had the chance to see him was in the late 90s – times that I spent preparing to migrate here in the U.S. – and I had the opportunity to accompany him to a drugstore to get some of his medicines before he went back to Bulacan. I did not bother to ask him what those medicines were for.  And, didn’t I notice any changes that he may have had on his health. He was, for me, the same strong and health-conscious man, continually lecturing me on the benefits of natural foods and organic medicine.

This year, about the middle of February, he was gone. Which led me to wonder, once more, about life’s real meaning – the whys and hows of creation and death and, why we, mere mortals, have to endure all these events that seem to have happened before — in a never-ending circle.

What are we living for?

I may not be able to come up with an intelligible answer over the course of my own personal odyssey…in my very own lifetime. But, I’m very sure of one thing: life’s memories – for as long as one lives- linger on. And, I’m also very sure that my Tata Fidel had truly accomplished what he was here on Earth for.

 

 

Notes: Picture above is their family portrait with Tata Fidel on extreme right (with dark glasses). From left to right: Tata Kiko (+ -this author’s father), Tata Amado, Nanang Terya (+), Tata Ambo (+), Lola Belang, the family matriarch (+), Nana Oliva and Tata Fidel (+). Not in picture is Tata Mundo (+).

2016 Update: In late August 2012, the author’s father, Tata Kiko, also passed away at the age of almost 94.