By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr., Publisher & Editor, San Diego Asian Journal, The Original and First Asian Journal in America
Second in a series of articles
Traveling to the Philippines, especially to a sexagenarian like me, is an arduous task. One must endure a 14-hour flight cramped in a small space. In the economy class section of the plane, there is hardly an elbow room to eat, relax and sleep comfortably. If one is not seated in the aisle seat, he has to ask the other passengers in his row to stand so he could get out to use the bathroom. This is quite disturbing especially if one has a bladder problem and has to go often. This is why I travel business class, although it costs twice as much.
In the business class section, there is plenty of space where one can recline their seat without interfering with others comfort. Moreover, the food served has better quality. In addition, there is a lounge where business class passengers can relax, eat, use the Internet, watch TV and read newspapers and magazine before the flight. When I was younger, my excuse for travelling economy class, despite the extreme discomfort, was I would rather give the money I had saved to my relatives back home. I was following the example of my father who did the same when visiting relatives in our home province. Besides, I commiserate with the plight of the old folks. Most depend on their kids and lack a comfortable retirement nest egg. They could use an extra buck or two. But for the younger folks, I would recommend economy class. The comforts and perks of business class are not worth the extra expense.
I sat beside an elderly Filipina woman who also travelled from San Diego to Los Angeles. She was 89 and was supposed to travel with her American husband. But he got sick and had to stay behind. Many years ago, she came from the Bicol region to Olongapo City to seek adventure. Although she might have worked as a bar girl who would entertain American servicemen from the U.S. Naval base, I do believe in her claim that she was a clerk. She married an American serviceman who brought her to America and different parts of the world where he was assigned as military personnel. She had a son who died after just a few months. She had two other miscarriages and eventually ended up childless. She was the only one in their family of 9 who was able to go to America and live a comfortable life. The rest of her family live in poverty in the Philippines. To help out, she volunteered to adopt a niece and a nephew whose father had died suddenly. The widow had three other children too. Unfortunately, for the adoption to be approved, she had to stay with the kids in the Philippine for two years. Thanks to her kind and generous husband, she ended up just sending money to her relatives. They had bought some properties which her nephews and nieces manage and farm, enabling them to make a decent living. Shes returning to the Philippines in her old age to bequeath their properties to her poor relatives.
It was four oclock in the morning when the plane touched down in Manila. We breezed through the immigration despite fears stemming from laglag bala incidents in the past few days. Bullets were allegedly found in the luggage of some passengers. Some claimed airport personnel had planted the bullets themselves to extort money. It made the headlines and became a sensation in the social media. Another claim was it was a destabilization effort of the opposition out to discredit the present administration. Some senators capitalized on it by holding hearings. The hearings are held, more often than not, to put the senators in the limelight rather than for passing realistic legislation. Many have used them to gain popularity and win reelection. For example, Grace Poe, who investigated a military debacle in Mindanao, rose to popularity and suddenly became a serious presidential contender despite her lack of previous accomplishments.
Upon finding my luggage, I walked towards the gate where customs personnel looked at my papers and let me through. I was greeted by a sea of faces behind narrow steel railings waiting to pick up their arriving relatives and friends. At the very end, Eddie, the loyal driver of my sister Mila, walked towards me, picked up my luggage, and led me to his vehicle. Whenever I go home to the Philippines, which I do at least twice a year, Eddie picks me up. Days before, he cleans our condominium unit on the penthouse of the Michelangelo Tower in Presidio at Brittany Bay, a huge development near the Sucat exit of the South Expressway and overlooking Laguna Bay. Using the funds I had entrusted to my sister, he pays the accumulated utility bills so electric power and water is ready by my arrival.
Twenty five years
Eddie has worked for my sister for more than twenty five years. His sister, who worked for Mila as a domestic help, had recommended him. He came from a huge and poor family from Aklan and had to venture in the big city of Manila and join her sister to improve his living conditions. He first worked in Milas printing press, our family business she had inherited from our parents. Eddie became a trusted all-around employee, working not only as a driver but also as a pressman. Though barely making a living, he got married with no plans to improve his lot. Bahala na, (Let it be), poor people would say when they get married. They leave everything to fate and hope lighting strikes so that their lives become financially comfortable. His wife was too lazy to work and bore him three children. At one point, he had to send his family to Aklan since they could not afford to live in the city. He would send them money every month and visit during Christmastime.
After several years, he finally was able to take them back and rented a small house in Tanay, about fifty miles away from his place of work. With traffic, the trip home would take hours; hence, he remained staying in my sisters house and visiting his family once a week.
One time, I asked him how his one-day weekend visit to his family was.
Its okay, he said. I bought three pieces of apples for 100 pesos (about $2.50) as pasalubong (welcome gift). His wife and three children shared them among themselves. There was not enough left for Eddie, but still, he was happy to provide for his family. The poor have a low level of contentment and happiness.
He had bright hopes for his eldest child, a daughter, who completed high school. My sister Mila promised to fund her studies until she graduates from a merchant marine school. Upon graduation, Eddie looked forward to her getting a job as a merchant marine, earning top dollars, and somehow alleviating the poverty of her family. But a few months before the end of the first semester, she eloped with her jobless boyfriend. All of Eddies dreams and hopes for her and his family were suddenly crushed. The bright future he had aspired for dimmed as the dire poverty he lived through would remain in the life of his daughter. She squandered the opportunities offered her and chose to remain poor. Like a forgiving and loving father, Eddie had no choice but to accept reality. The couple ended up living with Eddies family and depended on his meager salary, for his son-in-law still has no job. A year later, the couple had a child, Eddies first grandchild. He died a few months later due to malnourishment. And so continues the cycle of poverty and misfortune in the life of my sisters driver, Eddie, a fate that repeats itself in the lives of millions of poor people in my home country, the Philippines. – AJ
(To be continued)