LIFE GOES ON BEYOND ANGELO TOMAS REYES

While everyone talks about and interprets what General Angelo Tomas Reyes did yesterday (Was it “Harakiri” or simply to get back at his accusers?), a very touching article at the Youngblood section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer caught my eyes – “Kasi.” It was an article written by an eighteen-year old UP Manila BS Biology student, Venus Marie R. Rojas.

Rojas recounted in this article her journey to ease the pain of an old man she found in the busy streets of Malate, leading to UP Manila. She painstakingly looked for a home where the old man could stay and live a dignified life.  However, no home was ready to accept the old man because of “so and so rules” – clearly a sort of redtape or out of place protocol (I think, Mother Teresa’s homes accept anyone and anybody, but that’s another story).

I now wish to share with you Rojas’ article because it is a breeze of fresh air where whistleblowers dramatically take the witness stand. While I admire their courage, I believe that ordinary human beings that we are, we too can do our small part and become heroes, not necessarily for our country, but for real persons we meet along the way – like the vendor at the waiting shed where you take the jeep; like the old woman wanting to cross the street; and yes, like that old man Rojas wanted to help.

Of course, I admire Rojas’ courage, but one thing disturbs me though – why hasn’t she brought the old man in her own home instead? Oh, that could be the height of heroism!

Here is Rojas’ “Kasi…”

Kasi!’

By Venus Marie R. Rojas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I TOOK a picture of him once. He was staring straight into my camera while chewing on his dinner, consisting of rice and some viand, placed on a red plastic plate resting on his lap.

He was almost always there on that part of the road, so maybe that was why I didn’t quite notice him. And during the times I did, I usually didn’t give it much thought. He did not beg for alms. Neither did he create a fuss. He was just an old man sitting on the sidewalk. This was how I saw him before that fateful Sunday evening.

Now I remember that night very well. It happened in July last year, when each night brought strong winds and cold merciless rain. I recall being told by my roommate about a man she saw shivering along the road. I remember the plastic bag I carried, containing water, food, clothes and an umbrella. And most of all, I remember the sight that I saw.

I knew he was the old man on the sidewalk, but at the back of my mind I had my doubts. The man I used to see looked, well, normal. This one had wounds all over his face and one on his head. The area around his eyes was swollen and red, and the space where the eyes should have been had turned into slits. I doubted if he could have seen me.

The shock registered on my mind before his stench assailed my nose. I called out to him and he barely heard me.

That started a week of inexplicable and unforgettable happenings in my life. From that moment, my idealistic heart made a resolution to help him find shelter. I was full of hopes and plans. I was feeling radiant. I was happy to clothe him (literally, since I helped him put on the clothes). I gave him a pair of slippers and handed him food.

The following days, I gave him breakfast, lunch and dinner whenever I could, especially when I had breaks in my classes. I continued to give him clothes.

A lot of emotions rushed through me every time I went to see him. First, there was anxiety: Was he okay or not? Had he gone somewhere? Had he stayed in one place just like I told him?

There was also some kind of joy in knowing that I would be able to help him once more. But then I would also feel a bit ashamed when people stared at us (and what kind of stares they gave us: long, straight and questioning).

Every day I gave him food and he was full. But still he had no place to stay when the night came and the rain poured. I gave him clothes to wear, but the next day he would again look very dirty and get stinky. It couldn’t be helped; he slept on the sidewalk, for heaven’s sake!

One day I went to Asilo de San Vicente de Paul to ask if they would take him in temporarily. I was prepared to provide for his food if they accepted him. Unfortunately Asilo is for children. I was told to go to Hospicio de San Jose.

I was optimistic as my feet brought me to that haven by the Pasig River. I entered with a big smile and came out as though dark clouds hovered above me. What I got was a pitying smile, a sympathetic answer, and finally a “sorry.” But I could not blame them. There were a lot of things I didn’t know about charity homes and charity work, so I supposed I had no right to question them.

I went to the Department of Social Welfare and Development office near the Legarda station of the LRT. I was told Ermita wasn’t part of their area of coverage. They told me to go to RAC Manila near Central Station.

By that time, I was feeling like there was no point in telling my story all over again to listeners who would just ask if I was his relative and why I wanted to help him. But there in that small office in RAC Manila, a woman in her 40s suggested that I file a report with the barangay office.

After that, I was done talking. I dragged my feet past Central Station, past Unibersidad ng Manila, past SM Manila. I was walking with no particular destination in mind. I had never felt so frustrated and depressed in my entire life.

I had decided to go home when I saw a man scavenging a garbage can. The sight made me ask almost sarcastically, “Well, would I have to help you, too?”

I can still remember what the guard at Asilo asked me: “Bakit siya? Sa lahat ng pulubi na nakalinya sa harap ng inyong dormitory, bakit siya?” My instant irrational answer was, “Kasi!” Because…

I still don’t know why. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe it might have been Divine Providence. I don’t know. But when the challenge came, I didn’t hesitate to take it on.

After my frustrating visits to the charity institutions, I was afraid that I would not be able to help him like I had resolved to do. I was afraid that I might just give him false hopes. I was ashamed to walk in front of him doing nothing since I had promised to find him a home.

I continued to visit him on the sidewalk and give him food, and then I would leave. He would send me off by saying, “Salamat po. Ingat po kayo.” He was frail and couldn’t walk without clinging to walls and railings.

I remember one Saturday when the cashier at Treats helped me give him a bath. I asked him, “O manong, kumusta naman po ang bagong ligo?” He smiled joyfully and said, “Ok po, refreshing!”

One Sunday, I took him to the Ospital ng Maynila. They gave him free medicines, but said there was nothing else they could do to help him.

That was the last time I saw him. The following week, I checked the corner where he usually sat but I could not find him. I asked the kuliglig drivers on Ma. Orosa Street, who knew me by then, where he had gone. Some said he had been taken to a hospital, while others said his relatives took him away.

Recently I learned from the same kuliglig drivers that he had died and had been buried at the Manila Cemetery. That was all they knew.

Whenever I think about him now, I feel sad. Sometimes I blame myself for giving up too easily, but then again I would tell myself it wasn’t my fault. My only consolation is that for once in my life I was able to experience the pure joy of helping someone. Though I lost him, he had opened my eyes to realities that lie in front of me but which I constantly ignore. He taught me that I have the capacity to care for others.

He also showed me that sometimes what other people need is a catalyst. They only need something or someone to show them what needs to be done and everything follows.

But he also left some questions unanswered, like: Whose fault is it really? What is to be done? How can we help them in the right way? Will the suffering ever stop?

I will continually search for the answers. And if along the way, I will see someone like him, I won’t hesitate to help. It might lead me to the answers I am looking for.

They called him Nocur. He told me he was Antonio Sison. I took a picture of him once. He was staring straight into my camera while chewing on his food. It consisted of rice with some viand, placed on a red plastic plate resting on his lap.

(Venus Marie R. Rojas, 18, is a BS Biology student at the University of the Philippines Manila.)

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“ITATAYA KO ANG BUHAY KO – NOY.” (“I will risk my life – Noy.”)

It’s not President Noy Aquino talking. This was one of the last words of Noy, a character in a film with the same name. Noy was a film about a young man (Noy), played by actor Coco Martin, who applied as a journalist in a television network. However, Noy never saw any journalism class because he never got to college. When his father died, he also bid goodbye to his dream of becoming a journalist.

The challenge of giving his family a better chance to live pushed him to fake his papers and apply as a journalist in a network. He asked a friend from Recto to print a fake diploma. Another friend produced a demo-reel which he submitted to the network.

While pretending to be a journalist, Noy was assigned to cover the campaign trail of another Noy – then presidential candidate NoyNoy Aquino. At first, he just wanted to earn a living and to have access to influential people. He had no interest with his subject matter. For him, he did not care for the other Noy. All he cared for was his family.

As the story unfolded, Noy began to see the realities around him. He got to ask a wheelchair from Aquino and this abruptly changed his point of view. Soon, the love of his life also left to marry a guy who would give her a better future and this too changed him. From an uncaring news reporter, Noy began valuing his work and was about to change when the network executive found out his scheme. He was fired from work, but his immediate boss (played by Vice Ganda) would not easily give up on him. For the last time, he was given the chance to lift himself and prove to the network executives that he had talent.

It was his last chance, and he grabbed it. However, Bong (Noy’s brother played by Joem Bascon) got involved with people peddling drugs. These people sought Bong out to get the drugs back and when no drug was found, they battered him black and blue. It was at this point when Noy arrived and they turned their anger at him until one of the drug pushers shot him repeatedly to death.

The last scenes in the movie showed Noy’s first and last production, recounting his experience as a journalist who was trailing a candidate. He told the story of NoyNoy Aquino and how he took the risk for the country. Noy admitted that at first he only wanted to earn a living for his family. But now, he believed that he too wanted to take the risk, just like his subject (NoyNoy Aquino).

He said, “Itataya ko ang buhay ko… hanggang kamatayan” (I will risk my life… until death).

I took the pain narrating Noy’s story because it says so much about us. We can identify with Noy in so many ways. First, just like him, we too work for our family. We strive to do our best to give our family a decent life, sometimes to the point of violating the law. Second, like Noy, many of us live in poverty, not because we are lazy but simply because we are not given the chance to get out of the rut we found ourselves in. Third, just as Noy was given a second chance, we too just needed the second chance, which sometimes society deprives us of. Finally, just like Noy, sometimes we don’t get to enjoy the second chance.

More than anything else, Noy teaches us what being true citizens of this country means. There is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves and of our family. This is our obligation. However, while we care for ourselves and for our family, we must also care for our country. This Noy realizes as his story unfolds.

Noy realizes that being a citizen of this country is not incompatible with being a family person. He knows that when he risks his life for the country, he does this for his family, for his children and for their future. Ang pagtataya ng buhay para sa bayan ay pagtataya ng buhay para sa ating salinlahi, sa mga anak ng mga anak natin… (Risking one’s life for the country is risking one’s life for the next generation, for the children of our children…)

I was not really interested with NoyNoy Aquino’s story and his pagtataya (risking). Rather, what attracted me in this movie was the character of Noy, the fake journalist. Although his life was merged with that of NoyNoy Aquino, Noy told his story without the melodrama. He said it straight as if saying “I am poor, so what?”

Rather than wallowing in his poverty, Noy fought back. He claims his dream and tries to make it happen. This is what every Filipino is doing now. We are also taking the risk; we are fighting back to reclaim what we deserve, the riches and opportunities in this country. But it would not be easy… our chances may come but obstacles may stop us…

Now, the question is: “Tataya ka pa ba?” (Are you still going to take the risk?).

“Noy” is directed by Don Santos under Star Cinema.