SHE’S got to be today’s most loved lola in the Saluyot Republic. Many wept, some smiled. Many wept and smiled. Many wanted to hug the lady, others wished to join her for coffee. Everybody prayed for her good health. While many wanted to help the lady, the wiser ones knew that Matilda “Gretchen” Mandac, just by living a life of bliss and serenity amidst harsh realities, has already helped them.
Last week’s “The (other) Lady at the Capitol” elicited heartwarming reactions from thousands of netizens who read, liked, and shared the article posted in this blog and circulated heavily in social networking sites.
“This is tragic and yet inspiring. I have to admit my tears were flowing while reading the story. Some people have everything and yet they want more. This amazing lady is an angel. Thank you, Nana Gretchen, for opening my heart,” says Passerby, member of a famous rock band. I didn’t know he can be that cheesy. Carla Tayag, another blog visitor, had a similar sentiment, “..And here I am, whining that I can’t even buy myself a new pair of flats. I think learning about her story already helped me a lot… In fact, more than I can ever help her.” Indeed, many readers admired Nana Gretchen for her indomitable faith and strong character. To many, she exemplifies the best in the human spirit.
The bulk of reactors were young students. Kristian Ranjo, I learned, have had coffee dates with La Greta even before I wrote the story. Icko shared that part of him “died” when he learned about Nana Gretchen, but Michelle Fuerte, who saw joy in the lady’s story, wrote, “Thumbs up Nanay Gretchen, isa kang magandang modelo sa mga tao na dapat tularan at ipagmalaki. Love You.”
“I Love You, Nanay Gretchen,” actually reverberates in a number of comments. Many said their newfound hero reminds them of their departed grandparents. Those who still have their lolos and lolas pledged to love their elders even more.
Wowie passed the recent licensure examination for nurses. Still jobless, he says he could not yet help Nana Gretchen financially, but promised to check her vital signs–i.e. blood pressure, pulse, heart rate, etc.—regularly. Other readers pledged to expand Nana Gretchen’s wardrobe which consists of only two blouses and two pants.
Humor is not something Pinoys would miss, even in melodramatic stories. To the old lady, IngodoGood has this piece of advice, “Nana gretchen try mo pong tumaya sa lotto, baka mapanalunan mo ‘yung jackpot… Kaya mo ‘yan, nana, think positive.. Huwag aayaw, mag-Revicon ka… Go! go! go!”
But, seriously, many readers have expressed indignation towards our government for what they consider as apathy and indifference towards the poor. It is unbelievable, they say, that our leaders could turn a blind eye to a poor lady who has been suffering right under their nose and right in their front yard.
“The government officials who always say they are for the poor….they must extend help to her…but, the question is, will they?,” rants Tony Casimiro, manager of the top-ranking Bombo Radyo. Reader Lexo believes “the most stupid thing humans invented is government.”
This brewing anger towards our leaders is totally understandable, but hatred and distrust against government is not what I aimed to achieve with my feature on Nana Gretchen, for I believe that we cannot consider ourselves good citizens without doing our share in making good government work.
Chevylle Farinas was in the thick of preparations for the 46th birthday celebration of her husband, Laoag City Mayor Michael Fariñas, when she learned about the story. But the Mayora personally attended to the case of Nana Gretchen quicker than I can say quick. In less than two days, Nana Gretchen was already under the care of the city’s Social Welfare and Development Office. A Negokart worth 18,500 pesos (care of the city government and Congressman Rudy Fariñas) was being prepared to beef up her livelihood.
More importantly, Ms. Chevylle has personally negotiated with Nana Gretchen’s relatives so she could go back to the house from where she was evicted in 2004. One cousin remains cold hearted and refuses to welcome her, and this even made the Mayora weep in frustration. But she uses not only all the legal remedies but also her overflowing charisma to send our favorite lola home. Soon.
Let me explain, dear karikna, that though Nana Grethen has stayed at the vicinity of the provincial Capitol, the Laoag City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) Office has official jurisdiction over her. This is because the lady is a Laoag resident.
Nana Gretchen temporarily spends the nights at the CSWD office, where breakfast and dinner are served. At day, Nana Gretchen still sells cigarettes and candies near the Dap-ayan, but only until five in the afternoon, when social workers would fetch her. Ms. Aurora Corpuz, the city social welfare officer, closely monitors her new ward. “I feel like a child now,” cheerfully quips Nana Gretchen, who is yet to get accustomed to the care and security she is receiving. For 31 years, she had sold cigarettes and candies in front of the Capitol until the wee hours of the night. Today, she would be at the shelter, watching TV and waiting for dinner before dusk. And did I say the room where she stays is airconditoned?
If she had her way, Chevylle would not want any publicity for what she is doing for Nana Gretchen on the fear that it would be misconstrued as mere politicking. Aside from being the mayor’s wife, she is also president of the City’s Association of Barangay Councils and an ex-officio member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod. Chevylle says she is really drawn to senior citizens especially because she lost her father two years ago. But I explained to her that it would be very irresponsible of me as writer of Nana Gretchen’s story not to reassure people that government is now doing something for her.
On the part of the provincial government, Nana Gretchen will get a Philhealth Card. She will also receive technical assistance from the Capitol’s Millenium Development Goals (MDG) Office. Note, dear karikna, that Ms. Imee is one of only two governors determined to pursue the United Nations MDG, the other being Joey Salceda of Albay. MDG Goal Number One is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
Help is coming Nana Gretchen’s way. My only prayer is that she will not end up becoming the Ilocos version of Mang Pandoy, poster boy of poverty alleviation programs during the presidency of Fidel Ramos. Failing to put to good use all the assistance extended to him, the Payatas resident died poor and miserable.
Having gone this far, fellow Gretchenites (or is it Gretchenians?), I hope we continue to ensure she does not fall victim to ningas cogon nor empty promises. Nana Gretchen’s story is as much about as it is about her. If she misses this second chance, we would have failed miserably, too.