Demonizing our tricycle drivers

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ONE OF THE favorite punching bags of netizens, at least those in my social circles, are tricycle drivers. The most common complaints include overpricing, refusing to convey, and rudeness.

While I believe that some passengers do have legitimate concerns on certain instances, and it is well within their rights to file a formal complaint ant to rant on social media, I lament that tricycle drivers have, in general, been treated contemptuously and have been “othered” as if they are cruel predators from another world.

I have read a fair amount of literature on tricycle drivers, particularly because one my past thesis advisees, Ralph Lasaten, had the tricycle drivers of Batac City as the subject of his sociological study. Among the observations that struck me was of Colbert Bellevue, an American. He said that because tricycles are in demand in most cities and towns in the Philippines, “tricycle drivers can command and exact chartered fare prices without any room for bargaining or haggling for a fair fare.” He went on to say that “the glitter of money in the heart and soul of a tricycle driver extinguishes the human kindness, compassion, helpfulness and goodwill to strangers; and henceforth, he becomes a ‘crocodile’ and a ‘wolf’ waiting for a prey at a corner of the road.”

I wouldn’t dispute Colbert’s observations. Indeed, the world is filled with opportunistic beings, and some of them happen to be tricycle drivers. In Batac where I work, complaints against tricycle drivers are also aplenty, and the famous line, “Dobliemton, ading” (Please double the fare) is met with revulsion. In Vigan and elsewhere, there have been cases as well of overcharging.

I usually have a great deal of tolerance with people ranting on social media, and this includes their ordeals with tricycle drivers, but a young lady’s Facebook post particularly caught my attention. You be the judge if the tricycle driver deserved the badmouthing he got from the lady’s sympathizers.

The young lady, a college graduate, rode a tricycle in queue (nakapila) at a shopping store in downtown Laoag. The tricycle driver said that if the lady was willing to pay twenty pesos, they would go immediately. The lady complained that it was too much and that with twenty pesos, she could already pay a bus fare to Batac. She noted that the jeepney terminal she was going to was just near. “It’s okay, but would you be willing for another passenger to go with you?” the driver asked. The lady agreed. But perhaps because of her impatience, she later told the driver, “nayunak to lattan,” she will just give an extra amount. So they went. Upon reaching the destination, the lady paid the driver 15 pesos. It is four pesos more than the regular 11-peso fare. However, the tricycle driver demanded 20 pesos because that was the amount she had earlier asked from the passenger. The lady reasoned out that she never promised to pay twenty pesos, and that she only offered to give something extra. After the short spat, the lady grudgingly paid 20. Shortly after, she ranted on social media, there posting the tricycle’s sidecar number.  The lady gained support from her friends who branded the tricycle driver as “abusado.” Many suggested that the tricycle driver be immediately reported to the police, to which the lady agreed.

As I said, there’s no denying that some tricycle drivers may be rude, some are choosy with their passengers, while others demand for more than the usual fare. But let us analyze the case of the young lady.

The tricycle driver was in a queue. He may have been in the line for at least half an hour. When passengers are scarce, the wait for a tricycle driver’s turn to get passengers could take an hour or more. It is definitely justified for them to have at least two passengers. But the young lady wanted special accommodation (she wanted to have the tricycle go pronto and all to herself) and that is why she offered to pay extra. The tricycle driver thought the young lady was willing two pay 20 pesos, but it turned out she would only give 15. I am not good in math, but I am sure that if only the lady was willing to wait, she would have paid only 11 pesos, and the tricycle driver would have earned at least 22 pesos, 33 if there were two other passengers, and even more if their destinations were farther, as 11 pesos was only good, according to the official fare guide, for the first one kilometer. Pray, tell me, how could the lady, in good conscience deprive the driver, who waited a long time for his turn, with the earning he rightfully deserves?

Five pesos. That’s the difference between what the lady was willing to pay and what the driver expected. Five pesos. The reason why the tricycle driver was portrayed as a monster, a crocodile, a dirt and abomination of society.

Hinay-hinay lang naman, mga kapatid. Please take it easy on them. Life is hard, yes. The tricycle drivers’ lives could even be more difficult than ours. Most of them do not have their own vehicles and have to pay a daily boundary to tricycle operators. In Laoag City, it’s around 250 a day, and that does not include expenses for gasoline. Only after they produce boundary and gasoline do they start earning for themselves. It should also be noted that the current minimum fare of eleven pesos was set by the Laoag City government in April 2011, that’s over seven years ago when prices of fuel and basic commodities were considerably lower.

“It’s not our fault that the queues are long, or that the driver does not have his own tricycle, or that transport fares have not been adjusted, or that life is unfair” one may justify, but it totally shows a lack of empathy for one’s fellowmen. Tricycle drivers, let me make this clear, are not our enemy.  They suffer like we do, and they even surely struggle more than the rest of us who can afford to spend a lot of time ranting on Facebook.

Because of scarce parking spaces, I prefer to commute when going to the centro, and tricycles have always made life easier. I pay more than what they ask. I pay more when the heat of the sun is punishing, or when the rains have the drivers soaked all day. I pay even more especially when they don’t ask for more. I do so not only because I can afford it, but because I want to. And each time I alight from the tricycle and hand them my fare, I say a word of thanks.

Like anyone, I could also be short-fused when the tricycle drivers are rude and in which case I don’t try to hide my disgust, but those are very rare instances, and as much as I could, I just take a deep breath and say a little prayer that God may help the fellow get past a bad day. I wouldn’t report anyone to the police—who already have more than enough in their hands—unless I am seriously aggravated. If it’s just my ego that’s hurt, I try to suffer a little, let it pass, and still keep my faith in my fellowmen.

It’s funny though that many professionals and high earners tend to be harsher in treating tricycle drivers. I know many of them. In stark contrast, Manang Glory, our help for  many years who has since retired, to this day refuses to use her Senior Citizen privileges, pays the regular fare, and most of the time gives even more. “Kaasida met” (I pity them), she would say. What a show of empathy. What a redemptive humanity!

This leads me to reflect on why tricycle drivers are easy targets of complaints both on social media and in the police station. And why people feel entitled to use the harshest adjectives on them.

While tricycle drivers are very much a part of our daily lives, we have become insensitive to their own concerns, blind to their sufferings, deaf to their pleadings, and while we ride their vehicles as they bring us safely to the comfort of our homes, we have only always seen them for their use but never for their worth. We have shamelessly “othered” them. And because they are disempowered and lowly, we easily pick on these tricycle drivers, for the smallest reasons, to be at the receiving end of both our personal frustrations and social disillusionments.

If only we could be angry with corrupt politicians as much as people verbally assault a tricycle driver for asking a few pesos he has rightfully earned, we could live in a better place. But no, we call our officials “honorable” even as they plunder millions from the public coffers. There is no enough outrage for inefficient and corrupt public works contractors, greedy capitalists who can’t let go of contractualization, no anger for the leeches in electric cooperatives and water distribution utilities, no disdain for big-time thieves and scoundrels.

For there is always the tricycle driver to hate and demonize.

And we could always feel better about ourselves.

God bless our trip.

It’s Pagudpud, NOT Boracay of the North

photo by blauearth http://blauearth.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/dsc_0180.jpg
photo by blauearth (blauearth.com  http://blauearth.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/dsc_0180.jpg)

In long past, some people branded Pagudpud, the famous beach town of Ilocos Norte, as Boracay of the North, because of its wide and long shoreline and its pristine white sand. Almost all write ups and promotional materials sold Pagudpud that way.

Many Ilocanos were thrilled with Pagudpud’s association with the more popular beach in the Visayas. Boracay, of course, was better known, more established, and was the place to be seen. Stargazing is also more fun in Caticlan as celebrities descend there, especially during summer.

Decades after, some still refer to Pagudpud as “Boracay of the North,” but a growing number of people are beginning not to be amused.

“Some say Pagudpud is the ‘Boracay of the North,’… But do we hear people say Boracay is the ‘Pagudpud of the South?’ Surely not,” laments Xavier Ruiz, who works with the Ilocos Norte Provincial Tourism Office. The BS Tourism cum laude graduate of Mariano Marcos State University  explains that such branding is “an obvious acknowledgement that what we offer our visitors are only second best with no clear identity and are constantly clinging to more established destinations thinking it would be the best marketing strategy.”  The young tourism professional says he thinks otherwise: “Our province is beautiful and astonishing.. I believe we can do better.” Ruiz’s boss, Ilocos Norte tourism head Ianree Raquel, agrees. “We always strive to give our visitors a unique taste of the North far from what they could experience in other destinations,” he says in an interview.

April Rafales, a reporter of the ABS-CBN regional station in Laoag City, shares the view of the local tourism professionals. “We cannot be a prototype of something;  a place can only be its own best version, setting its own standards and offering what it can,” she says, and warns that comparing Pagudpud to other tourist spots can also set false expectations among tourists.

I share the same sentiments, dear karikna. I have been to both beaches several times, and I figured that each has its own beauty and charm. Each has its own selling points. Boracay is for bored people thirsting for excitement. Pagudpud is for the wary soul thirsting for serenity. Boracay offers an outrageous night life while Pagudpud offers intimate spaces for bonding with family and friends. It’s a choice between an overdeveloped resort and a relatively Spartan one. It’s not unlike a competition between a virgin and a hustler. Continue reading “It’s Pagudpud, NOT Boracay of the North”

The (other) Lady at the Capitol

Nana Gretchen: Homeless in the City

Matilda Ricardo Mandac, 63, is a truly powerful woman, and it’s not because she has stayed and worked at the Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol, and has seen 5 governors in a span of over three decades.

Nana Gretchen, as Mandac is popularly known (it is said that a tricycle driver named the lady, for reasons unknown to her, after actress Gretchen Barretto), has been selling cigarettes and snacks at the vicinity of the Capitol since 1980, during the term of Governor Elizabeth Marcos Keon. Over the years, she has endeared herself to a lot of people. A former governor once regarded her as “anting-anting ti kapitolyo” (amulet of the capitol).

When she still had a small stall inside the perimeter fence of the Capitol, Nana Gretchen had gross sales of around three hundred pesos a day, from which she had a net income of less than fifty pesos. However, when the Capitol had a major facelift last year, the fence had to go, and she was displaced. Today, she sits in front of the Dap-ayan, a food center near the Capitol. Left without a stall, she carries three bags: one bayong contains a couple of cigarettes packs she sells, another is filled with empty plastic bottles she gathers and later on sells at the junk shop, while a third one—a shoulder bag—contains other personal effects.

But she does not really have a lot. Not now when her daily sales have fallen to below a hundred pesos, as no one, except her old clients, knows that she is selling cigarettes. She brings out her wares when someone buys, and keeps the container immediately after. She scrambles when rain comes as she does not have a shade. She owned a broken umbrella, but lost it.

Nana Gretchen used to live with relatives in Brgy. 4, Laoag City, but was displaced by maternal kins in 2004, leaving her homeless. While she tried to seek help from the Public Attorney’s Office, she could not pursue the claim in the absence of a land title. Efforts to negotiate with her relatives failed.

And so Nana Gretchen stays at the vicinity of the Capitol, whole year round, and that includes cold Christmas Nights and New Year’s eves. She would take daily baths at a faucet in an inconspicuous part of the Capitol garden. Note, dear karikna, that it is not at all a public scandal as she does it at 3:00 a.m., when almost all of us are in deep slumber. And with her clothes on.

A picture of bliss and serenity

Nana Gretchen looks neatly dressed, but don’t get confused. With only two sets of clothes—blouse and slacks—she uses each pair every other day. It is not unusual that her clothes won’t dry enough, so she would end up sporting a wet outfit.

Buying ten pesos worth of Pan de Sal at Town Bakery every morning, the store is kind enough to pour hot water on her coffee cup (actually a reused plastic container of instant noodles). A sachet of instant coffee costs her five bucks. When her purse allows it, she would have budget lunch at a carinderia. For dinner, what dinner? She spends the long nights with an empty stomach eagerly waiting for next morning’s pan de sal.

Living in the streets comes at the cost of safety, but we already know that. And I am not only talking about typhoons and other calamities that she has to contend with. Nana Gretchen has been mauled by a mentally deranged man five times already, and counting. Her head would ache with the man’s powerful jabs, but Nana Gretchen is thankful the injuries she has sustained have not warranted a trip to the hospital.

She has not, in fact, been hospitalized all her life, and thank God. But, at her age, one could not help but worry how she would cope in the face of a serious disease. In the dark corners where she spends the night, mosquitoes abound. And it just takes one bite from a dengue vector to send anyone, rich or poor, to harm’s way.

Meantime, she nurses herself when faced with illness, aided only by a large dose of faith, which she nurtures by attending Sunday services at the Christ the King of Glory Fellowship. Holding no resentment towards God, she says she is just thankful to be alive. While Nana Gretchen admits to occasionally crying in her lonesome, she appears to have a very positive attitude. She tells herself, “saan met siguro kanayon a kastoy.” (Maybe it will not forever be this way.)

Year 1987 was a particularly trying year for Nana Gretchen. In June, she gave birth to her only child Lucky Marjorie. But the baby girl was born prematurely and lived only a few minutes. Three months after, her husband Dominador was murdered. Those two deaths in a year punctuated her chance of belonging to a family. Lone child of Simeon, a farmer, and Guillerma, housewife, Nana Gretchen is a product of a dysfunctional home.  Her parents, now both deceased, parted ways when she was a baby. With her mother suffering from a mental ailment, she was then left in the care of an aunt in Dibua South, a barangay in the outskirts of Laoag City. Her aunt saw her through grade school.

Nana Gretchen has to be strong, and it is not a choice but an imperative in the urban jungle where she lives. Maybe this is the reason why some people get the impression that she is “mataray,” an impression I also had before I talked to her. And so while hers is one of my dream interviews, I dilly-dallied in doing it. But then I finally found myself one afternoon sitting a few meters away from her in front of the Dap-ayan. Looking at her, I felt intimidated. While I have done interviews with people of prominence, I was clueless how to approach the lady. Noticing my stare, she responded with a warm smile. What a joy! It did not take long before I warmed up to the lady, and, before I knew it, she began talking about life.

The reason I am drawn to Nana Grechen is that, unlike Christopher Lao—the bratty UP alumnus who blamed government for his failure to realize that his car is not a submarine that can traverse deep bodies of water—Nana Gretchen does not feel that anyone, her government included, owes her anything. Not demanding help, she just quietly strives to earn a living for herself. All that she has formally claimed from government is a senior citizen’s card that she does not really find any use for. As for Governor Imee Marcos whose renovation project consequently affected her livelihood, Nana Gretchen only has respect and admiration. She concedes that the Capitol lawn, without the fence and her stall in it, looks better. “Personal sacrifice for the public good,” is a principle she understands more than most politicians I know. The Dap-ayan is also expected to be renovated soon, but that is another problem she wants to face on another day.

Her toothless smile may conceal it, but I know how difficult it must be to be in her shoes. My heart breaks when I see old people live in miserable conditions. People who have toiled all their lives deserve the pleasure of simply enjoying the good life—say, play mahjong and bingo while waiting for pension, or, for the religious, like my mom, spend as much time as they want in church. Yet Nana Gretchen harbors neither bitterness nor envy. And no, not pride. While she does not beg, she would not refuse a sandwich when offered by a kind stranger.

“That kind of fulfillment is something that I envy. I wish I have that kind of bliss and serenity,” says my friend Jun during a few rounds of SanMig Light on a Friday night, and I couldn’t agree  more.

Nana Gretchen reminds us of sheer pleasure in little things—of owning an umbrella, of wearing dry clothes, and of simply being able to take a bath in naked glory.

At the end of the interview, I gave her a tight hug, and I felt power and wealth that could only come from the inside.

Hear! Shame!

OKAY, I AM swamped with a lot of work this week so I do not have much time to write the usual full-blown essay.  Allow me though to share tidbits of my rikna and nakem in previous days. Under “Hear! Hear!” are things that made me smile, events that firmed up my belief in the future of our nation and of humanity at large. “Shame! Shame!” are those which furthered my hair loss and, consequently, the widening of my shining and shimmering forehead.

*****

Hear! Hear! Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo saying, in reply to a question I asked during a presson, that he is strongly for the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan council, which I consider as a sticky phlegm on the nation’s throat .

Shame! Shame! I think his position is compromised as he is only for the abolition of SK Kagawads, not of SK Chairmen. While he also proposed that the age requirement be raised, e.g. 25, this does not respond to the problems of corruption, nepotism, ineptitude, and everything trapo that has hounded the political structure.

*****

Hear! Hear! Secretary Jesse Robredo sounding sincere in his efforts to bring integrity in governance.

Shame! Shame! Robredo sounding weak to me. I doubt if he can really handle the big-bellied spoiled brats in local governments and among the ranks of the police. His realm is no longer just the fine city of Naga, but crazy Philippines.   I honestly feel that he will not last another year in the DILG post. Continue reading “Hear! Shame!”

Tina, Helen, Christian, and Mary

FOUR human beings pervade my consciousness these days, and they happen to be all mothers.

First is Tina Tan, whose recent appointment as Tourism Officer of Ilocos Norte made me so happy, I almost had permanent cramps on my facial muscles due to oversmiling.  Thanks to Manang Imee for getting only the best and the brightest to work in the bureaucracy.

I can name many a reason why Tina is best fit for the job, but I will limit my list to only three due to lack of space.

First, she loves Nature, being highly involved in ecotourism and environmental protection groups.  And she goes beyond lip service.  My students she led in a mangrove cleanup in Pasuquin would attest.

Secondly, I think Tina has reached a point in her life when acquiring material possessions is no longer the order of the day, as she and her husband are a highly accomplished business team.  I am not saying the rich don’t steal–the case of Manny “Dagat ng Basura” Villar belies this–but I think Tina is so accomplished in her life (finances, family, romance) that she really just wants to contribute something good to the community. I can vouch for Tina’s integrity.  I dare predict she will not be corrupt.  Her son Eugene, a very unassuming and respectful boy, is my student at MMSU.  Eugene shows how successful Tina is in her most important role–as mother.

Third, and most importantly, Tina Tan is most fit for to be tourism officer of this beautiful province because she is a woman who knows how to celebrate life in ways big and small.  From food served in A-restaurants to dirty ice cream and ice scramble sold in the streets, from high fashion to indigenous stuff in the mountains of Adams, from Kings and princes to paupers like me—Tina Tan finds something interesting she is generous and vivacious and childlike enough to share to the world.

How do I know a lot about her?  I am a fan of her Blauearth blog which I have previously featured in this space, and this forces me to name a fourth reason, although I only promised three.  Tina Tan sends the message across clear and perky enough to attract men and women from everywhere to go pack their bags and explore Ilocoslovakia.

Way to go, Tina!

Continue reading “Tina, Helen, Christian, and Mary”

Why beer is better than religion

MY FRIEND Rommel, a highly regarded scholar from Cagayan, observes that going to church is no different from frequenting a videoke bar. You go to these places to find relief from life’s cruelties.

The great American statesman Benjamin Franklin posited that “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

I argue that beer is better than religion, and here are 18 reasons why. Continue reading “Why beer is better than religion”

Notes on the Mall

IF YOU’VE NOT BEEN to Robinsons Ilocos Norte, the province’s first mall which opened Dec. 3, you’re probably 1) too busy, 2) too poor, or 3) too spiritual to care about material things and other ephemeral joys.

But I doubt the third reason very much, dear karikna, because we know how luxurious and capricious a lifestyle our priests enjoy these days.  Not even the religious can resist the temptation to indulge, to the point of hedonism, which explains why the Bishop’s Palace has a swimming pool, and why some parish priests have expensive dogs they feed with imported food an impoverished human being (such as an underpaid parish catechist) cannot even afford to provide his own family.

Anyway, I have been to Rob IN (‘Robinsons almost Laoag’ is how some friends call it), and have seen all three films at the Movieworld there: Twilight New Moon, Ninja Assassin, and 2012.

The cinema is decent.  The chairs are comfy.  The sound system is good but not excellent, and  the video is clear but not crystal (there were line distortions on the screen), which made me wonder if the films have been shown in Manila hundreds of times before they were brought here.

Still, Robinsons theatres are a paradise compared to the rat-infested, archaic Isabel, the only other cinema in the province.

*****

I asked the customer service representative (CSR) at the lobby when a new set of movies will be shown.  To my surprise, the employee replied, “Diak ammo, sir.  (I don’t know),” which was a pity because CSR’s are supposed to be well-trained to answer every query, specially valid ones like mine.

I then advised the young lady never to say “I don’t know” when she is in a position to know.  The better answer would be, “I’ll try to find out,” which she did eventually.  According to her supervisor, the movies last for one week, but due to public demand, they may have to extend the screening of some movies.  The supervisor specifically mentioned “New Moon” and “2012”.

I told this story to my colleagues at MMSU, and one of them, out of curiosity, asked the CSR the same thing when the former went to the mall.  Alas, he also got the “Diak ammo” reply from the lady. Continue reading “Notes on the Mall”