Last weekend, I had a chance to visit a place I never knew existed. It is not too far from Manila. In fact, it’s just a two-hour drive through the SLEx. Thanks to my good friend, Col. Gerry Zamudio, commandant of the Philippine Air Force Officers Training Courses at the San Fernando Air Base, for inviting me to what was originally planned as lomi time.
Col. Gerry and his wife, Ma’am Nilda, hospitably toured us from Lipa City to the municipalities of Mataas na kahoy and Balete.
Mataas na kahoy is a fourth class municipality. It has 16 barangays and a land area of about 2,450 hectares. Residents are primarily engaged in agriculture.
Its adjacent town, Balete, a fifth class municipality, has 13 barangays. Balete provides a panoramic view of the Taal Volcano. Like Mataas na kahoy, Balete is a strategic farming area.
The trip to Balete was relaxing. Trees and wild grass provided magical healing to eye strain caused by daily computer work.
But that was only a part of a new experience.
Col. Gerry stopped the car in the middle of the well-cemented road. We have reached the end of the road and have to walk to the property he has been eyeing to buy.
We walked several meters until we reached the only house in the area. There, we were met by the residents, a complete set of four-generation extended family, living simply within the vast land of greens. A lady in her late 50’s immediately offered us juice, chilled not by ice but by the naturally cold jar made of clay. She introduced herself as Ate Imelda, the second generation woman in the family.
Ate Imelda’s family was in awe when I told them I work on radio. For a family whose day starts and ends in a forest-like farm without electricity, radio, besides cellular phones, remains to be their best link to the rest of the world.
I was surprised at how Ate Imelda’s family survive the seemingly hermit lifestyle. Her grandchildren’s playground is land in between rows of black pepper and countless huge tress. A creek about 300 meters away serves as a swimming pool to kids who would just undress and jump into the deeper part without hesitation.
And then I met Tatang, 86, the oldest in the Masangcay clan. Tatang likes listening to radio. Like a typical octogenarian, Tatang is updated about current events and is opinionated. He finished grade four but he is conversant on issues about the government.
“Ay ano naman kaya ang sasabihin ni PNoy sa SONA, ano,” he asked. “Accomplishment report, Tatang. Huling SONA na eh,” I said.
I learned that Tatang is a fan of PNoy’s parents. He joined the funeral march for PNoy’s father, Ninoy. From Balete, he also travelled hours, taking a habalhabal from their haven to Bayan, took a jeep to the bus terminal and then traveled by bus to join President Cory’s funeral march.
But Tatang is not a fan of PNoy. No, not anymore. I don’t know how or when or why he started to dislike PNoy. Only one thing is clear— he complains about being neglected by the government. I told him, “Tang, hindi na yun kasalanan ni PNoy,” to which he said, “ay sya ang president eh, eh di tungkulin nya yun sa lahat, lalo na sa aming mahihirap.”
At first, I thought Tatang wanted personal services like some of those I met in slum areas who expect free rice and grocery items from the government. Tatang is different. “Hindi naman ako naghahanap ng libreng bigas o pagkain mula sa gubyerno,” he said.
Tatang wants cemented road in their area so they can be reached by motor vehicles and won’t have to walk very far. He wants electricity so his grandchildren can study at night. He also wants government assistance so he can improve the yield of their small farm.
I admire how Tatang can differentiate the things he needs to provide for his family and those that the government ought to provide. For one whose formal education is very little, it is surprising that his concept of government responsibility is not far from what should be the very purpose and responsibility of the government.
Noticeably, Tatang’s wants are simple— road, electricity and farming support.
Tatang lives in Balete, Batangas, less than two hours away from Manila. But the things he wants are basic services which the government should have provided decades ago. Unfortunately, these remain dreams for Tatang and his family. And as to when these dreams may be realized; only time can tell.
But one thing is for sure, Tatang wants to have his concerns discussed in the next SONAs.
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