Philippine Daily Inquirer
Road to ‘Poorever’
I WAS on my last jeepney ride home. It was getting dark but I was only five minutes away from my stop. Remembering that I hadn’t paid yet, I dug for coins in my wallet and handed P10 to the jeepney driver. Wewere stopped by a red light, so the driver had time to check his cell phone. As I waited for my change, I couldn’t help but read the text message he had received: “Ok na P190 Pa, walay kaunay (P190 will do, Pa, as long as I don’t eat).”
I imagined it was his daughter, a college student struggling to complete her degree. I couldn’t tell if she blamed him or hated the situation they were in, or just knew that that was how things were. I imagined that maybe it was another daughter who had married too early and was asking him for money. I imagined that maybe, it was his son, employed somewhere in the city but whose salary didn’t equal expenses.
I shook my head. I felt silly and guilty for reading the text. So to feel better, I told myself that these were all just stories that I made up in my head. But of course I knew they weren’t made up at all. I’ve heard them in school, seen them on TV. I’ve even read them on Facebook. These realities are no secret today.
Just then, the passenger sitting on the front seat started talking politics. He handed campaign stickers to the driver and told him to put them up if he wanted to. He started advertising his candidate and the driver nodded, with a faraway look on his face.
I wondered what he was thinking then. I wondered if he thought about what he was going to do to help out his child, or what the candidate he just heard of could do about their predicament. I wondered if he was thinking of the same questions that were on my mind: Can a person so far, a person who doesn’t even know you, reach you and help you? Is someone really capable of doing that for everyone? For every Filipino, every father, every son, every daughter who needs help?
I thought about the things I learned in school, in Philippine history. And I had answers, I just didn’t want to admit it. I looked around me and wondered if all these other people from different walks of life asked the same things, too.
There are all kinds of people in the Philippines: those who talk about their questions with their friends and families, those who write about them in papers or blogs, those who post them on Facebook, those who tweet them, those who discuss them with fellow commuters on the way to work, and those who don’t bother to ask them at all.
Perhaps, I thought, those Filipinos have grown thickskinned, have become inured to suffering, have so lost hope of change that they don’t bother to think of the possibility of it. Perhaps they didn’t see the point of asking anymore.
My train of thought was suddenly interrupted when a man wearing a “Walang Forever” T-shirt clambered aboard the jeepney. I then decided: Forever, no. But something like “poorever”? Maybe. But I’d still like to believe: No.
I got off at my stop. I looked at the two P1 coins I had received, saw the image on them, thought of the text I had read, and realized that I remembered the wrong chapter in Philippine history. I looked simply at the individuals who led, I didn’t look at the group that followed, at the Filipinos who struggled and survived through it.
So I tossed a coin and thought of tails, leaving it up to the universe to answer my new question. The coin landed on my palm, and it turned out that the universe was saying there might just be a day, long after Election Day, that both those who don’t bother to ask questions and those who do become ones who won’t have to. That there might just be a day that the jeepney driver wouldn’t have to worry. That there might just be a day that we learn to walk off the Road to “Poorever.”