(Written six years ago, this piece is revisited after we met Rhoda early evening last week and she told us she had just buried her husband, Benjamin, one of the miner-heroes who figured in the rainy days of rescue work at the Nevada Hotel that crumpled in the July 16, 1990 killer quake.-RD)
WHEN it rains, Rhoda Boquiren comes to mind.
She’s that 43-year old mother of five moving up and down Session Road. When she’s lucky enough, you see her pulling a plastic bag almost empty or half-empty of recyclables on one hand and Benjamin Jr., her youngest who was six then, on the other hand.
Like Metro-Manilans picking up the pieces in the wake of the flooding, she should be cursing the rain. She can’t sell wet cartons and paper that shop owners leave on the main street for the garbage truck to haul.
It seems, too, she rues, that everybody now also segregates recyclables or collects what’s already segregated. She remembers that time a woman with a car competing with her. When she asked, the woman told her she, too, had mouths to feed.
The upside is that rain, if not too strong, does wonders to her sayote plant. The shoots and tendrils grow fast and soon get blanched or – for better taste – get sautéed if there’s lard to come by. With rain, her kids can eat and won’t have to fetch water for a while.
So, plus or minus, what the rain brings depends on who and where you are.
Rhoda’s family of seven huddles in a shanty deep into Purok 5, Sto. Rosario, not quite in danger of getting flooded. The downside is it’s far from the road. Benjamin Jr. often complains he has to walk and walk, as he does again with his mother up and down Session Rd.
Rhoda can’t carry him always. With a tiny, frail and asthmatic frame, she coughs often. Her doctor also advised her to be on maintenance dose to prevent osteoporosis (or is it scoliosis?) from getting worse.
The last time Rhoda herself was cuddled as a child was when she was 12.
That was when she, the ninth of 12 children of a coconut farm worker in Catubig, Samar, decided to board a ship to find her fortune in Manila. A neighbor also bound for the big city cuddled her like her own child on the ship deck, as the kid had no ticket.
“I thought then life was kind in Manila, the big city” she said in Tagalog.
She worked as domestic for a family in Bicutan, Rizal. She couldn’t cope and so asked her sister Celia, who lived nearby, to take her in. At 17 she agreed to work in a printing press in Malabon. She told her employer not to pay her, just to provide her food, a place to stay and support for her education.
Given more work than study hours, she quit both at the end of her second year in high school. She decided to come up to Baguio, again to work as a domestic.
In the wake of the July 16, 1990 killer quake that hit Baguio, Rhoda found refuge in an evacuation center near the city slaughterhouse. There, she met Benjamin, a miner who was sidelined due to work-related injuries, yet still volunteered in the rescue operations for victims trapped in the collapsed Nevada Hotel here.
Four years ago, Rhoda unwrapped Benjamin’s bronze plaque credential in volunteerism.
“In recognition of service above and beyond the call of duty in rescue of victims of the July 16, 1990 earthquake,” the inscription read.
It was presented by Benguet Corp, on September 28 that year, signed by Alfonso Yuchengco, chairman of the board, and Dennis Bemonte, president.
Rhoda remembers Benjamin was among those who rescued Sonia Roco, wife of then Senator Raul Roco. The temblor struck while Sonia was attending a conference sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development at the Nevada Hotel.
To raise a family, Benjamin Sr. tried to do odd jobs on-and-off, as his old injuries prevented full-time work. When he could find some materials, he would improve their shanty, which they built with support from a nun. It bears no number, and stands on a lot owned by somebody else.
The patchwork of GI sheets, canvas and scrap without electricity or plumbing is home to their five children – Rejie, 23; Sharmaine, 22; Sunshine, 19; Benzon 17, and Benjamin Jr.
The couple had tried opening a mico-mini store with a P5,000 livelihood loan from the city social welfare and development office. It was promising at first, until customers became familiar to be refused credit. Rhoda’s consolation was having repaid the loan.
Seven years back, an Ibaloi woman raising her own daughter in Kentucky got wind of Rhoda’s plight. She included Rhoda in several anonymous fund support to the needy here. Part of it went to the family’s daily sustenance, the bulk for Rhoda work on in a door-to-door vending of fish and vegetables.
The family’s needs, however, were too much bear – including her and the children’s medications. The would-be livelihood capital was re-channeled to addressing them.
When the weather permits, Rhoda will be back, especially in the afternoon, spotting bags of trash to rummage up and down Session Rd. Benjamin has outgrown his tantrums, when he would seat on the pavement and wail when he’s had enough of walking.
(PS: A few years back, in the wake of the devastation wrought by a typhoon, Benjamin did major repairs on the family home, thanks to fund support from siblings Sunshine and Paolo Paclayan-Balanza who mounted a fund drive in their church in Midland, Michigan for victims of the howler.)