LAST month, I accompanied a foreign journalist based in New York. Her name is Jean and she writes for a lifestyle magazine. She has been here in the Philippines for almost two months. She can talk in simple Tagalog, Cebuano and Hiligaynon.
Jean wanted to observe a religious fiesta in one town. She was expecting for more religious activities at the plaza or in front of the church. She wanted to take pictures of the local products. She was shocked to see that the plaza was overloaded with used clothing (ukay-ukay) for sale. The scent of the plaza was horrible that even the young children have to wear masks.
In front of the convent, there was a boodle fight for the poor parishioners. Jean noticed that many of them do not have slippers ("smagol"). The long line is disheartening because before reaching the long table with "bihon," rice and fried chicken, one has to sweat it out under the scorching heat of the sun.
At the back of the church, there were three big canopies with industrial fans. The three long tables were loaded with food, rice, fruits and bottles of wine. In each table, there are two pig lechons. A group of musicians were playing at the side. In those tables were priests, politicians, officials of the parish council, businessmen and the sponsors of the fiesta.
Jean shook her head in disbelief, "Probably heaven has been compartmentalized also... for the rich, for the popular, for the poor, and for those who are poor in spirit." I have to agree with Jean and I am reminded of "Noli Me Tangere" written by Jose Rizal. The situation still holds true in our time.
We went around the town passing small and big streets. In big streets, there are traffic lights but they are not functioning. The traffic enforcers were in the middle of the road. The policemen were at the corner hiding from the heat of the sun. Jean noted also that many vehicles were smoke belchers. There were no marked pedestrian lanes. The commuters were playing cat and mouse with the vehicles.
We were able to reach one bus terminal. Jean asked me, "What's wrong with this terminal? There are security guards in all corners... a hundred or even more." I found a hard time explaining the family feud. She enjoyed taking pictures of the guards who proudly displayed their shot guns.
In the following day, we were allowed by the school principal to visit her school. Jean took pictures of the grade eight students who cannot read very well. She asked the teacher why the students cannot read well. The ma'am answered, "That is the problem of the secondary school teachers. Many students coming from the elementary schools are non-readers."
Jean noticed that there are no toilets inside the classrooms. "Where do they pee?" The teacher pointed to us a dilapidated structure near the fence. We inspected the structure and we found out that it was miserable inside. Some students were just urinating under the bananas. We also found out that the teacher has an empty floor wax can under her table in case of emergency.
"Ver, I don't know yet where to start but this is challenging. I love journalism because it is a reality show." (To be continued)