Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman, lawyer, orator, scholar and Academic Skeptic (106 BC), once said, “While there is life, there is hope.”
According to another quote, “Every moment is a fresh beginning. It is never too late to become who you want to be. I hope you live a life that you’re proud of, and if you find you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over. Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
I used to hang out with friends in a restaurant and beer joint at Mango Square along Gen. Maxilom Ave. for a bottle of beer, especially during weekends, before the Covid-19 pandemic. Every time he’d see me, he’d shout, “Oy, Bobby Nalzaro, my favorite TV newscaster and radio commentator.” He would then say his “hugot lines” either in Tagalog or English before toning down his voice and saying, “Super Bob, naa kay para pagkaon diha (Do you have money for food)?” I would give him some money.
I even said to myself I must be very popular because even a “taong grasa” who lived on the streets and did not watch TV and listen to radio recognized me. (Taong grasa means “a homeless rugged beggar with lots of dirt all over his body sleeping anywhere, along the streets and parks and even on garbage, eating the leftover food he could find.”)
I am referring to Berta, who used to hang out at Fuente Osmeña and Mango Ave. and the uptown vicinity of Cebu City.
Berta survived by begging from people who gave him money and leftover food because they were amazed by his “hugot lines,” most of which were about love and relations. (“Hugot lines” refer to a statement or quotation and this statement is something you learned or realized from experience and is almost always related to love and romance.)
Berta looked untidy. He had long hair, a mustache and long nails. He wore dirty T-shirts and shorts. Security guards of establishments would drive him away. But he bore no rancor against people who treated him like an “askal” (asong kalye) or a stray dog. Berta led that kind of life for almost two decades. He had siblings but he did not want to live with them and preferred to live on the streets.
Berta, whose real name is Roberto Plando Jr., is 47 years old. He is a former English teacher. He was given the nickname because of his effeminate nature. He went astray after his mother died when he was eight. He stopped going to school and spent several years on the streets with other street children. He went back to school despite his age. Through a sponsor, he was able to finish a course in education and passed the board examination.
He taught in college in a state university and in a private school. But as fate would have it, he went astray again after he got hooked on drugs. He admitted using drugs. I don’t know what degree Berta’s mental illness is as a result. Did he really suffer from mental illness because of drug addiction? It’s up to the psychiatrist to determine the extent of his “insanity.”
There are various types of mental health problems. Anger anxiety and panic attacks, bipolar disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, dissociation and dissociative disorders, personality disorders, phobias, postnatal depression and perinatal mental health, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder and many more.
Late last year, Berta went viral after a kind-hearted blogger, Anton Camilo, took time to rescue him from his situation. Berta was brought to the Safe Haven Addiction Treatment and Recovery Village in Talamban, Cebu City where he is currently undergoing rehabilitation. The life of Berta was featured on the national television show, “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho,” on GMA 7 last year.
Last Monday, I met Berta in a Chinese restaurant at JY Square, Lahug. I was having a luncheon meeting with the dySS news staff and he was with rehabilitation personnel and coaches headed by Emmanuel “Eman” Llenos after a taping for a television talk show. Berta now looks different. He looks decent. He still recognized me and said I am still his favorite TV and radio news personality now that he is back in his “right senses.” He is now a reformed Berta, very different from when I met him while he was “taong grasa.” During our brief conversation, I observed that he is the silent type. He seldom talked unlike when he used to deliver “hugot lines” to amaze his audience.
Last December, Berta went back to his “old place,” but no longer as “taong grasa” begging for food. He was accompanied by members of a nongovernment organization Battle Against Ignorance
Foundation Inc. They gave food to his former co-street dwellers. The life of Berta is a classic example of the saying that “while there is life, there is hope.”
Yesterday morning, we had a long chat in my radio program over dySS Super Radyo. When I asked him what title he would prefer if his life was made into a move or television soap opera or radio drama, he said he’d want to call it, “Angel nga wala’y langit.” He advised those similarly situated in life “to trust God, to live a good life, be good because life is beautiful, life is precious and life is happiness.”
I hope he will completely recover so he can return to mainstream society. Good luck, Kuya Berta.