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Dec 02nd
Home Columns A Cup O' Kapeng Barako Philippines, my Philippines, the Land of “Wawa We”
Philippines, my Philippines, the Land of “Wawa We” PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - A Cup O' Kapeng Barako
Saturday, 03 October 2009 21:01

By Jesse Jose


A fter twenty-five years, I paid a visit to the Motherland.  And what I saw is an extremely poor … backward, third-world country.


My trek there, with my wife, Maribel and my son, Jonathan, began with a greeting of “welcome aboard” in heavy-accented English by a very pretty and petite and smart-looking Korean stewardess, in a brown form-fitting uniform, of Asiana Airlines.


Right on schedule, we were airborne


It was a long flight …


It took 11 hours to fly from Seattle, Washington to Inchon, Korea, where we had a lay-over and a change of plane.  I had a book with me, a thriller, so I read that intermittently during the flight.  But most of the time, I amused myself by watching the crew of petite flight stewardesses walked up and down the twin aisle of the plane. They walked like models on a ramp.  They giggled and smiled as they served the food and drinks.  We were fed three times during the flight and plied with drinks in between.


It was a very pleasant flight, I think.


The international airport at Inchon was sparkling clean and very modern and their staffs of workers were all very efficient.  At one of the many fast-food restaurants in the airport, we had huge bowl of vegetable noodle soup … and it was super delicious.


After a two-hour lay-over, we were airborne again, on a smaller plane this time, but the service or the prettiness of the crew of stewardesses didn’t lessen. 


It was five-hour flight from Korea to the Philippines.


T hen FINALLY, we landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport


The arrival area teemed with uniformed airport workers standing around, gawking at us stupidly.  Nobody directed or guided us where to go for Customs and for Immigration and where to pick up our suitcases and luggage … unlike in Korea, where, as soon as we, the newly-arrived passengers entered the terminal, the airport staff shepherded us courteously to the “where-tos” of the airport.


One thing VERY surprising though at Ninoy airport: We cleared through Customs and Immigration with ease, without the usual LAGAY that this Philippine airport was so well-known for.  We were outside of the airport in no time.


Then … the heat immediately assaulted me.


Then … the noise.


Then … the pollution.


The narrow two-lane street just outside the exit door was a picture of total chaos.  Honking vehicles of all sorts and sizes and screaming people clogged the sidewalk and the street.  I looked across the narrow two-lane street and saw hundreds of gawking faces, behind a steel fence, who were perhaps, relatives of those newly-arrived passengers, making sundo.  Or maybe, they were just onlookers.


It was madness …


But it was the noise, the cacophony of noises, that overwhelmed and deafened me so.  After about an hour, we saw our sundo, waving a huge placard with my wife’s name written on it.


THE POVERTY AND THE FILTH: We were in the Philippines for two weeks.  We stayed in a condo in Cainta, Rizal, that my wife “rented” through the Internet.  It was called the Mayfield Park Residences.  Though it was described in the Internet as a “condo,” it was really like a tenement kind of housings.  But it was quiet and clean within the property limits and there was a swimming pool that you can dip in if you want. There were two security gates to pass through, and the area is patrolled 24 hours by armed security guards.


From that place to Manila is only about 30 miles or so.


But to get to Manila takes about three to five hours!


Because you have to wade and crawl through the thick, crazy-like traffic, through the fumes and pollution, through all sorts of obstacles on the road, people walking and crossing the streets, cigarette vendors, chitcharon vendors, street urchins hawking sampaguitas, beggars, jeepneys and cars and tricycles and motorcycles and what have you, cutting you off or blocking your way. 


There were no traffic rules.  There were road lanes, but nobody paid attention to them.  There were no stop signs or stop lights.  There were traffic enforcers in every street intersection, but they just wave everybody through. And I don’t know how they survive each day breathing in the poisonous black smoke belching from every vehicle on the road.


It was mad, mad, mad.


It was a good thing our hired driver was as deft and as crazy as those other crazy drivers on the road, so we managed each time to arrive safe and sound to wherever we were going.


Our driver was also street smart for he knew all the side streets and alleys and “short cuts,” so to speak, of the streets of Manila.  And this gave me the opportunity to see the Manila that the tourists and fellow balik-bayans don’t really see … or will never see.


Poverty reigns supreme in the heart of Metro Manila!!!


And the filth is unbelievable!!!


I saw shacks after shacks, made of rusted yero as homes for many people.


I saw creeks and canals used as garbage dumps … and the stench was suffocating.


One time, while passing through an alley, I saw a kid defecate on the sidewalk, while his parents and elders squat nearby, gossiping …


And I saw a wake being held on the sidewalk and a feast, liquor and all, a couple of blocks away.


And while passing through a narrow street next to the Pasig River, not too far from the Post Office building in the heart of Manila, I saw a woman washing clothes, using the filthy, water of Pasig River as rinsing water for her labada.


And then not too far from there, I saw a young woman taking a bath from a faucet right on the sidewalk, where everybody can see her.  She was fully clothed though, so that wasn’t too bad …


I saw a lot of things, ugly and bad and not too bad.  I saw beautiful things, too, of course.  But this column is getting too long now.  So, continued na lang next week.  I have a lot more I wanna tell.  O, sige na muna, ngarud.  JJ


To read the next part of this series, please click on this link, Philippines, my Philippines . . . the Land of “WaWa We” (Part II)


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Last Updated on Friday, 09 October 2009 19:20
Comments (6)
1 Sunday, 04 October 2009 16:12

Welcome back to "paradise". I am glad you came back before "Ondoy".

I couldn't help laughing while reading your story. You are right. There are no rules on the road in some areas. They pass red lights while you hold your breath and hang on to your dear life. I never look at the road every time I am in a vehicle - afraid I will die of heart attack right there. Where in the world can you see a two way lane with 4 vehicles side by side - an inch apart.

Now that you have seen the "other side of town" next time you go home, you might want to stay within the "tourists perimeters". Less stressful that way.

I went home one time during Corazon Aquino's time and stayed in Cainta in my brother-in-law's house who was then Cainta's OIC. I had to go shopping, so he gave me his car with his driver. I had the shock of my life when I took the backseat because there were two armalites on the floor. I refused to take the car unless the armalites were out of my site. He took it to the front seat. So I thought everything will be just fine until we got stuck in the traffic. I got another shock when he took a siren (similar to the one used by police on top of their cars) and put it on top of the car and there we went breezing thru the traffic - every car on our way were forced to give way - I felt like I was riding an ambulance. I was so afraid I will be shot along the way. I was riding a politician's car with a politician's license plate. The driver was very amused of my reaction.

You can guess. The next time I went shopping, I took the jeepney - with one of my sister's maid in tow. BIG mistake. It took us forever to get where we were going.

I bet you have a lot of stories to tell. Looking forward to part two.

2 Sunday, 04 October 2009 16:14
There's one noteworthy thing that you brought out. Wala na pa lang "lagayan" sa Airport. The filth and poverty are sure to stay if governance of the country will remain the same. The nation needs radical "change we ( the people) can believe in"

Yong sinulat mo tungkol sa filth hanggang dito naamoy ko. Is there anything good about the trip you can write? I am curious to know Jon's reaction to his "exposure" to these Philippine truths.

3 Monday, 05 October 2009 12:49
Hi, JJ,

Welcome back !

I forwarded your column to all those contemplating to do "balik-bayan" after a long absence in our native country, like you were. So they won't experience a "culture shock".

Since leaving in June 1962, I've been back a few times - the last time in March 2005.

My wife stayed in Manila a month in May this year. I stayed put in Virginia.


4 Thursday, 15 October 2009 14:48
Hi, JJ:

Glad to know you came back in one-piece, I mean in one package to include your family.
I hope you gained an insight that after 25 years of absence from your Motherland, it looks like nothing has changed -- the country is still wading in poverty where the law of the jungle is still King!
Hope you will be back after another 25 years and would see some changes.
You take care now.

5 Monday, 19 October 2009 05:23

Here's a feedback from my nephew in Utah. He works for the Pentagon. He found it's easier, less red tape to adopt kids from China than from the Philippines.

Your critics do not want to accept the simple truth.

I forwarded your column to most on my mailing list.



From: Dave
To: Dr. TDB

Hello Uncle Tom,

Yeah, it's sad. I went to China 10 years ago and they were much poorer than the Philippines. Different story now. The Philippines had a lot of opportunities, but lost it due to corruption, indifference, manyana attitudes, etc. It's sad. Is it ever going to change? Probably not. The reality is everyone there wants to leave, there's lack of job opportunities, and the economy cannot support a booming population. Without the overseas workers they would probably sink faster...

It's very complicated and frustrating...



From: Dr. DTB
To: David D

Hi, Dave,

It took more than three hours to get to Cubao from Malabon the last time I was home (2005).

What Mr Jose described is true, but comment was posted by an angry reader who said:
"You just joined those critics who put down our country. You should not try to go home anymore and magpasarap ka na lang sa USA."


In a message dated 10/05/09 22:25:59 Eastern Daylight Time, David writes:

Hi Uncle Tom,

Very true... Manila traffic is terrible these days. It took us 4 hours to get from Ermita to Makati. That's not that far... Bumper to bumper traffic. Lots of streetkids everywhere. It's sad... It's no longer the Manila from the 1970's that I remember...

6 Monday, 19 October 2009 05:26
Subj: Philippines my Philippines
From: pmsian
To: Jesse Jose

Your lines were E-mailed to me by a friend, Regrettably most of them are true! I find it hard to help those who don't want help themselves. We used to go
on Medical Missions, paid our way, save our samples saved donations paid local personnel yet much of our stuff had disappearing habits. 'Mayaman naman ang mga Doktor sa America.
Uncontrolled population is the root and perpertuation of poverty.This is magnified by widespead ignorance.With a total land area of 30M Hectares
people by 90M that's 3 persons per hectare including jungles and swamps.
People have wry pride of saying we teach them how to plant rice, now we buy
from them. Rice is imported by the million tons, yet there are plans to plant
700,000 hectares of Jatropha as a source of biodiesel.Seems like ignorance at all levels.
I wonder if you are aware of . the numbers 35 and 122..T he first number means only 34 countries are richcher than the Phils. Whoa! Thanks to the new Heroes, OFW, remits over a Billion $ a month, does not seem to trickle down to the masses . That's more than twice the total yearly export of copra our largest export. Just one gold mine exptracts 14Million ounces a year, where are the others. Now the other number 122 That is the Filipino ranking on his per capita income Worldwide!
There are a lot more observations Like most of the masses are in a life of Fantasy Electing an actor for a Gov't official is still a fantasy.Most listeners are all ears to a caucasian speaker with a 5th bgrade Education(Or no choice for coffee except 1-2-3- San Mig or Nestle Instant! Getting Real lemons from Florida, no kalamansi. Steak is till in rigor mortis, always marinated and always
well done..
Highways are" water soluble".Projects here are padded first then the job is done,then he keeps the pad.In there, Projects are padded, job is not done, pad
and kurakot nis gone

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