Olongapo City, Philippines – I like my life now. It’s complicated but its fantastic. I have a loving faithful wife, a geeky kid, a nice rented place, a car, and a good job. But there are moments today that makes me look back. They say when you’re older, you begin judging your parents. And despite all they’ve done wrong and their misgivings, I’d have to say they did a very commendable job.
When I was a kid, they threw me and my younger brother at my grandparents house in Fairview, Quezon City for a long vacation. They wanted to focus on their jobs. This was the earliest memory I have of what it was like to live in poverty. At that time, I have no idea I was poor. For me, everything we did was normal. But looking back, I couldn’t believe that four people can live a single day for just 10 pesos. Adjusted for an average inflation of 10% 26 years ago, that would be 120 pesos in today’s Philippine currency. Today, you can buy probably one Jollibee value meal and desert with 120 pesos and that’s good enough for one meal for one person. Back then, we were 2 hungry kids and 2 old people in a house near a creek. I could remember we ate 3 meals a day with that 10 pesos and my grandfather still had spare change!
How? We don’t have an LPG. All meals were cooked above an earthened stove. Rice, if I remember right, were of the poorest quality. I frequently joined my lola to pick out rice weevils, small stones, and chaff away from the rice that they bought. The only electronics in the house was a battery-operated AM radio and a TV as big as a cabinet. As far as I can remember, we never operated that TV as there was no electricity in the house. At night, light was provided by what they called a “gasera” (etymology of the word I never found out) or a gas operated lamp. We slept under a very big “kulambo” or a mosquito net. My grandfather had all the spices he needed to cook as he had plants of different kinds around the house. He had pepper, tomato, calamansi, okra and a lot of banana and coconut trees at the back of the house. We filled an earthen jug with water that my grandfather gets from a nearby well.
My grandfather is a retired soldier, a survivor of the Bataan Death March. His pension was only 300 pesos, if I remember right. That’s were he got the 10 pesos per day. And it was more than enough to buy food for the rest of the day for two hungry kids and for themselves. We were happy and I didn’t even mind.
I keep remembering those days whenever I see a chocolate bar. It’s sort of a mental trigger. I don’t eat much chocolate nowadays because I develop migraines whenever I eat too much. But when I do eat a little, I remember that little time in the past when we were having fun at that house sharing one chocolate bar my grandmother bought because they have saved enough to buy one for that month.
My father used to be a government clerk working at the Department of Agrarian Reform. We lived once in a place called “Tambo” in Pasay. And the place he worked at was besides Quezon Memorial Circle. Today, there’s an MRT that can transport you to Kamuning Station in 10 minutes or less and pay a jeep’s fare to get to DAR. But that’s not how my dad did it. He rode a bicycle to work to save money.
He rode that bicycle 21 kms to work and 21 kms back home. That’s the equivalent of a full marathon every single working day. He had saved enough to buy a second hand car and found work at a different government office where he steadily got promoted. He established different businesses throught the years and today, he never owns less than 3 cars.
I have a lot of stories about my mother because I grew up most of the time with only her around. She was very rough to say the least about his parenting. She grew up in the alleys of Quiapo as far as I know and is known by her siblings as a very tough little sister. She once threw everything in the kitchen at his crazy brother to stop him from hurting their father. She was 6 years old at that time or probably younger. Since his dad was a soldier, she grew up with a lot of ‘disciplining’. Me being her eldest son, I got to experience her first try at parenting also with this ‘disciplining’ method but I didn’t experience most of what she told me she got to experience with my grandfather. I used to hate her for this but I understand it now. She was very young when she had me and she only mimicked what her parents taught her. Now, she is not that strict with my younger siblings.
There were a lot of times in the past that my mother had very little money left that the only thing we ate was either coconut jam on rice or okra with bagoong and rice. I never did mind at that time because she never made a big deal out of it. To us, we were eating something delicious and we always had fun at the dining table.
Funny thing with my mother is that she can identify a piece of money (coin or paper) dropped on a road or table for a distance of no further than 10 meters. She would run to it and swoop it with her fist like an eagle catching its prey. She would then claim glory no matter what the value of that money is. Even if she only got a Lapu Lapu (the 1 centavo coin).
She now owns a commercial/office building in Las Pinas City. Up to this day, she would still act instinctively whenever I drop a piece of money on the table. Still like an eagle catching its prey.
I serve the poor people of Olongapo City as a rural health physician. I like what I’m doing because I keep remembering the times when I was there at their shoes. By the way as a kid, my mother only bought me twice to a doctor when I was sick. She resorted to the almighty ‘hilot’ most of the times. We couldn’t afford to finish the prescribed doses of medicines.
With my experience, I can talk to my patients at their level but I always offer them a choice. I was instructed to have a per patient time of only 2 minutes so I can see all of them (rural health centers have really long lines). But I always stop and take my time with those who have none. I want them to have options too even if they have very little. I want them to be able to save themselves from being sick and being poor. I want them to have long lives. I want them to have better lives.
A great mentor told me once, “your patients don’t stay poor for long as long as you treat them right.” For now, I’m just happy at patients who come back to me who tell me that small talk I gave them a few years back made a big difference to their lives today.
I just wish my parents would see it so that they would know that right now, successful as they may be, they are giving back to the community through me.