I remember talking to a random boatman in Lobo. Average-looking in all respects, he was kind and respectful, although he spoke with the rough accent Batangas has become famous for. He was a bit on the quiet side, but after a few hundred meters into the sea, he became more confident on sharing the standard touristy tidbits he had probably shared a million times. The waves carried us from corals, to sampaloks, to Mount Tibig, to puzzling admonishments. “Do not trek Banoi.” “Do not wear olive or khaki pants.” “The mountains have water that you can drink.” “Just pay the tricycle drivers 120 pesos, they will rip you off if you ask them how much the fare is.” “The solar panels in the lighthouse had been stolen many times.”
To this string of sentences, I added a question. “Are there NPAs in the mountains?” I was referring to the New People’s Army, a Maoist rebel group which refused to die. Just last week, over 10 militants belonging to this group were killed by the army in a neighboring town. The NPA, along with the other militant and civic groups, are branded as enemies of the state, and are being relentlessly hunted down by the current regime. For urban folks with much to spend, the NPA was a nuisance. For businesses that thrived on extracting everything they could from the interior, they were a menace.
“Yes, but they will not hurt you if you don’t hurt them, if you let them be.” There was a serious, uncomfortable pause. Just like the waves hitting the beach, the line separating land from water, the line separating an enemy from a friend, was always in flux. Where the other stood was as clear as the habagat sky.
Thankfully, my snorkeling friends filled the gap my awkward question has created. Their jests broke the dark monotony that spread beneath the mid-morning sun. “Sayang yung pera mo, tara, ang daming isda dito!” I distracted myself with my boyfriend’s phone – I love the sea, but I can’t swim, and I’m afraid of wading into deep water, even if with a life vest on. My choice of vacation, much like this paradise called Lobo, was a paradox.
“You can still look at the fishes and corals with this glass box.” The boatman set a viewing box on the water on the left side of the boat. It was improvised, but it served its purpose. Though with a bluish tinge, I could see vividly the corals and fishes swimming obliviously below. “The seas here are clean, much cleaner than the others according to the students who visited our place a week ago. If you try, maybe you can see a clownfish too.” The way he said “clownfish” was provincial, but I had to commend him for not calling it “Nemo.”
When it was about time to return, he commented on the roads leading to the town. “How was the zigzag road?” The boatman was more cheerful now. “Good thing you didn’t try that road top-load. One sharp curve, and ubos ang birthday!”
“I know! That would have been my last ride if I did,” I said laughingly. “I got tired counting the curves there. They were just too many. But the view is OK, so I think it was still a good experience. There are other roads leading to Lobo, right? One through Ilijan and another one from Laiya?”
“Yes,” the boatman replied. “Private cars pass through the seaside road in Ilijan. It is easier to take than the zigzag road. The Laiya road is still under construction, though. Parts of it are still dirt. It may open soon. We advise visitors to take the Ilijan road back to Batangas City to prevent their children from throwing up since the zigzag road is too stressing for the kids. It is a bit longer, but the view is better.”
“Too bad the jeeps don’t use those roads for their route.” Although I loved the verdant lush on both sides of the zigzag road connecting Lobo with the rest of Batangas, I hated the thought of using the zigzag road back to Batangas City. My body was unaccustomed to the 45-minute bumpy grind. “Good thing the government built alternatives, though.”
“Hindi naman para sa amin yan. Ang lahat ng yun, hindi naman para sa amin.”
The new road, it wasn’t for them. That moment, I knew. He wore as simply as most people in this place, his shirt faded by the sun, the sea, and probably cheap detergent too. His accent was undeniable. But I always had this feeling that he was knowledgeable in ways uncommon to his rural neighborhood. He was nice, but he wasn’t as obsequious as many small town people are when dealing with tourists from Manila. He wasn’t as doting as the resort attendants were to the lone Caucasian backpacker which they charged full board. Thankfully, he wasn’t as indifferent to us as he seemed to be to the previous batch of Marine Sanctuary visitors. There is a need. There is a demand. But there is also resentment.
“Hindi para sa atin, kuya. Nag-jeep nga lang kami eh.” The new road was not for me as well.
“Oo nga naman.” We laughed. After all, although we were sitting on the opposite sides of the boat, we were all on one sea, heading towards the same direction. It became clearer to me who he was, and maybe he realized that I was a bit different from all the people who chartered his boat that day. His face, burnt by the fickle Batangas sun, lightened a bit. Here is someone who understood, who thought.
He untied the boat from a buoy. They had been forbidden to use anchors as these destroy the submarine gardens, so the boatmen use the buoys the municipal government placed to keep their boats in place for a 1000-peso 1-hour swim. Just like everything the government provides, it comes at a fee. I wondered. Of the amount we will pay the boatman, how much of it will really be his? I glanced at his lanky frame: Not much.
My friends came aboard, and the propeller revved up. I tried to shut the sound of the machine to drink in this place’s beauty. The thousand shades of blue. The white corals and gray stones. The deep greens. The metallic fish. The unnatural beige of a rest house. The red rays of the Divine Mercy. There’s a lot of reasons to visit Lobo again, but I might not come back.
“Maganda ang bayan ninyo. Yung mga puno, yung dagat, yung mga bato, sa inyo yan. Dapat sa para sa inyo yan.”
“Oo,” was his short reply. He looked towards the sea, impassively. He long knew what they owned, but reality required surrendering even private thoughts to the whims of the dynasts, big businesses, mining companies, 80s celebrities, even overnight vacationers like me. The fishes of the Isla Verde Passage, beautiful with a GoPro camera and a 1,500-peso snorkel set, retreated from the suffering of those who can only take scraps of “development.” The shiny new beachfront mansions and the struggling beach resorts, which try so hard to entice tourists used to the golden sands of Nasugbu, Calatagan, Laiya, or Puerto Galera, all hid the dampas and kubos dotting the mountainside. There was a different world a few meters away from the main road, a world of thorny bushes and venomous snakes, a world we would rather not be or see, a world where the games of power are played with brutal nakedness. For the people of this sleepy town, the seas unite, and the roads divide. For some, that strip of concrete meant freedom from work. For some, it meant work itself. And for a few, that meant the death of an ideal and a way of life. The road gives, and the road also takes, and of what it gives and takes, we cannot easily choose.
The path to inequality and iniquity is paved. I took the road, and I paid my toll.
“My mom has a place near the plaza. She sells minatamis na kamias and other sweets. Tell her you met me, she might give you a discount for your pasalubong. Mag-iingat ka pauwi,” he told me when it was time to part ways. But I knew that I had never been to a much safer place. As the flame of enlightenment flickers towards its ignoble end in the capital, a fire of discontent and indignity is slowly spreading half a day’s worth of travel from the metropolis. I’m not sure which side will win in my lifetime, but my heart already knows where it should go. I cast a sad smile. I was born in the city, but my home is where I could shed the pretense of urbanity and embrace humanity in its simplest form.
Maybe, next time, I could ask for his name.
- This is the only life you have.
- Having too many choices is paralyzing.
- Although the past can and does influence the future, much of what you do in the present counts.
- It’s OK to feel bad and let people know that you do.
- Resist change only if it is worth the resistance.
- What you see is what you just see or choose to see. There are other perspectives.
- People come and go.
- Understanding is the foundation of amity.
- It’s OK to leave people who don’t treat you well.
- There are bad people. No sense pretending they’re all good, but you still need to treat them right.
- Life is not a competition.
- It’s OK to make mistakes.
- Never stop learning. Read, travel, talk, whatever… but never stop acquiring knowledge and wisdom.
- Don’t put anyone in a pedestal.
- Reward loyalty.
- If you don’t know something, you must know at least that you don’t or have the means to know if you know it or not.
- Forgive but never forget. Keep the lessons, and pursue fairness.
- There is no justice without compassion.
- Success is not purely hard work and much luck or opportunity. Be humble.
- Embracing death should make us appreciate life more.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Life is more meaningful when we dare to make a difference or be different.
- Mind your own business.
- Smiling can make you feel better.
- Value health. You’ll have to be well to live life to its fullest.
- You don’t lie when you take refuge in silence.
- Rules are actually suggestions – you don’t or shouldn’t follow them all the time. What lasts are principles and instead of rules, you should educate yourself with the former.
- My belief in freedom and dignity is not up for debate.
- Be generous with time, praise, and even money.
- There is danger in always, never, all, or none. Always reserve something for yourself, and for doubt. Find balance.
I get paid 8 hours for work that should just take 2 hours to finish but I accomplish in 12, my 4-hour commute not included.
SO and I, and 2 other friends are supposed to go on a trip on the 2nd of December, but I think I’ll need to scrap this. I don’t think this is the kind of trip I will enjoy. First, I might need to spend quite heavily. I understand that a vacation is not worth it if you’re too anxious keeping within the budget, but it’s not proper for me to be spending so much when I have a room to improve, a potential sideline to work on, and a Master’s degree to pursue. A mountain climb to Mt Maculot, or a trip to Gulugod-Baboy and/or an overnight at Masasa Beach will cost me upwards 1,500 pesos. That’s money better spent on a Logitech web cam, a gym subscription for several months, or a tooth extraction at a reputable dental clinic. Yeah, they say that traveling is a chance of a lifetime, that you should travel while you’re young, that should dare so as not to regret – but earning money and saving part of it so that you’ll be able to live with peace of mind is also important.
Second, SO’s vacation demands are so frustrating. Yeah, I get it. He wants to have everything easy and chill. But that means shelling out more money. It also means not leaving the comforts of life to rediscover or challenge one’s self. For him, a hike is should be an outdoorsy version of malling, and should be easy, sanitary, and predictable. Moreover, for him, the word “quick” is more important than “get-away.” He has strict time limits and he easily goes haywire when things do not go smoothly and take longer than he expects. He has his own views and I’m not contesting that. If that’s what a vacation is for him, one that prioritizes comfort and control, then so be it. But since we have different intentions and expectations, I doubt if we’d enjoy this trip, or any travel at all. His deal-breakers are far too numerous for compromise, and even for reality. How the hell am I supposed to find a passable “hotel” around Mt Maculot, let alone pay for one?
I must learn from the Cagbalete-Lucban trip, that one trip I thoughtfully planned for the both of us. I was able to salvage it, but just that. It neither made us happy – only our Chinese friend who came along had all the fun. Mutual travels – they are out of the question now.
I’m so lazy. Things I have to do and finish keep on piling up, but I even though I’m so frustrated, I simply can’t muster the willpower, energy, or intelligence to face even just half of them. I’m no longer the adolescent who did the most stupid things without fear of dying, who rushed everything as if the world would end today.
And I’m so sad. Life is in suspended animation and the only tasks that I manage to complete are the ones I have already done in the past. I have come to a point in my life when I do better with routine work than with new ones. Well, I think repetition and certainty is what life loves and it is what we are naturally predisposed at, but I used to put more importance on new things and activities, than I do now. The certainty of death, the proverbial Damocles’ sword that comes with the power of life, brings with it dharmic resignation.
As I trudge toward my 30th year of existence, the grayness of my hair – and life – becomes more and more apparent. We keep on saying that life is dynamic, but my horizon sees little of that much touted change. As they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
But Ms Olen is right to home in on the biggest problem that personal-finance gurus neglect; people earning $20,000 a year will struggle to pay for the basics in life and will simply not be able to save their way to a life of comfort, let alone riches.
$20,000 per annum translates to a monthly gross of PhP 83,000. More Filipinos earning less than half of this amount have been sold stupid get-rich dreams instead of being taught basic, non-commercial, unbiased financial literacy – or incendiary and subversive socialist logic. Here’s a thought-provoking review regarding the world of get-rich pastors and self-proclaimed personal finance experts.
Minsan gusto ko na lang makiuso sa mga burgis – “Yeah, yeah, you poor, know your place, it’s under me or under the grave” – pero pag naaalala ko yung mga panahon na halos wala akong makain at naliligiran pa ako ng mga Christ-centered classmates ko na may star-shaped pang chicken nuggets, nahihiya ako sa sarili ko. Madaling maging mahirap kung pare-pareho kayo, pero ang kalikasan ng lipunan ay ikaw lang ang maghihirap para sa ikaliligaya at haraya ng iilan. My somewhat privileged life is supported by the backs of anonymous poor people; the least I could do is to stop adding insult to their existence. Wala na nga akong magawa para matigil ang pagpatay sa mga maralita na “nanlalaban,” hahamakin ko pa sila?