Sunday, September 03, 2006

Blast From the Past

Last Friday, during my People's Time in my district office, I received a surprise visitor from the past.

Alex, a batch mate of mine from elementary to high school in Malate Catholic School, came to my office to seek my assistance. He is not a resident or of my district but he decided to go to me instead of the congressman where he lived since he felt that being a long-time schoolmate, I would readily receive him. In spite of that, he told me that he still had a slight apprehension in going to me since I might not give him the time or opportunity to talk to him.

Alex is the son of Aling Cita, who was the janitress in our school. I remember her fondly, patiently cleaning up after the mess we made during recess. She stayed with us in the school premises whenever the school bus was late in bringing us home, making sure that the resident "mu-mu" wouldn;t bother us while we waited for our ride home. In our social studies classes, she was always included in the "persons in your neighborhood" topic, earning a space in the test items that we had.

"Who maintains cleanliness and orderliness in the school?", the question in the quarterly test asks. All the way through elementary and on to high school we would encounter that question. SOmetimes, we would use ALing Cita as the subject of our sentences during English class.

Yes, she was a benevolent presence in the school, very much like a mother to all of us students. Everyone was kind to her, even the school. IN fact, the school took in her son as a scholar, belonging to our batch, Batch 86.

Looking back, I never knew Alex that well. ALthough we were in the same batch, we belonged to different sections. I knew that he was Aling Cita's son but I never hung out with him or belonged in the same "barkada" with him. We were practically strangers.

Maybe that's why when he came to my office, it did not register to me who he was, in spite of the fact that in my appointment schedule, his name was there. As is my practice, everyone who wants to meet with me, whether he is the president of a company or a tricycle driver, is given his time to speak to me personally.

So it was that when he entered my office, I proceeded to settle into the "how can I help you" mode. His first words were, "hindi mo na ba ako natatandaan?" My mind started racing, searching all memory banks for the picture of where and when I met him. I came up blank.

"Anak ako ni ALing Cita, yung janitress noon sa Malate", was his humble follow through. Instantly, with a flash, my brain pulls out the picture of Aling Cita, the kind, gentle "manang" who kept our toilets clean and corridors polished.

"Oo! Naalala na kita!". Actually, I still couldn't find a picture in my mind how he looked like back then. Then I proceeded. After the initial niceties and recollections of days past in Malate, I asked again what I could do for him.

He said that he needed help with employment. He said he's been out of a job for a couple of months now, and with two children to feed and educate, his situation was desperate. He thought about going to me after he met another batchmate of ours who suggested to him to visit me.

I could see that he was in dire straights. He wouldn't come to visit me in Muntinlupa all the way from Pasig unless he really needed someone to help him. At this moment, he saw hope in me that I might be able to help him.

That's why it was doubly difficult to see him there in my office. Because as things would have it, a legislator's office is the least capable office to provide employment. FIrst of all, there is a limit to how many staff one can take. Second, whatever allocated positions are there are usually filled up already.

UNlike local government units, we do not have a Public Employment Office which has the mandate of looking for jobs for the populace. A congressman's duty and responsibility is to legislate.

Some say that as congressman, I could influence local businesses to hire our recommendees and that there are positions allocated for us, as a form of PR by the companies. But the truth is it isn't like that. We have no influence whatsoever. Unless of course, if I use my position to exert pressure (very slight pressure) on them. But I don't do that.

But it pained me to see him in that situation. Although as I said, I wasn't really close to him back in elementary of high school, the fact that we grew up together gave me a more personal involvement in his plight.

His situation is representative of the situation of a lot of our countrymen, fighting a daily survival in a world that is abundant but at the same time selfish. Sometimes it seems life is unfair, that while some lavishly splurge their riches, others can only dream of the next meal.

It is doubly frustrating and discouraging on my part---I am in a position of power yet I am powerless to immediately provide a solution to Alex's problem. Yes, I could temporarily alleviate his situation if I give him several hundred pesos to get past the next couple of days. But where will that bring him afterwards? Back to where he is now.

ONe of the most difficult emotional and mental stresses of this job is having all the problems that beset this nation--poverty, divisiveness, conflict, etc.--- dumped on your lap yet solutions are beyond your reach. In the whole scheme of things, solutions to these problems do not come from one direction or source. Most often, collaboration, coordination and cooperation among several entitities are needed in order to formulate the answers to our problems? But sad to say, unity, or the lack of it, is one of the problems itself!

Going back to Alex, I had to do something for him. I then remembered a friend of mine who owned a maintenance firm (janitorial services) in Pasig. It would be a favor I would be asking, so employment woudl be guaranteed. It would be in Pasig, so his cost for going to work will be minimized.

But I had my apprehension about that particular option. Taking that job would mean Alex will end up a janitor. A janitress' son ending up as a janitor. Somehow, it did not seem right to me .
I had to look for another option....

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