Friday, June 12, 2009

An old Filipino tailor's Independence Day

(On June 12, 2009 we can just assume that 90 million Filipinos are celebrating their country's 111th Independence day from their Spanish colonizers. Filipinos used to celebrate it on July 4th but later moved the celebration to June 12 in keeping with the Aguinaldo declaration of Independence. However, history aside, the celebration is largely meaningless as a majority of Filipinos lack any real capacity to make real choices that may improve their lives.)

It was among a group of placards at the June 10 Anti-Con Ass/Anti-Gloria/Miting de Avance rally in Makati that got me thinking about the hunger that continues to rage and grow stronger among our people.

It isn’t the figurative hunger for change, truth, justice, or any of those higher end self-realization Maslownian goals. It’s the literal hunger of either not having enough to eat or having nothing to eat at all.

As far as I know, we haven’t seen widespread famine here in the Philippines, the likes of which we often associate with places in Africa or India. The closest thing we got to that situation happened years and years ago when widespread famine was said to have occurred in some places of Mindanao due to draught.

We’ve also our share of food shortages in 2008 but this was a misnomer of sorts as food (particularly, rice) was available but was merely priced out of reach for most Filipino families on a subsistence budget.

Sans any research into statistics from the UN or any other institution that makes a big fuss about tracking hunger, I merely gauge just how hungry most Filipinos must be simply by sneaking a look into the homes of the people living in ‘loobans’ near my house.

If you are not from the Philippines, loobans are residential compounds and in the part of Manila where I live, they’re usually lots with at least ten to twenty families sharing whatever space can be shared. It isn’t exactly a squatter colony as the people living there actually own the land where their rooms or small houses (really just a bunch of second-hand plyboards hastily slapped together with a few rusty nails) are built on; it’s more like the poor man’s version of a town home or a micro-micro-subdivision.

So, anyway, just today, I visited my friendly neighborhood sastre or tailor who lives in a looban and I caught him in the middle of what appeared to be a late lunch at around 2:00 PM.

Paused in mid-air was his hand holding a spoonful of tutong (slightly burnt rice from the bottom of the ricepot) with a piece of fresh tomato and on his plate was about three more spoonfuls of the stuff.

Mang Romy, as he is called, offered me some of his food without really meaning to share any of it. It was just a meaningless customary gesture of politeness on his part which I, out of equal politeness, had to refuse.

He insisted. I refused again. (This is really one of those Philippine customs that annoys me to no end.)

Then, finally satisfied that enough politeness had been exchanged, Mang Romy asked me what he could do for me.

I handed him a shirt and a pair of pants that needed some sewing. He remarked that almost all of his suki’s (regular customers) were all just getting their clothes repaired instead of paying him to sew them new ones. Then came the complaints that I have come to expect from almost anybody I talk with around my neighborhood and the way Mang Romy described his financial situation made him sound like an economist.

He said he was suffering from the global financial crisis.

Proof of this, he said, was that he wasn’t getting as many customers as he had last year. Then he went on about the customers of his who cancelled orders for new pants, shirts, and uniforms. He ranted about the dreaded Ukay-ukay lots that have blighted his business ever since the second hand clothing retail stores started mushrooming everywhere – even in malls. His rant about the cost of food, electricity, cooking fuel and other necessities (which oddly enough included beer and cigarettes) gave me an indication that his rather long winded monologue on the woes of his life was about to draw to a close.

In conclusion, he said, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was to blame for everything and the whole country made a mistake when it decided to oust Ferdinand Marcos as President.

I was rendered speechless by Mang Romy’s rant. I wracked my brains, struggling for a polite way to make a comment that would be agreeable but at the same time would tell him that I just wanted my pants repaired.

I kept silent, for lack of anything to say and he went on with his rant. I hardly understood what he was saying as the rest of my mind began recalling how Mang Romy was during better times.

For most of my grade school years, Mang Romy was the one who tailored all my uniforms.

During the better times, when Marcos was still the President and Mang Romy’s wife was still alive, I remember him smiling as he took my measurements just before the beginning of every school year.

He used to coyly remark about how much I had grown over the previous year and that I was turning out to be quite handsome. He used to jokingly ask me about whether I had a girlfriend already or not and usually, my mom would protest that I didn’t know anything about girls – which of course meant that she didn’t know I had already taken to reading my brother’s Playboy magazines.

Mang Romy was a pretty popular neighborhood tailor during those times and he made a decent living. He wasn’t able to buy his own house or expand his business beyond the small family business that it was, but his craft fed his family and was able to put his children through school. He seemed happy.

After Marcos reportedly flew on an airplane bound for Hawaii, Mang Romy was one of the few people in the neighborhood that hanged a laminated picture of President Marcos outside his house. He even had a KBL streamer under the laminated picture and he stood outside his house with an arm-band signifying his hard core devotion to the deposed President.

A few years later, when his wife died of some vague and untreated disease, he could barely express his loss. In the months that followed, he stopped attending to his business and missed deadlines, customers started going to other tailors and he eventually stopped taking orders for a while.

Life went on, as they say.

I don’t know how long it was before I realized that Mang Romy had stopped ranting and stood up to put away his now empty plate.

For some reason, I ended up offering him a cigarette and asking him if he had seen the video of Hayden Kho and Katrina Halili. He took the cigarette and said that scandals like Hayden’s sex video tape wouldn’t have happened under Marcos’ regime. (Yeah right, I thought, they only had audio recordings of Marcos crooning to Dovie Beams and the sounds of a bed creaking.)

It was when he took a long drag from the cigarette I gave him that I handed him P50.00 (the equivalent of just a little under US $1.00) as an advance for the repair job for my clothes. Then, before he could say another word, I asked him when he could finish repairing my clothes. He muttered some vague date and I quickly walked out of his shop.

As I walked the dozen or so steps between my house and his looban, it seemed so true that everybody in the Philippines is a political analyst/economist/lawyer/sports commentator as they explain their personal circumstances with words borrowed from what they hear on TV or radio.

I dismissed Mang Romy’s almost breathless rants as being the product of having not enough to eat. He had grown a bit thinner than when I last saw him and seeing him eat tutong was an indication that he was really making the most out of whatever amount of rice he could buy.

I wonder what he'll be eating next year, if and when we celebrate the 112th Philippine Independence Day.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...