Passion For Reason

That video of a Good Samaritan on Edsa

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(Editor’s note: INQUIRER.net has been given permission by Lyndon Santos, who took the video which is the subject of Dean Raul Pangalangan’s column today, to post this on our site. We saw it fit to post it alongside Dean Pangalangan’s column)

The other day, I saw a short video that was making the rounds via Facebook. It was taken by motorist Lyndon Santos while he was caught in traffic under the Edsa-Timog flyover in Quezon City last Monday. The video showed a young woman giving her coat to a young girl, perhaps five or six years old, apparently naked until then. There was more than just a drizzle. Typhoon “Gener” was raging, after all, and the other pedestrians were seen running past with their umbrellas.

The young woman had stopped to take the hooded coat off her back, and had knelt down to button or zip it up neatly around the child. After giving the child a gentle pat, the young woman rushed off—I imagine, to start her working day. The video clip lasted all of 35 seconds but it was moving, and I hope her fine example (and Lyndon’s initiative to post it for all to see) would be repeated countless times in quiet acts of charity that affirm our innate humanity and bring out the noble self that inheres in each one of us.

Let’s hear it from Lyndon Santos himself: “I was so touched by what I witnessed yesterday morning …. The woman’s good deed ended with a wave of goodbye and a quick run for cover. Meron pa palang ganitong klaseng tao! Kung sino ka man, Mabuhay ka, madam!” (I didn’t know that there were still people like her in the world. Whoever you are, madam, long live!)

Lyndon’s post has since provoked soul-searching in other Filipinos. Some have asked: Would I have done the same thing in that same situation? And one was frank enough to say for himself: “Stuck in rainy traffic … hopelessly late for my next workshop or [meeting] or something… Napahiya ako sa sagot ko sa sarili ko.” (I was embarrassed by my answer.) I appreciate his candor and his embarrassment because it captures the dilemma of every Filipino of conscience and, conversely, the magic of meeting kindness in the most unexpected places.

Edsa is one such place. It is indeed difficult to be a Good Samaritan on Edsa. In fact Edsa embodies the Filipino in his atomized worst, the Darwinian Pinoy who thrives in a dog-eat-dog world and makes a virtue out of merely being a survivor. If you want to picture what a “harsh and cruel world” looks like, imagine the life of those who live under the flyovers of Edsa. When Hobbes spoke of a world where raged a “war of all against all,” he could very well have been thinking of driving through Edsa.

But therein lies the irony. Edsa also epitomizes the proudest, most glorious moment of recent Philippine history, the triumph of the anti-Marcos uprising that restored our democracy. The 1986 Edsa Revolution is the emblem of the Filipino’s capacity to risk his life for the glorious cause of freedom, the courage of unarmed civilians willing to block advancing tanks with their own bodies.

The “miracle woman” under the Edsa-Timog flyover reconciles the tension between the two faces of Edsa. One face belongs to the civic-spirited citizen in the public plaza, committed to the public good, capable of transcending the ego and committing the self to an abstract “nation.” The other face is that of the practical man in a rush to get ahead of everyone else on the road, attuned to the needs of the moment, fixated on short-term advantage and oblivious to fixing problems so that they don’t happen again.

Philosophers have said that we need to maintain the fiction of the civic-spirited citizen to leave us free to live the reality of the practical man. But that philosophy is stumped by Edsa because, at Edsa 1, the civic spirit wasn’t fiction. It was for real. The problem is that we have divorced the two worlds, as it were, the public and the private, and relegated public duty to ritual and delegated it to government. In that context, helping others is the job of others.

What the miracle woman teaches us is that if we wish to live out our transformative mission in the here and now, we can do it ourselves in the course of our daily work. No need to wait for the next Edsa 1. Find your own Edsa 1 under every flyover, under every bridge. We should stop thinking that the civic self appears only during big historical moments or, worse, during ceremonies and at monuments. John F. Kennedy said it with flourish: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Except that on Edsa, you must see your country in the eyes of the naked, needy child.

The miracle woman on Edsa showed us, in the words of a Facebook post, that “there are still good and kind people out there.” By her example, she taught us that we can make a difference in simple ways, and that we needn’t wait for some big historical moment or some dramatic political issue to lend a helping hand. She also reminds us that doing good calls for actual sacrifice. She gave up a coat; her act of kindness did cost her something. She gave up a rain jacket during a typhoon; she risked getting wet and sick and she would’ve had to worry whether the typhoon would still bring rainfall on her way home.

What makes the episode under the Edsa-Timog flyover even more special is that it seemed like one of those quiet acts of kindness—unrehearsed, unplanned, spontaneous and real, a moment solely between the woman and the child she was helping—to which we the officious public are at best a cheering squad and at worst kibitzers. I hope all the public attention wouldn’t spoil the beauty of what that woman did, and I pray that the kindness she showed that morning would be returned to her a hundredfold.

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