Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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At Large

Enjoying his presidency

It’s got to be good news when the President publicly declares that he has learned to enjoy the post he was thrust into three years ago.

“All jokes aside, this is a role I have come to enjoy,” P-Noy told everyone present at the inauguration of Brother Industries Philippines Inc.

The event made it to TV news mainly because of the President’s remarks about attending the finals of the Fiba Asian Championships where Smart Gilas Philippines was battling Iran for the championship. “I was encouraged to attend the basketball game, as either Chief Booster [or] Lucky Charm; and since we didn’t win, perhaps now I am being blamed for our loss last night,” he said, to much laughter.


So despite the claims to now “enjoying” his post, P-Noy’s bittersweet observation about his role in the national psyche reveals a continuing unease with his job, which ranges from tackling the political, economic, and ideological aspects of being President to carrying out ceremonial duties, from being “salesman in chief” to “head inaugurator, ground-breaker, ribbon-cutter and disaster relief worker.”

Still, let’s take P-Noy at his word. There does seem to be a new air about him; he actually looks and sounds more relaxed in his public appearances these days. Perhaps it’s the confluence of supportive institutions around him: Both the House and the Senate are headed by key allies and are in fact dominated by sympathizers, he has installed in the Supreme Court a reform-minded leadership even if its membership is still dominated by his predecessor’s appointees, and he continues to enjoy high public approval ratings.

But given all these factors, P-Noy also now no longer has excuses for a slowdown of the pace of reforms, or for missed targets. As another president said before him: “The buck stops here.” It’s good to know he’s now enjoying himself halfway through his term. We wait for him to use this new boost to his morale to speed up the changes he promised us when he first addressed his “bosses” as public servant in chief.

* * *

This last weekend, I was trolling the TV channels when I chanced upon a BBC documentary titled “Toughest Place to be a Bus Driver.” I got to see it late in the game, so I don’t know how the London bus driver Josh West got to be chosen to travel to Manila and meet (and even live with) jeepney driver Rogelio Castro and his family.

I do admit I was rather taken aback when Manila was described as “the most congested city in the world,” and viewers were “treated” to rather dismaying sights, especially the ramshackle houses standing cheek by jowl along narrow alleys. But, put behind the wheel of Rogelio’s jeepney, Josh was all smiles, even as he negotiated the unruly streets and chaotic traffic. Toward the end of his route, Josh was even shown with a fistful of paper bills artfully tucked between his fingers, just the way Pinoy jeepney drivers do it.

But the most interesting part of the documentary is the sequel, two years later, when Josh returns to Manila with funds he had raised personally for Rogelio’s family by running in marathons. In the intervening years, Josh had also married and had a daughter, while Rogelio also had two additions to his family (one of whom is named for Josh) courtesy of a married daughter.

* * *


In the meantime, Rogelio had managed to make a fan and benefactor out of Ryan Agoncillo, a TV host who happens to be married to “teleserye queen” Judy Ann Santos.

Chancing upon Josh’s and Rogelio’s story while searching the Internet, Agoncillo says he quickly resolved to grant Rogelio some money so the jeepney driver could buy a motor boat and return to his original trade as a fisherman in his native La Union. During his birthday celebration aired on “Eat Bulaga,” the very popular and enduring noontime variety and game show where he is a cohost, Agoncillo called Rogelio to the stage to receive a check to buy his own fishing boat.

Josh even joins Rogelio in La Union to ride on the banca, learning firsthand how difficult and challenging it is to work out on the open seas. Rogelio explains that, try as he might, it was still not possible for him to move to La Union with his family. Earnings from fishing were too paltry to justify a move, and his wife needed to stay in the city to be near a hospital for her health needs. Instead, he had let a nephew use the boat for fishing, splitting the earnings between them.

And so it was back to Manila for them. Rogelio plans to use the money Josh raised to set up a sari-sari (variety) store for some extra income, while Josh has flown back to London, perhaps reflecting on how complex a problem poverty can be, and why one-shot solutions, even those born of a sincere desire to help, don’t always work in the real world.

* * *

Watching “Toughest Place to be a Bus Driver,” I was by turns dismayed, embarrassed, chagrined and sad for Rogelio and his family. Much the same way Agoncillo said he felt when he first encountered the story and resolved to do something to ease their burden.

But there are light-hearted portions in the documentary, too, maybe because Josh, who towered over most Filipinos he met, always had a dazzling smile at the ready and seemed enthused with whatever task he was made to do. Also, there was little evidence of resentment or rancor among the Filipinos featured, especially Rogelio, his wife and his children, who seemed to be genuinely enjoying the company of their visitor and friend from England.

Indeed, Manila may be the “toughest place to be a bus driver,” but Filipinos do have a way of softening even the harshest blows of life, disarming hardship and poverty with our smiles.

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TAGS: At Large, BBC documentary, Benigno Aquino III, Government, opinion, Rina Jimenez-David, Ryan Agoncillo
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