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A happy version

I once had that fresh graduate fantasy. It differs from person to person, but in my case I dreamt of the perfect job with an extravagant salary, doing the work I was passionate about.

I’d like to believe that we begin adulting when we realize that we have to rely on ourselves to survive. Back then, I was working as a part-time tutor during my last year in college because I had to pay for the expenses of printing thesis manuscripts and buying myself my own barong for graduation. Every other day, I had to take a bus from Laguna to Ortigas just to teach my students. After our usual two- to three-hour sessions, I’d take a train back home to Parañaque, rest for a while, and pack up again to take the bus to Laguna.

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After graduation, I thought things would easily come my way. In my head, the delusion was perfect: multiple job offers, and companies competing for you to work for them. But it was not the reality I encountered. Like many others, I did not have the privilege of resting from the endless job hunt. It was rejection after rejection on top of the no replies from HR departments.

Fortunately, I was able to snag a job in a government office near my city. But there was one caveat: It was a job order position. Being a job order employee, or JO for short, meant that I functioned on a “no work, no pay” basis. Holidays meant that I would lose a day’s worth of my salary. Leave credits were nonexistent and social benefits were a pipe dream, unless I paid for them voluntarily, of course. And lacking an HMO meant that I was one illness or accident away from starving completely.

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I pushed on, thinking that I owed the government this much as repayment for having finished in public school and state university. In my heart, I saw myself as a modern-day hero if an ordinary citizen — doing public service for the public good, putting in honest work, and working on the small changes that this society badly needs. I perceived myself worthy, and loved the job so much even if that love was unreciprocated.

The Christmas season comes as the most dreaded of days for many JOs. Taking the holiday breaks meant I had to survive on the meager salary I had saved just to enjoy the season of giving. I would watch the regular employees in the office rejoice over their 13th-month pay, bonuses, and benefits, while I wallowed in envious silence.

For a JO employee, the promise of regularization would have to be earned after a tedious battle with bureaucracy and a backer-powered system. Although one already inside the office might have an edge in terms of being prioritized for regularization, new and vacant plantilla positions are hard to come by as well. So it’s all waiting and persevering, and more waiting and persevering.

Months flew by, and I knew the effort I was giving at work would not come to any fruition. Despite that, I knew that the Filipino public deserved my best, so I continued my version of the best work I could give. I thought to myself that I had to live in frugality as a humble way of serving the people. I set aside bingeing on P200 coffees and new gadgets, thinking to myself that such extravagance was not worth a day’s absence. Slowly, the amount of time I worked became a currency in my head that I had to mentally compute just to deny myself the things that I should be enjoying.

After three years, my ears simply grew tired from hearing endless broken promises and delayed paycheck announcements. The pandemic came by, and things did not change except for the threat of getting sick and time moving faster. I still had to report to the office despite the danger of contracting the virus, and we still had to go on fieldwork despite the travel restrictions. Slowly, I saw myself growing old and comfortable in that place. It was an unhappy thought.

I told myself that I deserved a happy version of myself, something like a reward for all the years that I had worked myself out. When I got one of my last paychecks, I drafted a short, honest letter of resignation. It was not a spur-of-the-moment thing, but a reflection of all the years when I thought to myself that while things were good, they could still be better.

Now, I watch the Christmas lights intently and I think of the JO population that I had once been a part of. As the parol and bibingka stalls line up along the streets and campaign materials clutter our view, in a little place in my tired heart I hope for good and real change from the next leaders of our country.

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Miguel Carlos Lazarte, 24, currently works as a training specialist in a pharmaceutical company in Muntinlupa, his second job after three years in government. He is a graduate of development communication and is pursuing his master’s degree in UP.

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TAGS: job order employee, Miguel Carlos Lazarte, Young Blood
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