No Free Lunch

When things work as they should

/ 10:20 PM January 02, 2012

Barely four hours to the midnight countdown to the new year last Dec. 31, the lights went out at our family compound in Los Baños, Laguna. Overheated wires had caught fire on an electrical post nearby, cutting the power to our house and two neighbors. Except for our three affected households, the rest of the neighborhood remained brightly lit, making our misfortune even more pathetic. My family had begun to resign to the prospect of having a dreary New Year media noche celebration by candlelight. The children had just spent a good part of the afternoon decorating the family pavilion with colorful balloons and sparkling Christmas lights for the festive annual gathering of our extended family to greet the changing of the year. But with the lights out, all this preparation was about to be for naught.

I called the Meralco hotline, and the call center agent seemed oblivious to the urgency in my voice and sounded to me like she was taking it no differently from any other routine service call.  Since she was obviously not located anywhere nearby, I asked her for the number of Meralco’s Los Baños office so I could attempt to get more prompt local attention. But she matter-of-factly replied that all emergency calls are handled through this same hotline. Help should be coming within two to four hours, if not earlier, she finally said. There goes our New Year’s Eve party, I thought. I entertained no illusion that any lineman would do any work at this particular time, and I wouldn’t blame them. Thus, I fully expected no relief until next morning.


But lo and behold, our power did come back within half an hour. A truck with the markings of a local engineering company—a local Meralco contractor, it turned out—showed up even before our disappointment and frustration could sink in.  My neighbors and I went out to the street to welcome our unexpected heroes. For the lineman who had just restored our connection—and our holiday spirits—it seemed like just another routine job done at any other time. It all seemed too good to be true, and for a while there, I couldn’t believe I was in the Philippines. Things work here after all, remarked my daughter who is vacationing from her job overseas. Kudos to Meralco for that.

Nearly two years ago, while visiting friends in Cebu City during a short family vacation, my wife had a bad accident in our friends’ house, falling forward on a short flight of stairs to our hosts’ bathroom. We found her flat on the floor beside a small pool of blood that had gushed out of bad cuts she sustained on her face and mouth. Our friends called the hotline for the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (ERUF), whose ambulance and paramedics arrived in no time. We got her to the emergency room of the nearest hospital, where she got prompt medical attention and ended up with several stitches on her face. What I found hard to believe was that the ambulance service with its well-trained team of paramedics was all for free; the crew even politely declined my offer of a token amount “for coffee.”


Our hosts explained that ERUF was a public service-oriented non-government organization of over 20 years, supported by private contributions and the Cebu City local government. How fortunate and blessed Cebu residents were, I thought then—and wished that there were similar ERUFs all over the country. ERUF now has around a thousand active volunteers, 70 volunteer doctors, four lawyers and a fleet of ambulances, rescue and trauma vans, fire trucks and even a mountain vehicle. It has received awards and recognitions as one of Asia’s best emergency units, and is accredited and recognized by the US National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. My family owes a personal debt of gratitude to ERUF, an organization that Cebuanos and indeed all Filipinos can feel good about and truly be proud of.

Some time back, I bought an external DVD drive at the Octagon Computer Superstore at Megamall. I needed it to upgrade an old desktop Apple iMac computer, something that’s a challenge to find compatible accessories for. Among several models available in the store, I found only one whose label claimed it to be Mac-compatible. But when I got home, not only did the drive not work on my old Mac; worse, it actually ruined the computer, which required major repair at the service center. Having no other use for the DVD drive, I brought it back to the store a week later, expecting no more than an exchange for other merchandise in the store, as is the common practice among merchant establishments.  But to my pleasant surprise, the lady at the customer service counter promptly processed a refund credit back to my credit card, no questions asked. This is how it’s supposed to work all the time, I thought to myself. And I thought it was only abroad where such painless refunds work! Thanks, Octagon, for being world-class on this.

I must admit I am hard pressed to identify and describe more such incidents where things actually worked here in our country the way they should, and the way they would elsewhere. It is always easier to write on various things that go wrong “only in da Pilipins,” as they say—whether on traffic woes, cumbersome government procedures, or corrupt public servants. But finding that certain things could actually work well right here at home, just when the past year was drawing to a close, tells me there is yet hope for our beloved Philippines.

May we all find more things to feel good about in 2012 and beyond.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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