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Why I don’t want to see him anymore

11:45 PM February 11, 2013

Cheese corn—it’s one of the comfort foods that a typical University of the Philippines student like me, or maybe even people not in UP, can relate to. I think no one can resist boiled corn kernels in a soup oozing with melted margarine and cheese powder. Om nom nom, indeed. But to be honest, I kind of don’t want to see the cheese corn vendor anymore.

There is this stall in UP I always frequent, the one between Palma Hall and the food court we fondly call Casaa (even if Casaa is an association and not related to food at all). In the past year I’ve been patronizing the stall, pounds and flab have been building up. But my fat aside, I’ve also formed a friendship with the people there.

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I don’t know their names, but I know their story. The husband cooks the corn and takes charge of the stall in the morning, and the wife takes the afternoon shift. As of early last year they had four kids, all of whom were presumably still small and unable to help them in making their living.

In one of our conversations, I jokingly asked the cheese corn guy if he wanted his kids to take over his business someday. I was expecting a reply in the affirmative, but to my surprise, he said he actually did not want that to happen. He said he believed that his kids have better lives to lead away from the cheese corn stall he had.

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I asked him about his kids’ education, but he gave me vague answers. It seemed that the children were not in school. I can’t blame him either—it is probably impossible to feed and send four kids to school with the income from a small cheese corn stall. It may be possible if they have just one or two kids, but yeah, they have four small kids.

This conversation may not have meant anything to the cheese corn vendor, but it touched me deeply. I was touched that he, unlike the usual parent in poverty nowadays, wanted his kids to lead better lives, and was not thinking of having more kids to help in the stall. I knew at that point that if I don’t see him soon, it would not mean anything bad, just that he’s probably doing better somewhere else.

Fast forward to the beginning of the new semester. I was surprised to see the husband late in the day. Of course I asked him why he was there in the stall in the afternoon, and he explained that he had exchanged shifts with his wife. I thought it was just a simple change in job shifts, as would occur in any other workplace, but his next sentence shocked me. His wife is pregnant with their fifth child (and the word “fifth” echoed in my head for some time).

I pretended to be happy and I congratulated him. But deep inside, I felt really sad. Though a new bundle of joy is a blessing from above, the baby is also another mouth to feed. It was as if their four kids were not already hard to feed, given their meager earnings from the cheese corn stall. It was as if they’re excited about the possibility that their kids were getting closer to inheriting a life of poverty.

That was when I viewed the debates on the then reproductive health bill with disdain. It just disgusted me that while common folk were suffering amidst maternal health issues and economic demands they can’t meet because of too many children, the ones up there even found it fun to delay the passage of the RH bill for 14 years. Had the bill passed into law at least a decade ago, for sure a lot of things could have been done about our worsening population problem. My friends at the cheese corn stall could have gotten the help and the knowledge to raise a family with the best resources available. For sure they wouldn’t have five kids they can’t feed.

I just shook my head thinking of the many families having a difficult time making both ends meet because they were not educated on family planning. It is certain that had our so-called public servants not given in to their greedy quest for Church approval in the past decade, we wouldn’t have too many population-caused poverty problems. Had they been true to the public they were sworn to serve, things wouldn’t be as bad as this.

Like other citizens struggling to make a living, my friends at the cheese corn stall are proof that people have the right to a life of quality, not of quantity. Our lawmakers should have long pushed for something that could give these citizens the right to a good life. They should have passed the RH bill much faster than they pass around the fancy lobsters at supper.

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As I write this, I am still quite disgusted at how long it took for the RH bill to be approved. Some will argue with me and say, “At least it got passed,” but I just can’t take such an argument, knowing in my heart that change could have taken place a long time ago.

I can now imagine how people’s lives will begin to improve as the RH Law is properly implemented. Of course, it’s not as though they will get out of poverty magically. The RH Law is not some sort of a fairy godmother that will reverse all the demographic problems our country is facing. But I can be sure that at the very least, those who need it can gain access to family planning assistance, so that they can stop worrying about new mouths to feed and start thinking about how to improve the quality of their and their children’s lives.

As for the kids of this generation, I pray that they be given the freedom to plan their future families in a way that ensures the best chances of maternal and infant survival and the best quality of life possible. May they be informed and educated on family planning, so that they can lead better lives than their parents did. And I just hope that they don’t end up in a vicious, endless cycle of earning just enough to feed hungry mouths and nothing else. They deserve much more than that.

I’m just glad that we got what we wanted now. I hope and pray that the cheese corn vendors’ kids don’t end up like their parents.

And now you know why I don’t want to see the cheese corn vendor anymore.

Marilene Perez, 18, is a chemistry student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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TAGS: children, Family, hunger, Poverty, Religion, RH bill, up diliman
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