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Young Blood

Safe and sound

I sometimes get the feeling that my parents have little confidence in my ability to keep myself alive.

This is partly my fault. Here’s why.

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I am careless. I always forget my phone, and if I do have it with me, it’s likely out of charge or load. Sometimes I find that I’m completely broke at the very instant I need money because I failed to monitor my cash on hand. This is a problem for my parents back home in Palawan, because Nanay and Tatay count on my phone and my wallet to keep me safe for the simple reason that they are too far away to do it themselves.

The standard operating procedure is that when night falls, I send a text message to my parents telling them where I am. I tell them who I’m with, how I will get home, what time I’m heading home, and with whom. I reassure them that if we ride a taxi, I will not be the last to be dropped off. I tell them that I will be home soon.

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Well, that’s how it should be. But the reality is that I never send them a text message. Sometimes they don’t ask anymore, because they’ve become used to me staying out until late at night (sometimes even until early morning). But parents have those moments when they worry just because. So they call. More often than not, as fate would have it, I am out with my “orgmates.” And as fate would have it, I am too enmeshed in the tangle of conversations and too absorbed in the peals of laughter in the air to hear the ringing of my phone deep in the recesses of my school bag. The next time I take it out, it registers five missed calls (sometimes even more) and a worried text message asking where the heck I am.

Sometimes, I manage to check my phone just in time to answer a call. I say that I’m out, but that I’m going home soon. Tatay tells me to text as soon as I get back, and I tell him that I will. And I forget. Always. My parents call me again close to midnight, and only then do I remember that I was supposed to tell them that I got home safely. And then they can breathe easily and sleep peacefully. Well, at least until the next time I fail to answer my phone.

My parents are afraid that I’m not sufficiently street-smart. The funny thing is, I agree. This is partly their fault.

Growing up in the province, I never felt the need to train myself in the art of surviving urban life. Nanay, a hardened Manila girl, would always tell me to be suspicious of everyone, but I learned to be very trusting of people because my environment felt relatively safe and someone was always watching out for me.

Let me explain. I’m not good at crossing streets. I know I have to look both ways, but that’s not enough. I have to be herded like a lamb across a busy road, because when I was younger, I almost never crossed the street without Nanay or Tatay holding my hand. Here’s more: The first time I commuted from school alone, my sundo was in a tricycle following the jeep I was riding in to make sure I’d have someone on my trail in case I didn’t manage to get off at the right place. I was already in high school then. And then late last year, my laptop crashed and I had to go to Trinoma to have it fixed. My mother asked what time I intended to go there, and when I said 5 p.m., she exclaimed that it would be dark by then, and dangerous: “Ha? Gabi na yun! Delikado na!” And she insisted that I leave for the mall after lunch.

To be fair, that was the only time she said 5 p.m. was too late to go to the mall, but the point is that it happened. I could go on and on about being sheltered, but I think you get it.

It’s not that my parents intended to keep me sheltered. They want me to learn from the world, and they know full well that a prerequisite to that is being able to survive in it. But in the context of safety and security, it was and still is difficult for them to draw the line between risks that I can afford to take and risks that will literally be the death of me if things go wrong. They are afraid that the dark side of humanity will bare its sharp teeth and swallow me whole when they aren’t looking. They are afraid that I will get attacked, mugged, kidnapped, raped, murdered, or any combination thereof. This is society’s fault.

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Strictly speaking, crime isn’t news anymore. It is the status quo and a fact of life. What is news is when the crime rate drops to zero. I don’t know how dangerous the world really is, but if the stories of violence, abuse, and harassment in the daily papers, news websites, and social media posts are anything to go by, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m still alive.

Recently, Nanay sent me a link to a Facebook note that someone wrote about nearly getting drugged by a taxi driver. She just sent me the URL and didn’t bother to explain, because she knew that I’d understand what she meant. For the sake of my parents’ sanity, I never ride a taxi alone anymore.

A diabolic taxi driver is far from the worst of my parents’ fears. I can live without taking the taxi alone. However, there are some kinds of danger I cannot control or avoid. At the University of the Philippines in Diliman, a student was brutally attacked in a school building and a professor was kidnapped from a parking lot in broad daylight and robbed—just two of the many crimes that occur without rhyme or reason in recent times. These are what make it harder for my parents to sleep at night, knowing that I live on the very same campus where these things happened.

Even if I were to go home before nightfall every day and even if I were to update my parents hourly, there will always be the possibility of something bad happening to me that is beyond my control. The truth is that no amount of precaution on my part will ever stop my parents from worrying about me. And I can’t blame them.

I might complain that my parents are naggers and paranoids. Nanay and Tatay might complain that I never take their warnings seriously. But those aren’t the real problems here. The central issue is security, or lack thereof. (How to go about fixing that is another story altogether.)

Maybe it’s not so much that my parents have little confidence in my ability to stay alive. Perhaps it’s just that they have little faith in society’s ability to control everything that can go wrong with it. Either way, I’m never truly safe and sound.

Gabriela Victoria A. Timbancaya, 18, is in her third year of studying psychology at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She says she believes that security can and should be improved, but that there is much more to it than just strengthening the system.

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