Dárlán Páléncìá Bárcélón
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Today poverty becomes a formidable challenge for the civilization to find a solution and an ultimate test to the sincerity of humanity to share.
In the Philippines, poverty is the main cause of social ills that breed so much misery among rural and urban poor families. To some, poverty is the true state of the nation and one family – that of Jose Villa Villanueva, represents the concrete symbols of poverty spanning three generations. Theirs was a living example of this social ill plaguing Filipinos. With sheer courage and determination, they proved that they convey their misery to the country and to the world. Their four months and nine days across the Maharlika Highway along the perilous 550 kilometers from Manila to Legazpi City sends a strong message that should rouse the government’s snoring bureaucracy.
At 7:45 in the morning of September 1, 2003, Ariel C. Ayque, while on board his daily morning program, “Zagitsit Rachada” over HBC-DWZR Am received a text message informing him of a family aboard two pedicabs who left Manila four months ago, and was already in Barangay Bañag, Daraga, Albay. Immediately Mr. Ayque instructed his field reporters to proceed to the general area. Immediately motoring to Bañag under a heavy downpour I was stranded for almost an hour. Drizzles notwithstanding, I proceeded to the area where they were last reported. In Bañag, the subjects were nowhere to be found and nobody could give us useful information. Armed without even a simple description of the pedicabs. I continue to scour the boundaries of Barangay Cullat and Bañag, all in Daraga town.
Hoping for the best and deciding to give it one final try, I entered Lakandula Drive to find the family. As I traversed the road leading to Legazpi City Airport I spotted two pedicabs with a very simple designs. They looked strange and out of place because of the pedicabs’ unfamiliar dimensions, I slowed down and decided to pull over and park along the road.
At exactly 9:14 in the morning I was able to confirm that the family had indeed arrived and the news was authentic. They were having breakfast under a nearby waiting shed. Their food consisted of a stale rice, a can of sardines and several cups of coffee. The confirmation came from one named Maricris who was then cuddling her newborn baby and breast-feeding the infant.I introduced myself as a broadcaster and explained to them my intentions. The family granted my request for a live interview. Their personal circumstances surfaced, and I interviewed Mr. Villanueva live on air with our Station Manager, Jose A. Portugal, the anchorman at that time.
I managed to convinced the family to proceed to DWZR for their temporary shelter. We began the slow, tedious steps of necessary interventions to respond to their temporary needs. With the help coming in from the station’s listeners and supporters – Greg Opida personally dropped by the station for his personal donations and Manay Goying our local canteen served free breakfast – the floodgates of support were opened.
Maricris narrated how she delivered her baby in a puericulture center in an unfamiliar place, under extreme conditions and without money to spend. She was a worrying for the health of her baby and herself was not properly nourished for the past few months since they left Fairview, Quezon City.
Their story generated sympathy and generosity and help in the form of donations and pledges from the listeners poured in on the first day of their sojourn in Legazpi City.
The outpouring of support from the Albayanos lifted the family’s spirits. Mano Jose was in deep emotions when food, clothing and cash continued to arrive he said “Dito lang pala sa Albay kami matutulungan at bibigyan ng halaga” [only here in Albay were we offered help and given importance.]
Upon their arrival in DWZR, the local media which, by now got wind their story, started taking pictures and conducting interviews. The family hogged the airlanes across the Bicol Region and they were dubbed as “Pidal family” because of their mode of transportation.
When the Metro Manila Development Authority or MMDA launched the clean-up drive all over Metro Manila, it was not a welcome news to the urban poor. It sent a strong message to the sidewalk vendors, street children, squatters and scavengers that their days in the Big City were numbered. Chairman Bayani Fernando’s latest efforts meant a nightmare which spelled dislocation for the poor residents of Metro Manila.
The day came when they could no longer afford to pay their monthly rentals for a small shanty they were renting. The monthly rental amounting to PhP500.00 was already a big burden for a family which had no decent income. Mano Jose’s misery became unbearable especially when he saw his grandchildren living in hunger. Borne out of desperation, he decided to return to his roots in Palo, Leyte and start a new life together with his son-in-law and grandchildren and leave that place [Fairview, Quezon City] of squalor and wretchedness.
With only PhP1,500.00, the entire family left Fairview, Quezon City on April 26, 2003 on board their two pedicabs. Their journey began at 3:30 in the afternoon on a route which took them to Commonwealth Avenue and Project 4, Quezon City. By 11:00 o’ clock in the evening they reached Rosario Pasig and there they rested.
In less than five hours, they resumed their journey passing Taguig and Pateros until they reached Sucat, Parañaque. On the third day, they passed Alabang, Muntinlupa and reached San Pedro, Laguna.
Exhausted and sunstricken, they decided to take a break. During their brief stay, they were burgled while they were slept in their pedicabs and they lost their stove, a kettle, plates and a flask. Through the help of some kind-hearted folks of San Pedro and their remaining money they were able to replace the stolen utensils.
Forced to leave Calamba, Laguna where the family stayed for four days, they embarked again, this time more determined to pursue their plan. They began picking up discarded plastics and other junk materials which they sold to junk shops along the way.
The long uphill climb in Pagbilao town up to Atimonan became the ultimate test of their endurance and will power. While negotiating Quezon National Park, a powerful typhoon hit Quezon Province and it took them three days and two nights to reach the end of the treacherous road.
Two months later and after spending long, lonely nights along the Maharlika Highway, they finally reached the Quezon-Bicol boundary in Barangay Tabugon, Santa Elena, Camarines Norte where a good Samaritan gave them tips on how to shorten their route to Leyte by taking the Quirino Highway, instead of passing the Tabugon-Daet road. In doing so they practically avoided the arduous Bitukang Manok inside the Bicol National Park.
Their will and determination were about to be again as Maricris was just a month away from giving birth to her third child. In Naga City they approached the City Social Welfare and Development Office, where they were not entertained. Instead they were reproached for embarking on such a risky adventure unprepared. Mano Jose remained humble and patient however. Upset but not down, they continued their journey and headed south.
Between Pili and Baao, Camarines Sur, Maricris began complaining of stomach pain and they decided to go to Iriga City where they sought help from the Puericulture Center. It was August 19, 2003 when baby boy Mark Christopher, was born to Maricris. Sadly Christopher was born with a cleft-palate like his sister Babylyn. They travelled without medicine nor any infant formula for the newborn – except mother’s milk.
After four months and nine days of frustration, humiliation, scorn, hunger, typhoon, rains, cold and heat they arrived in Daraga, Albay on September 1, 2003 – three days before the feast day of Saint Gregory the Great, the patron saint of Albay District.
When they were taken to HBC-DWZR their ordeal was given so much attention and Mano Jose and his son-in-law Mateo Bondi quipped –“Talagang may Dios at hindi niya kami pinabayaan sa daan at ginabayan niya kami ng kanyang awa na matagpuan ang mabubuting tao sa Albay.” [Truly there is God Almighty who never abandoned us along the way and, in His Mercy led us to the Good Samaritan of Albay.]
From the first minute of the interview by Mr. Jose A. Portugal on his radio program ISYU 828, telephone and text messages became the order of the day and visitors came in droves, just to get a glimpse of the Villanueva and Bondi families. Upon learning the arrival of the family at DWZR, Vice Governo James B. Calisin immediately tapped the assistance of the Albay Provincial Health Office and Dr. Veronica Madulid and her staff proceeded to DWZR and administered medical check-up to the four children and the three adults. Finally baby Christopher received the medical attention he is so rightfully deserved, fourteen days after his birth in Iriga City.
While “they were “the guests” of Legazpi City, their story became the focus of local and national media. Their adventure was extraordinary and it drew a lot of support and attention. As the news spread far and wide, additional assistance came in pledges for a free ride from Legazpi City to Matnog Ferry Terminal courtesy of Mr. Manny Sumanga of Bacacay, Albay. Bicol Regional Director Lucita T. Madarang of the Maritime Industry Authority [MARINA-5] offered financial support and volunteered to contact the management of Santa Clara Shipping Lines to sponsor their trip from the Port of Matnog to the Port of Allen, Northern Samar.
On September 4, 2003 Santa Clara Shipping Lines confirmed the assurance that tey would give assistance to Villanueva and Bondi families until they reach the Port of Allen.
The family embarked from from the Port of Matnog at 11:45 in the afternoon and they arrived at Port of Allen past 3:00 o’ clock in the afternoon of the same day.
While the MV King Frederick transported the Villanueva and Bondi families, Mayor Ding-Ding Suan of Allen, Northern Samar together with the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer Myrna Tan gave the assurance that the local government of Allen will extend help to the family and will initiate contact with the Leyte Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office in Tacloban City.
The family arrived in Tacloban City on September 8, 2003 at 3:00 o’ clock in the morning and was assisted by the Leyte Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office in Tacloban City.