Where is Jonas Burgos?!

Sometimes I look around the local Internet as I know it and I have to wonder – are any of the things going on around the country of any consequence to these people? Of course it is silly for me to ask anyone to pay attention to anything they don’t want to pay attention to, but I really have to ask anyway.

All around us, our country is drowning in a cesspool of violence, injustice and apathy. I don’t know Mayor Binay from Adam, but I do know harrassment when I see it, and I find myself hoping that he manages to find a way around this inspite of the obviously formidable odds. The Secretary of Justice is an indignant fool whose agenda – to draw attention to himself and away from his boss, is obvious, irritating and effective. He calls a well – loved and well – meaning foreigner careless for taking a walk in the mountains alone, calls a rape victim ‘dreaming’ even as the prosecution had yet to state their case, and allows the Marine responsible for it to escape in the dead of the night, away from the grasp of the country where he committed the crime and which is supposed to prosecute him. In effect, sending the clear message that foreigners are not welcome in the country, and that U.S. Marines are welcome to do anything they want to Filipina women whilst in the Philippines because we owe their country far too much to jeopardize jailing a guilty man.

And the most shocking of all – the incessant deaths and prosecution of journalists in this country, is utterly mind – boggling. Writers and radio broadcasters are falling like flies, their blood spilt on the streets to the wails of their families and indignant, aloof stares of an almost uncaring in appearance, but mostly scared public. And if they weren’t receiving or dodging bullets, they are being sued en masse by the First Gentleman, whom even after retracting these still stinks ego, repression, avarice and arrogance to the Almighty.

And now, where is Jonas Burgos?!

Day in and day out as we approach the elections we are bombarded by constant proclamations of individuals running for elections. Armed with grand theatrics and a practiced approach recommended by, no doubt, highly paid PR practitioners, they perform anyway to my utter nausea. Are they really all the options we have? Do they really represent good for the country?

Maybe they should try to ride the bus from time to time like how I do, and see for themselves how life is on the other side. I often see several arguments about money, once with a man, probably a laborer, insisting he had already paid his seven peso fare and, when it was clear he could not, decided to turn around and jump from the running bus just to avoid it. Just for SEVEN PESOS. I’ve seen pickpockets get caught, people so tired from work they sleep past where they should get off, worried mothers call their children to check if they’ve eaten or they’ve done their homework from the seat of a bus.

Everyday thousands of honest people try to earn a living, hurriedly rushing to and from their jobs smelling straight from the shower in the morning and coming home bone weary and tired at the end of the day. In the meantime, not more than, say, two blocks from anywhere we are, there are more and more homeless people living under bridges, over cardboard boxes, or lying on the sidewalk itself, having to make do with the stink of canal water rushing out of villages and the various garbage littering where they are – almost as if they were the human versions of it.

These are the people we try and avoid looking at. These are the parents of the street children we see begging on the streets, knocking on our car doors, sniffing drugs, getting pregnant early and producing even more of them. I’ve seen, in a rainstorm, ten or so men raid an open flatbed truck waiting by the stoplight at the Junction Cainta, relieving it of its contents as it inched slowly across traffic, the public too scared, shocked, or both, ultimately taking too long to warn the driver, who probably could not do anything anyway.

Once several months ago I was waiting for a cab at Ortigas with a load of groceries on both arms around 8pm, when a man approached me and asked where C5 was. I was suspicious, wondering if I was dealing with a prankster, or worse, I was about to get held up. Meanwhile, a well meaning taxi driver actually even alighted from his taxi to see what we were talking about – the man looked that suspicious. I told him my best guess on which jeep to ride, pointing in one direction. He then said, no no, where is the nearest way for him to walk. At this point the taxi driver was beside me and started to laugh at the man, probably thinking as I was, that this was some attempt to screw us over for some money. But then the man said, that he wanted to get to C5 because he heard that when he gets to the toll gate to the South Superhighway, he can hitch a ride with a truck so he can get home to Laguna, and I had to put my hand on the stranger taxi driver to get him to stop.

I was incredulous. “Maglalakad ka hanggang South Super Highway?”, and he said yes, that’s where he heard trucks would be available for him to hitch a ride to Laguna, his hometown. He then added he’s walked even further just before that, coming all the way from Bulacan. The taxi driver and I looked at each other. He was still unconvinced and smiling, thinking it was all a joke, but it was dawning on me. This man was serious. He looked like any other man wearing denim shorts, a t shirt and a small bag, probably his belongings. But there was no reason for me not to believe in his story. Sure as he was standing right there, I had no reason to believe he had no money. I have in my own time managed to look somewhat presentable even if I only had P100.00 in my pocket. Frequently, my appearance had no bearing on how much my wallet contained. This man may not necessarily look destitute, he doesn’t look sick nor stupid. But it’s certainly possible he had no money, and was therefore forced to walk all the way to South Super Highway so he can hitch a ride to Laguna.

But then I was still hesitant, even if a little bit. I then gave him my best guess instructions, pointing the way instead of naming streets, as these did not seem to mean anything to him anyway, and would rather go with pointing general directions. Maybe he did not know how to read too? At this point I’m almost sure that was the case.

After a little more discussion, he turned towards the direction I pointed and walked away. I couldn’t resist. He was walking fast, just as fast as I assumed someone who had walked all the way from Bulacan to Ortigas would I presume, and I called back to him, handing him P20.00, the smallest bill I could find in my pocket other than P500.00. He was shy, but before he said anything I put it in his hand. At this point I was still wondering whether he’d stick an ice pick into my gut, but he instead thanked me, said something again about these hitchhiker friendly trucks at the South Super Highway, then turned around and walked away.

My saviour cab driver had already left before that point, and I was left standing on the sidewalk alone, alternately waiting for another cab to pass by, and looking at the man walk further and further away, just another wisp of a person, the type who disappears on the streets of Manila. And in a few hours later, just another man walking across the vast length of Julia Vargas, and much later after that, just another whisper of a person walking quickly across C5, and by tomorrow, I assumed, he’d maybe get to the South Super Highway with those awaiting friendly trucks.

For many nights after that I could not get the image of that man out of my head. The night I went home I kept looking at my watch wondering perhaps, where he was on his journey at that time. By now it was apparent it was not a prank. But again, it could just have been some crazy person. But then, what is it that could make me believe that it wasn’t all true? In fact, what would keep me from believing that this doesn’t happen everyday?? That there are hundreds of people like him around us, probably illiterate and desperately poor who need to get somewhere and whose only resort is to walk. I’ve seen people steal. People risk their lives over seven pesos. People live in the sewers for lack of anywhere else to. What would make me believe there weren’t a thousand other people resorting to walk from Bulacan to Laguna for lack of any other option? And what about those who have to do the same but have families? What about the old people? It’s hard enough for an old person to have to elbow their way in public transportation, let alone having to walk that kind of distance.

So these people on the television and radio imploring for our votes. Do they represent these people? Are they even aware? I’m not even talking about people affected by natural disasters. I’m talking about people not two blocks away from us, who live by the day and who are so uneducated and underprivileged that they only know how to make babies, further burying themselves deeper into this desperate, unyielding, suffocating life of poverty.

And now Jonas Burgos is missing.

People like Jonas, his father and their ilk are the people who make a difference in real people’s lives. People like them are the ones that know. They know of this poverty. They know of these ails. I have lived in this country all my life and I admit I am just learning of these things.

What I can say for sure is that things are getting worse. I could remember a time when life was even just a little better, when there weren’t as many poor people on the streets. When there weren’t as many hungry kids knocking on restaurant windows as you eat your lunch. When the only things that lived under bridges were rats. When at least the random man you meet on the street could read.

And now people who want to make a difference like Jonas are disappearing without a trace. And the lives of journalists continue to be at peril, under the mercy of whomever politician they cross. And I’m surprised Gonzales hasn’t made some off the cuff, insensitive remark about Jonas’ disappearance.

And as I look around the Internet as I know it, I have to wonder. Do these people know? Or do they even care?

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