Friday, July 11, 2008

One Barangay at a Time

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros
Barangay Wawa is a rich fishing village in the town of Nasugbu, Batangas. Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje, its patron saint, is famous for protecting fisherfolk and blessing them with plentiful catch.
My son and I left our village in the 1980s. My son went to school at the St. Francis de Sales Minor Seminary (high school equivalent) in Lipa City while I taught at De La Salle University in Manila. We always went back to visit, but we never really belonged any more.
After high school, my son went to San Beda College in Mendiola, Manila for his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy.
While completing my doctoral degree at the University of Santo Tomas, I applied for a housing loan and built a two-bedroom bungalow at Camella Fairfields in Bacoor, Cavite.
My son and I commuted from our new home to Manila every day. Every so often, we’d visit Barangay Wawa, but we never really belonged any more.
Time flew. Soon, the 21st century had begun and my son was already a family man. We renovated our modest bungalow to build additional rooms for his growing family. We asked carpenters and masons from our village to come and help us. Afterwards, we’d go and visit Barangay Wawa every so often, but we never really belonged any more.
Two weeks ago, my son and his family went to our village to help lay to rest a childhood friend of his. While walking with the funeral cortege from the village to the cemetery to help bury his friend, he realized that he’d left a piece of himself in Barangay Wawa. It is the home of his childhood and he has never stopped belonging.

He cried silently, grieved by the untimely death of his childhood friend. But he wept in his heart, grieved by the decay of the home of his innocence.
Whenever we’d visit in the past, we’d stay in my mother’s or brother’s place, have a picnic, then leave. We’d say hello to neighbors in the morning, then we’d say goodbye in the afternoon. Spending time at the wake of his friend, my son had a chance to listen to the stories of his other childhood friends. He had time to observe them up close.

Most of them didn’t finish high school. They married in their teens so they already have teenage children. Their daily life is a struggle for economic survival. They don’t have steady jobs. They work as seasonal fishermen, carpenters, masons, plumbers, drivers, etc. Some of their wives work as fish vendors, laundrywomen, or room attendants in the exclusive beach resorts nearby.
The village has become too crowded, overrun by local migrants from other islands. Village wells have either dried up or have become too polluted. During my son’s childhood, we drew drinking water from the well in our backyard. In fact, everybody drew water from that well.
In fact, every household had a well somewhere near. My mother used to wonder in amazement how in heaven could the numerous wells give fresh potable water while the village sat beside the sea? God must be a real genius!

Unlike the wells, the sea has not dried up. But it has been abused by dynamite fishing and has become depleted of its once abundant supply of fishes of all species. Owners of fishing boats groan that they have to fish farther and farther into the open ocean.
Sometimes, they come back to the shore empty-handed. Sometimes, they come back to the shore with a comrade injured by a dynamite blast. Sometimes, they don’t come back at all, perishing in a typhoon or a dynamite accident.
Worst of all, the village has become a haven of drug runners and addicts!
It is a screaming irony that the original inhabitants of the village have become destitute and despondent while local migrants from other places now own exclusive beach resorts.
Being involved in CFC and Gawad Kalinga, my son and his wife have promised themselves that they will to go back to Barangay Wawa and focus on education for all – the children, the teen-agers, and the adults.
There is an elementary school in the village and there are several secondary schools in the town proper. But only a few students from our village finish high school, and hardly anyone seems able to go to college.
So the village is hostage to poverty and misery. Perhaps, some boys and girls do dream of a better life. But they don’t know how to make their dreams come true. Perhaps, their dreams die in their childhood.
This scenario is multiplied a thousand times all over the Philippines. As a third-world country, we used to compete with Malaysia and Thailand. But Malaysia and Thailand have overtaken us.
Lately, we have stopped competing with Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. They have also overtaken us. Now, we are competing with Myanmar for notoriety and corruption.
Many of us despair and give up. Many of us are ashamed to own a Philippine passport. Many of us hate having been born a Filipino.
The good news is that there are many more of us who refuse to give up. There are many more of us who carry themselves with dignity and show their Philippine passports with pride. There are many more of us whose childhood home is a village somewhere in the Philippines. And we never stop belonging to the home of our childhood.

Soon, I hope to join my son and his wife as they go back to our village, our town. We hope to show the children, the teenagers, and the adults that abundance is everywhere, that there is hope.
Perhaps, they can learn to dream again. Perhaps, this is the way to bring about social transformation in the Philippines. One barangay at a time…

(Originally published in FilamMegaScene, Chicago, Illinois, USA, June 20, 2008)

Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.


Freddie said...

I do belong to those who refuse to give up. I am proud of my heritage, I am proud to be a Filipino.

Reading your article brings me memories of my old town Capalonga. Thanks, I do belong to my town and I plan to renovate my ancestral home. fb

Dr. Carmelita C. Ballesteros said...


Mabuhay po kayo!

Please tell us about your old town Capalonga. Where is it? What fond memories does it hold for you and your family?

In addition to renovating old homes, let's also innovate our way of thinking, following, and leading. One barangay at a time might be too slow. Perhaps, we could have all barangays transforming at the same time? I'm a dreamer like Gandhi.