By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
I thought it would be just another day.
I took the MRT on my way to cover the interfaith rally calling for the abolition of the pork barrel. I sat down next to a woman who was seemingly too engrossed with her conversation with another woman, who, at first glance, appeared to be her friend.
The other woman made her son sit between them. They continued to talk, their voice low enough so only the three of them could hear it.
But it was the kid that took my attention.
He was wearing eyeglasses and a mask. In his hands, he held a big can, a makeshift coin bank. His photo was taped to a can, along with some details. The boy’s name is Robinson and it seems that he has leukemia.
It made me curious. I eavesdropped.
I know, i know. Eavesdropping is bad. I was taught not to do that since I was a kid. But it was just hard not to hear them — their voices were becoming more and more distinct. Maybe because I was already purposely trying to listen to their conversation? It was hard to tell. But one thing was clear: the two women were not friends. They did not know each other until that day.
Robinson’s mother was trying to remember the kind of the medicine her son is taking. She kept describing it but it was not helping in any way the woman next to me, who, on the other hand, appeared to be a nurse working in Saudi Arabia but is here in Manila for a short vacation.
The list of Robinson’s medicines, his mother said, was submitted to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. She is hoping they can get the medicines in time for his chemotherapy on Monday, Sept. 16. She said it in a very hopeful tone, like it was their only chance of securing the medicines.
The nurse then said that if only Robinson’s mother could remember his medicine, she would gladly send them. She tried to recall but to no avail. Had she known the two of them would meet, Robinson’s mother said she would have made a copy of her son’s medicine. She sounded very sad and regretful, though she never committed a single mistake.
Probably feeling so sorry that she could not help, the nurse dropped several coins to Robinson’s coin bank. It broke my heart.
If only public funds are placed where it should be spent, Robinson does not probably need to carry a coin bank everywhere he goes. If only the government is funding public health care instead of pocketing the people’s hard-earned taxes (Hello, pork barrel scam!), then Robinson’s mother would not need to feel guilty for not bringing a list of her son’s medicine.
The coins and the few bills that I and other passengers soon dropped at his coin bank was far too small for the kind of social service Robinson should get from the government. Our donation was far too small compared to the millions of missing pork barrel funds, which, I guess, is safely stored in the pockets of very few people.
I was tempted to ask Robinson’s mother if I could take a picture of them. I wanted a face for this blog. But I did not. I realized that Robinson is not alone. Somewhere out there, probably in the next train car, someone too is asking for financial assistance.
There is no need to take a photo of Robinson, his mother or the kind nurse sitting next to me. They bear the same faces, the same struggles being confronted by every Filipino, deprived of free and accessible social basic services.