16 January 2008

In search of a black Ford Expedition

Last week, Toni shared this story in the Blogkadahan mailing list. I was touched by the turn of events in the life of Mang Jaime, a taxi driver plying the streets of Manila. Read on, perhaps you can help too.

Here is the unedited article composed by PJ:


Hi friends,

Before I forget--happy New Year!
It's very seldom that I do this--send a mass email to practically everyone in my address book, the egroups I'm part of, etc. I just need to tell this story, and I hope you find the time to read it through until the end. It made such an impact on me that I was compelled to write it down, to do something--even if that something is just to forward this story to everyone I know. It was the only way I could think of to do anything remotely constructive to respond to Mang Jaime's story.
Thanks for your time, and your friendship.

PJ


7 January 2008
Just 20 minutes ago, I struck a conversation with the taxi driver whose unit I had flagged down at Gateway in Cubao. I was wondering why he wasn't too familiar with the roads of Metro Manila, and he kindly explained that he had only been in Metro Manila for a few months. He was from Davao City, he said—and I immediately jumped at the chance to practice my very rusty Bisaya.

Maybe it was the familiar language that spurred Manong Jaime to tell me his story. Maybe it was the mother tongue that so reminded him of home that made him comfortable enough to narrate the events of two months ago that, as he put it, made his Christmas the saddest he had ever experienced.

I thought it was just homesickness. From what he had said before that, I had learned that he had no relatives, no family in Manila—he left wife and children back home in Davao. At 71 years old, he heard the stories from taxi drivers fresh from their stints in Manila, claiming that they earned far better than what they made as taxi drivers back in Davao City. So he decided to give up his stable—albeit not very high-paying—job as a taxi driver in Davao and go to Manila, earn more for his family.
At the end of his story, Manong Jaime tells me in a mix of Tagalog and Bisaya—almost flippantly—"sana hindi ako naniwala sa mga hambog na iyon." Why? Not just because the reality of being a taxi driver in Metro Manila was a far cry from the stories those men had regaled their neighbors with. Not just because he struggled to even just meet the "boundary" charged by the company for his aging unit. Let me tell you why.
Last November 15, 2007, at around three a.m., Manong Jaime was in the Roxas Blvd. area, looking for his next fare. He was at an intersection. The light turned green, and he was easing his taxi unit across the intersection when a very fast SUV crashed into the side of his taxi. He later learned from witnesses—and there were many, as there was a police outpost at the intersection—that the taxi spun and hit a pole. The police rushed to get him to the hospital, while a concerned bystander with a motorbike tried to chase after the speeding black Ford Expedition. It was to no avail, though—the SUV was going too fast for the motorbike to catch up with it, and no one was able to even get a glimpse of the plate number. It was, simply, a hit and run.

Manong Jaime, in the meantime, was confined in the hospital from November 15 to December 5, slipping in and out of consciousness. When he was discharged, he had to pay a bill that totaled roughly PhP30,000, including all his medicines. He was able to obtain some support from DSWD that covered more than half his bill, and his employer gave him Php3,000. The rest, he had to scrape together by borrowing from the other taxi drivers that he worked with. No family member, not even his wife, could visit him during his hospital stay. He says that the policemen who helped him were frustrated and apologetic, telling him that "Tay, kung nakuha lang naming yung plate number nung Expedition, kami mismo pupuntang LTO para hahanapin yung nakabangga sa iyo. Kami mismo yung haharap sa kanya."

Now, even though his left foot is still swollen, he forces himself to drive. "Para lang naa ko makaon ug makapalit ko ug tambal," he says. Just so that I can eat and buy the medicines I need. "Mingaw na ko," he tells me. He is sad. He misses his wife and children. He wishes he had never come to Metro Manila.
Why am I writing this? Why am I telling his story? To some, it may not be any more different from any other sob story of a probinsyano discovering the sad truth about life in Manila.

But if it was "just another sob story," why do I feel so angry? Why do I feel like I want to get out of the house right now and hunt down every black Expedition in Metro Manila, until I find whoever it was who caused the hit and run accident? Why do I feel so frustrated? Why do I feel like I need to be the agent of justice for this man whom I barely know?

I'll have to admit that one reason for my emotional reaction is a bit selfish—it has to do with what I do. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I head to one of the top universities in the Philippines to teach philosophy. One of the things that I hope they learn from me is how every action we make has an effect on other people, whether we know it or not. The other thing I hope they learn is to respect and value every person, every unique individual alive. I worry a lot about whether or not they see the point.

After Manong Jaime's story, I half fear for my students. Would they have done the same, leaving whatever damage they inflicted in their wake? Or would they have done the right thing, would they have taken responsibility for whatever effects their actions had caused? Would they have helped Manong Jaime—or whoever other person was injured in the accident?

The other reason for my indignation is a bit harder to articulate. What repeats over and over in my head is: "I can't believe things like this still happen. I can't believe this injustice will just go silently away. I can't believe one person can treat another person, a fellow human being like that!" I silently curse the anonymous driver of the black Expedition.

I'm a bit embarrassed by my thoughts. Mang Jaime is far more charitable than I. He seems to have put himself in the shoes of the person driving the Expedition. "Siguro natatakot siyang mahuli ng pulis," he speculates. "O baka nakainom." There seems to be no hint of anger in Mang Jaime's voice, as far as I can tell.
I have to do something, I realize. But all I could do at that moment was give a little extra on top of what it read on the meter. Not much, really. I get off the cab, and start crying as soon as I shut the gate behind me. What must I do? What can I do?

8 January 2008
I still don't know the answer to my question, nor can I find any adequate way to conclude what I've written.

A few minutes after arriving home last night, I called my boyfriend and told him Mang Jaime's story. He, too, was indignant. He hit upon an idea, though. "If you really want to help, why don't you? Magkano ang isang tiket sa barko pauwi ng Davao? Baka pwede kang makatulong na bayaran yung utang niya o yung kailangan niyang bilhing gamot? Kaya nating makagawa ng paraan." And, I agree—there is a way that I can help, render charity by assisting him financially. After all, I jotted down his full name, took note of the plate number of his unit, the taxi company he works for—it would not be too hard to track him down. Maybe I will take the advice.

But that still leaves me dissatisfied. Somewhere, out there, on the streets of Metro Manila, someone did not take responsibility for his or her actions and is not being held to account for it. Someone did an injustice to another human being, and pretended it did not happen.

Maybe, you're thinking: So, you want justice, then? How's that going to happen? And In a sense, you have the right of it—our formal justice system operates at a snail's pace, overloaded by immense case loads. Being a vigilante is certainly not an option at all. How can justice be done? I don't know either.

But I'm hoping that, by writing this, I at least did something. Please pass this on—do something, too. Who knows—one day, this might show up in the inbox of an anonymous driver of a black Expedition that was speeding in the Roxas Ave. area, in the wee hours of 15 November 2007.


***

I wrote the source of the e-mail asking how I can help. I wanted to send money to her to forward to Mang Jaime, and I asked for contact information. Even just a little cash might go a long way if pooled from everybody. Recently, she sent this message written by PJ:


Dear Jason, Ynganne, and all my friends (and their friends) who responded, forwarded, and were touched by Manong Jaime's story:

Thank you all for the amazing response and outpouring of support for Manong Jaime. Thank you for spreading his story to everyone you know. His story has reached so many people who want to come to his aid, and many of you have told me that you can help financially, as well as help him get back home, and even finding a new job in Davao. I never expected any of this! The story has even reached one of the councilors of Davao City (I don't know, who, just got the word through Kapi) who wants to help as well.

The next step for us now is to find Manong Jaime, full name Jaime Elisondo (or Elizondo). The cab that he drives has plate number PVM 718, owned and operated by Angel John Taxi (Valenzuela). Kapi called the LTFRB, however, we can only get the exact address of the taxi company, Angel John, if we go to the LTFRB main office in East Avenue, QC. I'm appealing to any of you to please text me at [PJ's number] if you can go within the next to days. We really need to do this ASAP, the sooner, the better, but my work schedule (and Kapi's work schedule) prevent us from going to LTFRB during office hours.

We really need to get in touch with Manong Jaime as soon as we can so that we can talk to him and ask him what he needs help the most with--and, knowing that, we'll have concrete goals and amounts to come up with.

Let's make sure Manong Jaime's story doesn't end here!

Thank you all again for your support! This experience has really transformed the way I see people, and the power of just a single person.

- PJ Mariano


PS. The struggle for justice is also something that I'd like to continue for Manong Jaime, so please continue to tell his story--it WILL happen that the anonymous driver will read that story and have to face up to his responsibility, one way or another.


***

Frankly, I don't have time myself to contact LTFRB for the information as well. If you are able to, do let me know your findings. I hope that this story will reach the driver of that black Ford Explorer
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