Fri. Sep 17th, 2021

These past days have been ones for reading up on the Covid-19 pandemic. Though I have made quite a number of articles on the subject matter already, I don’t think I have gone deep enough into unraveling the real issues in the controversy. 

I was into this undertaking when my wedding godchild, Florina, intruded into my writing, bringing an emergency.

“It has been more than a week since President Duterte authorized the release of the calamity fund but until now nothing has been received by residents of our sitio (sub-village),” she said. “People are getting hungry. Please help, Ninong.”

Florina was the leader of the Samonte Angels, the group of young women at the frontline of my campaign for the mayorship of Antipolo back in 1995. It was a foolish undertaking, I knew. My running was a last-ditch effort to gain for the masses what I already conceded as lost by the Sisonite muddle-headed protracted people’s war. I didn’t spend more than a couple of grand, relying mainly on volunteerism by my campaign staff. Florina exemplified this spirit to the hilt. But it was a futile fight from the start. The result of the electoral struggle crystallized to me the lesson that in the Philippines, no candidate runs in an election on good intention and win.

Anyway, Florina evidently hasn’t lost that spirit of serving the people I at least ingrained in my volunteers in that electoral fight. Now that we are into this fierce fight against the coronavirus, she is in the thick of private efforts to address the plight of the isang-kahig-isang-tuka (one scratch, one pick — as by a chick for its food) among her sitio’s residents.

“I was able to get some help from kagawad (councilwoman) Edna out of the barangay (village) resources, but it was too little,” Florina said.

“How much?” I asked.

“Just five packs of NFA (National Food Authority) rice,” she said. “They said that’s about what’s coming for our small sitio.”

Five packs for a community of some 700 families! My gosh.

“Please, Ninong.”

I, too, am a beggar, I said.

But Florina reminded me of that relief giving I did to my hometown in San Andres, Catanduanes, back in December when Typhoon “Tisoy” struck the poor town. Goods distributed on that occasion were courtesy of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII). I happened to be in San Andres during the typhoon and the folks had similarly requested help. I called Wilson Lee Flores, who relayed the request to FFCCCII President Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong, who directed FFCCCII Director for the Bicol Region Tony Tan, who promptly had 500 packages of gifts for distribution to the town’s typhoon victims, enabling them to have Noche Buena (Midnight Feast) after all on Christmas Eve.

Amazing how the FFCCCII moves with dispatch in responding to emergencies — and with tight-knit discipline, too.

It was that very protocol that took place in the case of Upper Lucban, Antipolo. Upon Florina’s request, I telephoned, as usual, Wilson, who, as usual, relayed the request to Dr. Lim, who this time around gave the final instruction to FFCCCII Vice President for External Affairs Nelson Guevarra for delivery of 20 sacks of rice.

A problem cropped up. The FFCCCII had no vehicle for the delivery. Nobody among the poor recipients of relief had the facility to pick up the rice from the federation offices in Binondo, Manila. We had until 4 p.m. to pick up the goods. I surmised, if we tried to look for the vehicle ourselves we would end up not making it to the appointed time.

I suddenly remembered I had a friend.

I dialed on my cellphone and spoke, “Hello, General.”
“Oh, yes, Sir. How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you. I have some problem here.”
“Yes, Sir?”

“I got a donation of 20 sacks of rice from the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. But I have to pick them up from Binondo. I don’t have the vehicle to do it.”

“You need a truck?”

“Yes, is it possible?”

“Text me the details, Sir.”

I did as instructed. And the next thing I got was a call from a certain colonel (sorry I missed his name) of the 80th Infantry Brigade (80th IB) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), telling me that he was under instruction to pick up rice from Binondo and deliver it to my place in Antipolo (already properly identified in earlier text messages).

Following that was a call from Lt. Abao of the 80th IB, informing me, upon instruction by Lt. Ferrer, that he and his team were on their way to Binondo to pick up the rice and that he would be informing me once they were near my place.

Minutes before 5 p.m., two small-sized trucks (pardon my military ignorance) parked at my place along Sumulong Highway, bringing pure good tidings.

I texted Mentong Laurel to convey to him my elation: “Got 20 sacks of rice for indigents in my neighborhood. Problem is how to pick up? Got a team from 80IB AFP to do the job promptly. Boy, what power!”

The afternoon of the following day would be the big affair. The rice was repacked in plastic bags, 2 kilos each for distribution to the residents of Upper Lucban.

I instructed Florina to place the rice so packed on a table from where the recipients (earlier identified by the level of their livelihood) could get their shares without crowding. The recipients had their hands sanitized with alcohol before approaching the table.

The folks took the initiative of preparing a modest sign acknowledging the generosity of the FFCCCII. This served as backdrop for the event.

I had texted the general as soon as the delivery of rice was done by his men: “Your men were prompt in picking up and delivering to me the rice. Thanks much.”

He replied: “Welcome, Sir. Hindi pwede magutom mga kapatid natin diyan mahihirap (We can’t let our poor brothers go hungry). We donated one day subsistence allowance from all soldiers inside SolCom (Southern Luzon Command) compound for the informal settlers of Cotta, Lucena (home along da riles).”

That’s Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., commander of AFP’s SoLCom — the guy who, though sworn to end the Jose Maria Sison insurgency in Southern Luzon, perseveres in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict objective of winning the hearts and minds of the rebel rank-and-file in joining hands with the military in responding to the Covid-19 crisis.

In that respect, coronavirus isn’t so bad after all. It just touches the heart, people achieving solidarity, keeping faith in the goodness of man in the face of the most trying circumstances. (ia/SovereignPH.com)

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