December 30, 2012


I WAS on my way to the sports clinic at the Ateneo de Manila University for my regular physical therapy on my pinched shoulder (rotator cuff issue—yes, I know, it’s taking an extraordinarily long time to heal) and told the cab driver where to go and the route to take. 

He said, “Ah, Ateneo...eskwelang pang-mayaman ’yan ano ho?” I answered, “Opo, manong.” Then he went, “Ang panganay ko sa UP [University of the Philippines]. Kaso tumaas na ang tuition. P1,000 per unit na.” 

(I always find chatting with cabbies an enervating learning experience. They are an indicator of the pulse of the masses, and makes more privileged people like myself aware of the conditions and times the rest of population live in.) 

I asked him if his child was still studying in UP, and he said no. Manong said his son got “kicked out” after failing a few classes. “Kasi tight-guarding ang girlfriend. Lagi na lang nasa bahay namin, kwentuhan lang sila ng kwentuhan, imbes na mag-aral.” I was amused. Manong certainly wasn’t shy about his feelings about his son’s relationship. 

Manong said he agreed to fund his son’s college tuition again on condition that the latter wouldn’t goof off anymore. “Sabi ko sa kanya, last chance na ’to. ’Di lang naman s’ya ang dapat makatapos...paano pa ’yung iba niyang kapatid,” the cabbie stressed, adding that he has five other kids. 

The son agreed to his father’s condition, and after looking for other universities he could enroll in, he finally settled on Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Manong was pleased that his son and his girlfriend had separated. His son actually finished his degree, this time in computer programming. Aside from his present job in a computer firm, Manong’s son teaches computer programming to college kids. 

Other than his eldest, two other children of Manong’s were able to finish college, largely through the income he makes from driving his cab. One child is now an electrical engineer, and Manong’s eldest daughter works in a call center. (The older kids now help out their father in paying for bills and other expenses with their monthly family contributions.) 

What Manong has accomplished is no mean feat. It takes a lot of courage for people like him to just continue working diligently, and keep pushing his kids to succeed—be it at their studies or in their respective careers. (His wife, Manong said, doesn’t work outside the home. When I pressed him on this, he insisted, “Aba, marami pong gawain sa bahay!”

I was to find out later that his wife also keeps a tight watch on the younger children, and Manong again proudly told me his son in Grade 6 has just taken the exam for Philippine Science High School—often referred to as “Pisay”) and Quezon City Science High School. “Sinugal ko na po at nagbayad ng P5,000 para sa review classes n’ya. Nung tinanong ko naman at kinumusta ang exam n’ya, sabi ng anak ko nadalian naman siya.”  

I told Manong that Pisay is an excellent school—I have quite a few friends who graduated from there, and most of them are successful in their career. I told Manong if his son passes the Pisay exam, he should allow his son to go there. “Ay oo, ma’am,” he was quick to interject, “libre po lahat doon. At saka may stipend pa binibigay sa mga bata daw.” 

Manong was especially proud of his youngest, now in Grade 4, who he says is the perennial candidate representing Quezon City to Science Quiz Bee contests. “Ang tatalino ng mga anak ko...lalo na ’yung bunso,” Manong said, the pride in his voice, evident. 

As we had already arrived at my destination, I was no longer able to ask Manong about his other child. But it was quite evident that he put a lot of priority on his kids’ education. He wanted nothing more than for his children to go to college and graduate with a degree. 

It was an extremely exceptional cab ride that day. On most days, my cab rides are insufferable as my ears are tortured by loud uncouth radio commentators the cabbies listen to, or schwang-schwang Inglisera radio jocks who ask the most inane questions of their guests. For a change, I had a real conversation with an amazing courageous man. 

Manong Driver didn’t complain about the cards that life had dealt him. He just played them. No government dole-outs for him...he just drives his cab, brings his passengers to their destination and deals with them honestly. Most of all, his entire existence is driven by the desire to give a better life for his kids. He was inspiring. 

Most people think that courage is best exemplified by a soldier going off to war to fight the enemy. 

But really, it takes on so many forms and manifests itself in many areas of our lives. 

The wife finally walks away from her 20-year marriage to an abusive husband. 

An employee leaves his comfortable cushy job, to set up his own business. 

A woman asks a man 20 years younger than her out on a date. 

A devoted daughter leaves the family home to stake her independence.

Despite his cramping calf, a basketball player joins his team to defeat their opponent. 

The courage to say, “I love you,” or “I’ve had enough of the insults from this boss,” or “I’m giving up sweets forever because of my diabetes”—these may be tiny examples but they are courageous acts nonetheless.

With courage, anything is possible.

(My column, Something like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece on 'Courage' was published on Nov. 2, 2012.)

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