JUAN DE LA CRUZ
October 9, 1948
By Teodoro M. Locsin
ON October 1 the first census of the Republic of the Philippines started with more than 30,000 enumerators going from house to house, farm to farm, office to office, to provide the Philippines with what the President called bible of facts. The census will cover population, industries, agriculture, natural resources, livestock and whatever one would want to know about the country and its people. At the end of the census, after an expenditure of some P7,000,000, the public will know how many Filipino citizens are native-born and how many are naturalized; how many are male and how many female; the number of minors; how may are Catholics, Aglipayans, Protestants, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, and Presbyterians; how many Spanish, how many the National Language; the number of farmers, businessmen, government men, students, unemployed; how many were killed during the occupation and how they died; the number of those who use modern home devices and those who live as their grandfathers used to live.
Who, of course, does not exist.
There is no average Filipino working in an average job, living in an average house, having an average family (one wife, five and a half children?), eating an average meal, leading an average life. The average Filipino is a product of the statistical mind and in his veins run figures, not blood. He gets old slowly, his average age gradually rising as living conditions improve. War, hunger, epidemic may suddenly make him very young or very old, depending on whom the disaster takes. The average man is not to be seen on land or sea.
Prize of Battle
This is our own private census, and it covers only one man and his family, one room, which is his home. He is not the average Filipino. He is living flesh and blood, facing, as they come up, the problems of life and death, with whatever means are actually at hand. He is of no importance, except in the sense that every man is of supreme importance—to himself. He is not rich, nor is he at the bottom of the economic scale, that is, unemployed. He is usually hardpressed, but he manages to have almost enough to eat for his family and himself. He has a roof over his head, clothes on his back, and a cot. He has been to school, he can read and write. There must be millions like him in the Philippines, hundreds of millions in Asia and the rest of the world. It is for his allegiance that the current battle of ideologies is being fought. He is the prize of the Battle of the World.
His name is Severino Burgos. He was born 29 years ago in Candelaria, Quezon. His father was a teacher by the name of Elias Burgos; his mother’s name was Isabel Hernandez. The family moved to Tanauan, Batangas, when his father lost his teaching job in Candelaria. In Tanauan the old Burgos taught Tagalog and came to own a house with galvanize iron roof and walls not of nipa board. There were seven children—four boys (Severino counted on his fingers) and three girls. All went to school, but one reached only up to the fourth grade, another up to third. Severino himself says he had gone up as high as second year.
The color of Severino’s skin is dark mahogany, his cheek-bones are high, his eyes narrow and slanted. His national hero, Rizal, had Spanish blood and Chinese, but Severino would seem to be pure Indonesian in racial stock, or Malay. Of his ancestors early histories say that they were highly literate; they mined for gold, wove cotton and silk, wrought in metal, farmed, kept livestock, built ships, traded with the East and waged wars; nowhere do the histories mention poverty and savagery. Then the Spaniards came, and with forced labor, oppressive taxes and other cruelties killed a third of the population in sixty years and drove the survivors to indolence and want. For when the Spaniard took everything, only a fool would work. Thus Christianity came to the Philippines.
A Good One
Severino is a Catholic, like most Filipinos, but like many he does not go to church. He takes Sunday literally as a day of rest, unless he can find extra work and thus make extra money. He is carpenter. On Sunday neighbor may ask him to repair a gate or make a table, and that means he would be able to pay the doctor’s bill, sometimes as high as P20, for his sickly wife. His wife has beri-beri—signature of malnourishment.
Manila is a city of unemployment and opportunities. Severino might have been anything. he might have been a bum, standing at street corners, whistling at the pretty girls that pass by, living somehow, on someone. He might have been a driver of a jeepney or a bus. He might have been a waiter, a salesman or a cop. He might have been a pickpocket or a hold-up man. But such robberies as he would commit would be small ones, for he has no connections and sooner or later he would be caught. He might have been anything—lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, a businessman. They will tell you in this wonderful and terrible city that once upon a time there was a newsboy and today he is a merchant prince. Severino is a carpenter, a good and honest one.
He left the provinces when he was twenty to look for work in Manila. He found a job at the National Food Products Corporation at P35 a month. An easy job: messenger-clerk. He was holding that job when the Japanese came.
He fled to his province, returned to the city after three weeks, worked in the NFPC as watchman. And married Francisca Bernaldo, the same age as he was. She made rice-cakes which she sold at the foot of Sta. Mesa Bridge. They had a child—a boy.
Life in the city becoming impossible on his salary, Severino took his family with him back to the provinces. He bought and sold coconut oil and rice and thus had something to eat until the Americans came. He was not a guerrilla, nor were most Filipinos guerrillas, although some guerilla rosters would have you believe that everybody was in the Resistance, man, woman and child, living and dead. He worked, he suffered, he waited and lived.
Then the Americans came. From Tanauan he moved to Cabuyao, Laguna, then to Canlubang, looking for work. The Americans offered him a job, that of carpenter. Severino learned to be one. He is still a carpenter and he probably will die one.
Room and Board
Today Severino owns P50 worth of carpenter tools. He works for P6 a day, six days a week, at Camp Murphy, setting up pre-fabricated huts, making tables, chairs, office equipments. He makes an average of P156 a month, which is more than what many teachers make, less than a small government crook. Of this sum he is able to save, by living the way he does, as much as P10, unless his wife gets sick. Then he goes into debt.
He and his family live in a room six meters by five on the ground floor of a house for rent. He shares that floor with four other families occupying more or less the same space he does. For the room in which the water is one inch deep when there is heavy and continuous rain, Severino pays P30 a month. There is one toilet, one bathroom, one kitchen in which the water may rise as high on rainy days as Severino’s knees.
For breakfast Severino has tea with milk and sugar and two pan de sals. He takes his lunch with him to work: rice, one salted egg, a tomato. A weapons-carrier picks him up in the morning and brings him back in the afternoon. For supper he and his family have rice with fish or gulay of either mongo or upo. Sometimes they have meat. When rice was very difficult to get, they ate what rice they could get mixed with malagkit. His food bill a day is P2.50, a total of P75 a month. Sometimes he buys his second child, a girl, a bottle of soft drink. (The first one, the boy, as with many Filipino families, lives with the grandmother who probably spoils him.) His wife is sickly, as I have said. Severino does not know anything about calories and the minimum human requirement of the stuff, but he knows that his wife has beri-beri from malnourishment.
He smokes a pack of Piedmonts a day, and his wife smokes cigarettes locally made. They go to the movies twice a month at a nearby second-run theater.
“Do you go to the Boulevard on Sunday for a breath of fresh air, Severino?”
“No. We have not budgeted for that.”
He owns three pairs of khaki and one pair of white trousers, two khaki shirts and three of another kind.
Oh, yes, he reads the Manila Times and the Manila Chronicle at his mother-in-law’s house. His sister-in-law is a teacher and must keep up with the news.
“Do you think there will be war, Severino?”
“I don’t know if there will be war. It is not for me to say whether there will be one… They might call me a Communist.”
“What do you think of Communism?”
“What is your idea of Communism?”
“Everybody works for the government, is that right? Everybody has work. I don’t know.”
“Do you like Communism?”
“I am against it. I am for democracy.”
“Why are you for democracy, Severino?”
“Because do we owe America, Severino?”
“America gave us education and the movies.”
“What kind of movies do you like, Filipino or American movies?”
“I like American movies, Filipino movies are all the same. Always about a rich boy and a poor girl or a poor boy and a rich girl. All nonsense.”
“What else do you like about democracy, Severino?”
“Democracy means freedom of speech, government of the people…”
“For whom did you vote during the last elections?”
“I… I forgot to vote.”
“What else have you got against Communism?”
“I want to be able to work where I like.”
“Have you ever thought of working for a private firm?”
“I would like to. Private firms pay well. But when you go to ‘Puyat’ there is always a ‘No Vacancy’ sign outside. And besides a government job is a steady one. There is no security outside. It is better to work for the government.”
“Why don’t you go on your own, Severino?”
“That needs capital.”
“Suppose you lose your present job?”
“The government will somehow find a job for me.”
This year Severino’s wife had a third child, a boy, who died after a day and a half. The crypt at the cemetery cost P35. The funeral services including a wooden coffin and car service amounted to P50. The sum of P40 was spent for the food of the mourners and transportation to the cemetery. It cost P125 in all to bury in a fitting manner Severino’s child. The money came from Severino’s co-workers, from relatives, from his own pocket.
Severino is patient, hard-working, and does not complain. Nonetheless, life is difficult. He is not clever, he has no influential friends, he is not one of those “smart operators” who make a fortune in a deal—never mind what kind of deal. He works with his hands, he adds, no matter how insignificantly, something to the country’s wealth, he gives for what he consumes. He is the salt of the Philippine earth. Let us call him Juan de la Cruz.