Living in Shangri-La

Jerry, our favorite fruit vendor, was fuming mad when we ran into him taking a break at a roadside carinderia.

“Oh, hi, Jerry,” we greeted him, as we ordered our favorite breakfast of tuyo, fried rice and egg. “Why are you here and not in front of the public market?”

“It’s better being mobile than staying in one location. That way there’s less pressure from the cops’ henchmen,” Jerry told us in the vernacular.

“Cops? Henchmen?” We repeated as we can’t seem to make heads or tails of what he said.

“You see, boss,” Jerry started to explain while arranging the fruits on his pushcart, which include santol, dalanghita, bananas and avocado. “As everyone probably knows, selling your wares around the public market is not free. You could ask the vendors there. You have to cough up a certain amount to be able to continue selling.”

“Isn’t that standard practice in public markets? That you have to pay a fee for a stall,” we asked.

“I know that. But that’s for those with regular stalls. We, vendors, however, just have to play cat and mouse with the police to be able to sell without being overburdened by the sky-high lagay. Haven’t you heard of that in Divisoria?”

“And to whom do you pay that protection money,” we curiously asked Jerry.

“Ah that. Of course, to those burly henchmen sent by the cops to collect. It’s been a practice ever since the community precincts were established in crowded areas in the metropolis. “

“And what happens if you cannot come across?”

“Well, it’s either you move out or bear the brunt of the henchmen. You have no choice,” griped Jerry, his eyes glassy as if he has more sad stories to tell us. “Here we are trying to earn our daily keep and here come those vultures living off the fat of others,” he said.

On that note, we consoled Jerry by saying that he is not an isolated case. There are many of those vultures, even in government, we told him.

“Oh, yes, I know that. Our is just small time. But those in government, wow! It makes me sick, too. Imagine that sugar importation mess. Those officials must be raking it in! Talk about smugglers in government!” Jerry was now fuming.

“Corruption, smuggling. They’ve been with us since time immemorial,’ we told Jerry. “It’s really sickening. But it has been the system in our government for ages.”

“Before that,” Jerry continued,” we have those scandals in PhilHealth that also involved a lot of money and that infamous pork barrel scam perpetuated by those crocodiles in Congress. Nakakahiya!”

For someone, who may not have even reached college, Jerry certainly knows the issues besetting the nation. He is one who could only gnash his teeth at the corruption pervading our institutions.

To further probe the depth of his convictions, we asked Jerry if he would be tempted by the lure of quick money once he gets the opportunity. We told him it would be a way out of poverty and a chance to lift his wife and two children from their miserable condition.

“No way sir,” he quickly replied. “I would rather suffer the consequences of being poor than get rich quickly by foul means.”

“That’s nice to hear,” we said. “Not everybody would have the same conviction.”

“Besides, sir, doesn’t the Bible itself say, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’”

With that, we were startled. We just can’t imagine a lowly vendor speaking a lot of sense, a lot of conviction. If only there were more Filipinos like him.

Wouldn’t it be like living in a Shangri-La, a utopia?

E-mail: mannyangeles27

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