Friday, March 21, 2008

A little voice speaks out.

I have lived most of my life in the quaint little town of Pateros, in the old province of Rizal, before it became part of Metro Manila. Small as it may be, it is a town steeped in culture, tradition and history. It was an oasis of rustic provincial life right in the midst of a bustling urban metropolis. It has always been with a tinge of bitter-sweet nostalgia that I would reminisce the days when we can still frolic on its flowing river in Aguho, or go on picnics in the vast rice fields of Sta Ana, or be thrilled by the traveling carnival in Dulong-Bayan come fiesta time. I also remember the piousness of Holy Week processions, when we would leave our slippers with Aling Idad’s balut and peanut stand so that we can join the Good Friday procession on barefoot like all the rest. Summers would find us cruising along the roads of the town on our bikes, while Christmas was a good excuse for us to sing our lungs out as we go caroling from house to house.

It is amazing how much our little town has changed in a single generation. Recently, we made it to the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It would have been a source of pride, if not for the fact that the report was about the police raiding a house right in the center of town for being used as a drug and sex den. It must have been just another sensational headline for citizens that have become immune to such news, but it is in reality another ugly manifestation of the continuing decline and decay of our beloved Pateros. The river is gone, wasted by neglect and apathy of both government and people.

The once pristine and flowing river, site of many joyous fluvial processions of years past, has become a huge garbage dump. On our streets, discipline is now more of the exception than the norm. Both pedestrians and motorists do not follow basic road rules and courtesy. Street, narrow as they already are, are made into private parking spaces and public terminals for jeepneys and tricycles. Sidewalks are lined with rows after rows of illegal stalls. Where else can you see people walking on the streets and competing with precious space against vehicles because the vendors have taken over the sidewalks, even on the bridge itself? If you can drive through Pateros, you can drive anywhere else with ease.

Drug use, and all its attendant vices, is a silent menace that is slowly but surely eating up the very foundation of our society – our youth. That house on Rizal St in Barangay Poblacion may yet turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg. Through the years, how many of the people I know - neighbors, classmates, people I meet on the street, have turned into ghosts of their old selves because of drug abuse? One does not have to look very far to see that the illegal drug trade and use is a problem that is steadily getting out of hand.

Pateros is a proud and noble town. Small as we are, we refused to be subjugated by any of the big cities that surround us. We remain, and shall remain a free and independent municipality. Unfortunately, we seem to have given up on our town. Most old families have left. Those who chose to stay behind seem resigned to helplessly watch as our town continue its fatal descent into the dark abyss. We handed the reins of government to younger leaders in the hope that they will have the willpower and the vigor to implement positive changes. Almost a year after the elections of May 2007, all these remain to be promises.

The 17-year old girl caught in the middle of the drug den raid was just a symptom of the deeper cancer besetting our town – a festering wound that everyone can see but refuse to look at. Not only have we been left behind by all the other cities of Metro Manila, worse, we seemed resigned to our sorry fate. Our government leaders could not, and should not, be left alone to solve our problems. Leaders from the churches, civic organizations, business and industry, education and civil society need to come together and work towards a more lasting resolution to these problems. If our people see that their leaders are working hard to bring back Pateros to its feet, there is no reason for them not to put in their own effort. The people and their leaders must work hand in hand and get their acts together before it becomes too late.

We need true leaders who will lead us out of the dark night that has engulfed of beloved town in darkness for too long. We need leaders who will leave the comfort of their homes and offices, roll up their sleeves and dirty their hands in working to redeem the dignity of our beloved town. We need leaders who can stand up against our mighty neighbor cities in defense of our town’s resources and welfare. We need leaders who can bring back order and discipline in our streets, who can arrest the rapid decline in morality and inspire people to become responsible citizens. We need leaders who can unite families and communities to work towards a common vision. When we see this leadership emerge amidst the decay and chaos, there will be hope that we can still recover from all these and bring back the quaint little town that we all call our home. We need that leadership now more than ever. Are our LEADERS up to the challenge?

Mine is but a little voice of one who still hope that positive and significant change can be achieved in my lifetime, just as I have seen in my lifetime how this beloved town has deteriorated. In the vastness of cyberspace, this little voice will be heard, in the hope that people who love this town may find their own voices as well.

* Special thanks to Elmer Nocheseda for allowing me to use some of his wonderful photos of Pateros in this blog. The collage used in the Title box was made of photos from his collection.

1 comment: said...

Your site is so uplifting and inspiring. You write with a pure heart which is a rarity nowadays.

PS- Your site was sent to me by my aunt whose daughter Jen lost her husband a few months ago. Thank you for writing such a moving tribute.