Istambay sa Mindanao

Personal blog of MindaNews' Walter I. Balane. Visit www.mindanews.com for more news, views and information on Mindanao.

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Location: Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines

I'm Walter Balane. I am a journalist based in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Philippines. I initiated the group called Atong Press (www.atongpress.ning.com) for press freedom and responsibility and media education in Bukidnon.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Features: Video cinco: A Poor man's R&R


Video cinco: Poor man's R&R
Originally uploaded by waltzib.

Tonyo’s, (not Tony’s) is a ‘doble-cara’ establishment along McArthur Highway in Davao City. A poor man’s eatery by day, and a “refreshment” house by night --- still of the poor man’s domain. By “refreshment” means, where one can drink beer, sing songs at the “video cinco” and relax the R & R (rest and recreation) way.

It’s a simple and small place. The whole area is about 25 square meters. They have a small food display counter in front, behind it the tables and the cashier box, then the video cinco box at the rear near the kitchen and a common rest room for both men and women customers.

On daytime, drivers, janitors, storehelpers, barbers, vendors and office workers fill Tonyo’s for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

With a little more than P20, one could already have lunch in Tonyo’s. It could be an order of a P15 hot and spicy beef soup for a viand and a P5 per-serve rice.

At night, the place uses a little make over. With dim lights and the music of the video cinco, it turns into a 'masa' music bar. Ice-cold beer is served, even on a rainy June night, together with beermatch food or pulutan, such as chicharon bulak-lak or as simple as fried peanuts.

The place is also free of "guest relations officers" (GRO), which other euphemists liked to call as “companions” and not so friendly ogres call “angels”. The truth is they are victims too, but you can never run away from them if you agreed to a “pay per talk” offer.

Anyway, Tonyo’s is owned by a middle-class family from nearby Ulas district. The whole family tends to the establishment in turns through out the day. Customers there have to deal with the father scolding his son or nephew for breaking a bottle of beer from the fridge. Sometimes, the family’s toddlers break in to a conversation of customers with a question, “unsa diay na siya?” (What is that?).

In short, this is a family-type of music bar, where altogether, when there are no customers yet, they glue themselves to watching soap about Korean love affairs in their economy-size TV set.

The same is the scene when Gigi, Mike, Red and I dropped by for a bottle of beer that night. After a day’s work and a period of beer-fast, I thought I got to taste my favorite beer again; so we decided not to end the night yet and treat ourselves a few bottles and some relaxing chat.

I want to stay awake a little further because I was preparing for a sharing on Sunday in our Church over the weekend. It has been a long time since I faced an audience.
Anyway, we could have gone to Matina Town Square for the beer, but, among constraints, like budget we chose Tonyo’s.

There were only two tables occupied when we arrived. The other group, perhaps friends of Tonyo’s son was wrapping up.

Immediately, we savored our own share of the big bottle of beer we ordered. For all these years, beer always tasted good for me.

That night, I think I drank my best beer so far this year, in the company of some collegues in MindaNews. I really think beer would taste better if you drink it with good friends, in moderation and for a simple celebration.

A lonely young man sits in the other table. He was chosing entries from a songbook and placed some coins in a hole to operate the video cinco music box. He did not get a microphone. He sat himself near the screen and gulped his own tasty bottle of beer.

A few seconds later, the music video box played “Buloy”, a popular song by Parokya ni Edgar. I noticed his face appeared to have relaxed as he sat there listening to the music, watching the band perform (as if live, and exclusively for him) and enjoying his cold beer.

“Hoy hoy, Buloy
Naaalala mo pa ba
noong tayo'y nagsasama?

Hoy hoy, Buloy
Naaalala mo pa ba
ang iyong mga sinabi nung ako'y may problema?

Sabi mo, "lahat ng problema'y kayang lampasan,
basta't tayo'y nagsasama, at nag-iinuman!"

The band members in the video sang the first few lines of “Buloy”, on high volume in the sound box, amid the pouring rain outside.

The others began to pay attention to the song and the music video showing the band performing in a gig. The video is the type you can see over MTV on “Tunog Kanto” if I’m not mistaken. The “lonely table just for one” man, still glued to the video, also got our attention.

His name is JJ, a 19-year old trike (tricycle) driver in GSIS Heights subdivision. He said this is how he treats himself everytime he could earn extra money. JJ said apart from him being not so confident in singing with the music box, he also finds relaxation in watching the music videos of his favorite artists.

It is as if he has done this many times before, because he skillfully keyed in the numbers of around 10 songs in sequence at the video cinco box counter. His playlist included other songs from Parokya, Avril Lavigne’s rock power numbers and Linkin Park’s “In the end”, “Somewhere I belong” and “Numb.”

As the music video played “Numb” I took a closer look at JJ.

“i've
become so numb
i can't feel you there
become so tired
so much more aware
i'm becoming this
all i want to do
is be more like me
and be less like you”

JJ seemed to have chosen this song for a reason.

He wore a pair of old baggy shorts, soiled and torn in one part, and from his looks, its as if he just came from taking his last passenger to an uphill portion of the village. He looked tired, but he looked at home in the place.

I stole sometime to talk to him about his life, while I excused myself shortly from my friends. "Interview," I told them.

JJ said he is really very poor. He studied only up to Grade 2. He belongs to a family of six, attended by his mother alone, left by their father a few years back. He earned an average of P50 a day (net) for pedalling the trike he rents for P30 a day. His mother, who is job-less does some laundry from time to time for some busy residents in GSIS. He eats only two times a day and he helps his mother take care of his siblings.

His family earns an average of P3,500 a month. For a family of six, this is nothing. From a town in Agusan del Sur, JJ’s family has to pay rent for a shack in a slum across the GSIS village.

But JJ was quick to dispel pity on his situation. He said, his family copes with it because they were born poor anyway. “Naanad na mi oi,” (We’ve got used to this) he quipped.

Drinking his bottle of beer and watching his favorite music videos play in Tonyo’s is one way of coping with poverty, he said.

“Whenever I earn extra money, I sneak myself out from our place and spend time here to breath,” he said.

Using the National Statistical Coordinating Board’s figure, you can be called “poor” in the Philippines if your family’s monthly income is below the poverty threshold mark of P5,464 (in 2004!)

According to the NSCB website, poverty estimates show that in 2000, 4.3 million families or 26.5 million Filipinos, more than one-third (34.0 percent) of the country’s population, were living below the poverty line.

For some, this would mean only as statistics changing in a numbers game. But this is reality in numbers! This means some people do not have anything to eat!

JJ’s family could be counted there. Indeed, this is a tiring and biting reality.

Especially that the government repeatedly banners that seven of the country’s 10 poorest provinces are in Mindanao! It makes me sick indeed! What's new with this statistics? Are they not going to do something? (Just thinking out loud.)

But anyway, in Tonyo’s little space for humanity, where me and my friends finished P80 worth of drinks for a night’s R&R and enjoyed positive externalities from someone else's music; I met JJ. Like him, I'm also poor, but I'm amazed at his assertion of his presence, life and daily victories. In his own simple and obscure way, he said he is happy.

JJ pays P3 for every music video he plays at music video box. In that way, its as if he hired the band to sing him a song for measly P3!

JJ stressed that this little happiness is enough to bridge his life's difficulties. He lives a day at a time. He said someday, he'll own his music-video box and he could sing with his family at home.

God really loves his people. In that instant I found his Power working.

“Even if I’m poor, I still have the right to be here,” he said.

Now, that’s the spirit.

(Photo taken in Upi, Maguindanao with a rural singer/cook during a field work.)

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