Philippines -- My luck has run out. For the first time in my university
life, I have flunked a subject. Fluid Mechanics should have been a
cinch, given the other tougher subjects I was able to pass during my
five years in the university. But taking the subject lightly proved too
costly for me. Not only did it blemish my transcript, it was also a
blow to my ego since most students get grades of 1 in the subject with
Enrolling in the summer class was the obvious remedy. However, I
already had given my word that I would volunteer in a social outreach
program in Davao during the summer vacation. I just hoped I made the
right choice to honor my commitment.
It was the first time I stayed in a far-flung “barangay”
[neighborhood district] of Davao City. The place is a typical barrio
where farm animals roam freely and houses are built far apart. I was
with a group of three teachers and 13 college students who stayed there
for two weeks. Our task involved conducting academic tutorials, holding
leadership seminars for the youth, assisting a medical mission,
organizing a sports fest and laying a 650-meter-long pipe from the
water source to the barangay hall.
We thought that our main objective of laying pipes would be “as easy
as laying eggs,” as one student volunteer had joked. But we city
dwellers were dead wrong. Digging proved to be an arduous task
especially since most of us were doing it for the first time and many
of us didn’t even know how to handle a spade. The scorching summer heat
aggravated the situation. It was so hot that a mere ice candy tasted as
delicious as a Roman gelato.
In digging the soil, we came to know not only the nature of manual
work but also the difficulty encountered by people who construct roads
or lay down water pipes or wait on us while we eat or those who try to
keep our streets clean, etc. Doing their kind of work, I learned to
appreciate them more. It made me resolve to be patient when I can’t
have my way with them. It made me realize that they are not supermen
who can do anything we want them to do.
We got to know the members of the families we were helping. One was
Mang Edwin who has three children with his wife of 12 years. They live
in a house that is just big enough for an SUV to fit in.
Their apparent poverty didn’t keep them from sharing their joy when
we visited them. From their hospitality and engaging stories, we got
the impression that they feel more fulfilled than other well-off
families who live empty, materialistic lives. Their only wish is that
their children will be able to finish their education and grow up as
Idealism rushed through my veins while I was conversing with Mang
Edwin and his family. I wished I could do more than lay pipes for their
barangay. I felt helpless. I could do little more than cheer them up
for a few minutes of the day. But my encounter with them made me more
grateful for the things I have and inspired me to think of ways I could
After reflecting on the situation, I realized that there was
something I could do to help alleviate their condition: I could do it
by voting prudently. In our society where most politicians become lords
instead of public servants once they get elected, the poor are the most
powerless. Their requests usually fall on deaf ears. It is therefore
every citizen’s responsibility to elect someone who will take up the
causes of the poor.
In one conference that I attended, a former governor revealed that
he had once been offered at least a million pesos every month simply
because of his position. The proposition was very tempting but he said
he never accepted the offer.
I can’t imagine too many of our government officials rejecting
similar offers. No wonder, many of them think every government post is
worth dying for despite the meager salary it brings.
There is only one characteristic that I look for in a candidate for
public office: his willingness to sacrifice. Latin honors, professional
competence and immense popularity are of no use in public service if an
official will pursue his own personal interests. I would rather have
someone who is willing to make enemies rather than make compromises
that do not promote the public interest. The candidates who are worthy
of support are those who have the fortitude to pursue the common good
even if it means inconvenience, struggle or even sacrifices on their
part and who work for the public interest and not their personal glory.
We volunteered to help Mang Edwin’s barangay but in the end we were
the ones who benefited most. Not only were we offered after a hard
day’s work the best coconut I have ever tasted, but our stay with the
rural folks also taught us things we could have not learned inside a
classroom or through mere observation alone. The experience changed my
perspective on life and the way we choose our leaders. I used to think
that my one vote would be too insignificant to have an effect on the
outcome of the election and that it didn’t matter who won since their
action or lack of it would not affect my life. But now, I consider my
one vote precious for it could help provide a glimmer of hope to people
like Mang Edwin.
I believe I made the right choice in volunteering for community work
in Mang Edwin’s barangay. And I hope every voter will choose his
candidates like I do in every election.
Mark Anthony S. Goroy, 22, is a fifth-year Bachelor of
Science Industrial Engineering student at the University of the
Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
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