Posted by: nastypen | June 23, 2008

The Oldest Taxi Driver of Metro Manila

He wore something that was fashionable during the time when Ferdinand Marcos’ mistress scandalized the country saying that she had a lock of his pubic hair with her as proof of their dalliances. It was one of those 70s polo with such a rubbery glow with patterns too sad to be found hilarious. He told me he has been a cab driver for 57 years. 57. My father died when he was 57. I imagined the cab driver trolling the congested arteries of Manila as my father flatlined in a Hong Kong hospital. The feeling is as weird as his shirt.

He spoke with a Batangas accent. I told him that my mother was from that province and his old face became a fist of wrinkles smiling that he made the right decision of getting a passenger from his birthplace. Little did he know that I only found out what “Nakadungaw” meant when I was in my 20s. So much for Batangas’ control over the floridian Filipino language trickling into my DNA.

Waiting for the red light at the intersection of Paseo de Roxas and Makati Ave., he scoffed at the skyline. “This was just marsh, weeds, and ipil trees before!” He went on about how everything has changed. How escolta was THE place to be…but now it’s just a rubbish-lined derelict enough for people to forget easily how it was significant then. He pointed at the scrolling billboard at Insular Life and said, “This was one of the first buildings here.” He craned his neck and his wrinkles stretched. I could hear it strain. What was he looking for? Ghosts of marshlands? Was he craning his neck to see if people smiled as often as they used to?

He told me that he remembered listening to the radio about the death of President Ramon Magsaysay. He was at Luneta and he yelled at the news. I added there was just one survivor of that crash, the journalist Nestor Mata. The cab driver looked at me as if I stole a punchline from his joke. “How could you have known that? You weren’t alive then.” I retorted, trying not to sound bitchy, “We know Lapu-lapu and his men killed Magellan, but none of use were alive then.” I wanted to say that memory is not exclusive to the old. But he spoke about of a time that seemed fairytale-like.

“Manila was so clean then. You could see fish in the Pasig. There was no traffic! There were no drugs then! Nobody was held up!” I was silent with cynicism. He figured it out and said, “Maybe there were some cases of theft. But reports of that came in every other year.”

I looked outside the window and saw the rush of lights reminding me how time still moves despite being stuck in traffic. I don’t like it when they chime the “good old days.” It’s as if the future is for naught….like a place with engorged worms with fangs waiting for us to fall to be sucked dry. If we are “progressing” to be “worse” off than before, then that means utopia was a place and time when we were wearing animal skins and hitting women on their heads to be our mates. Sorry, I’d take the frustrating present and scary future any day and not romanticize the past.

Of course, the cab driver who said nobody is older than him has witnessed several massive changes in our society. He has seen Martial Law, the failure of Marcos, the rise of government-sanctioned excess, the revolt of a people, the failure of Aquino, the illusions of Ramos, the stupidity of Erap and now the venomous hilarity of Arroyo. He saw these as he waited for passengers who spoke to them of their complaints and to them he shared his memories.

He said he was a young boy when the Japanese were here. He was the source of cigarettes for the Japanese soldiers. I threw him a look of disbelief. Historically, Batangas was one of the most bloodied provinces during the Japanese Imperial Army’s invasion. The rest of the country has not witnessed the level of mindless violence of the Japanese and here you have the oldest taxi driver in Manila talking as if remembering friends.

He saw my shift of mood. He said, “Not all Japanese were bad. The first regiment of Japanese soldiers were kind to us. They were our friends. Then the later batch came and things got violent. It was the first regiment soldier who warned us that the houses will be burnt….WITH the people still in it. So, some of us managed to escape the carnage.”

I asked the oldest taxi driver about what he thought of the Makapili. These are people who wore bags over their heads with two holes for their eyes and point to the Japanese soldiers who were against them. The ones pointed almost always end up beheaded right then and there.

The taxi driver was quite insightful. He compared this to how Filipinos are in the states now. Some of the Filipinos without proper documentation hide in other Filipino’s houses. Some of these Filipinos who offered shelter then abuse their wards. They would just rattle the chains of “If you’re not going to cooperate, I will hand you offer to the authorities” and thus forcing these Filipinos to be in their beck and call. I have heard of Filipinos siphoning off money from their “wards” for protection from deportation. “That’s similar to the Makapili,” he said.

He mentioned of one noted Makapili in his town. It was this big guy who really scared the people and flaunted this by pointing to the Japanese people he did not like. That guy brought terror to the town. When the Americans came, he immediately switched sides and said that he was part of the guerrilla unit. That asshole even received pension from America for something he did not do while several veterans waste away in the cold neglect.

The taxi driver laughed, “he died of cancer. The cancer was on his nape. That was what he got for being Makapili.” But even before his death, that guy successfully ran for office and became Mayor. Lord knows if he has plundered government resources for his children to receive great education from such dirty roots.

I got off the cab and said to the driver, “Nakita mo, manong, may mga hayop tulad ng Mayor ninyong Makapili dati, may mga hayop ngayon, meron rin mga hayop bukas.” (You see, sir, there were animals like your Makapili mayor, there are animals today, there will be animals tomorrow.) I just don’t believe in this unhealthy glamorizing of the “good old days.” People have the capacity for evil and people have the capability to do good.

I hope the oldest taxi driver of Metro Manila realizes that.

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