ARE THEY CRAZY?
By CESAR TORRES
Who are they?
What are they doing?
This is the story
of a people in the
in the town of Villareal, in the island of Samar. A gateway to the
Christianization and Hispanization of the Philippines, Samar has
been classified by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)
as a “depressed area”, another term for “poor”.
no assistance from the provincial and the national governments, the
people of this fourth class town have been repairing and cementing
an almost impassable 8-kilometer public road since October 2004
through voluntary work, known in the Philippines as “bayanihan”.
This road connects the town to the Pan-Philippine Highway, which
traverses the entire Philippine Archipelago from
to the Southern tip of Mindanao.
So far, more than
one kilometer has been cemented. Voluntary labor is provided by the
townspeople. Even those coming from the island barrios or
barangays volunteer their labor. The municipal employees work on
the road on Saturdays. Some townspeople, who are not allowed to
volunteer to work on the road because it is not their turn yet, are
sometimes angry. They think they are being left out. They feel they
are not important, hence they feel they do not belong.
The enthusiasm is
unflagging. At the moment, there is a stockpile of cement. More
donations are pouring to the town. So far, about P500,000 – a little
less than $10,000 – has been contributed to this road-cementing
fund. They come from all over the world. The Internet has been an
effective medium of communicating with the Villahanons. Civic
leaders, some of whom were people who did not vote for the Mayor of
the town, keep the donated funds.
A check with
Atty. Oscar G. Yabes, Secretary of the Philippine Senate elicits the
information that it costs P10 million per kilometer to cement a
public road if done by the government. In contrast, the imputed cost
of this voluntary, bayanihan, road-cementing project is only
P1.8 million. A difference of P8.2 million!
road-cementing project of the people in Villareal, Samar is a whiff
of fresh air coming from the only colony of the US and the only
Christian country in Asia which President Bush has dubbed the
“second front” in the fight against the deadly struggle against
forced labor for the Filipinos and the Chinese to undertake public
construction during the Spanish Regime might have been an ugly
reality during those times. But since the occupation of the
by the Americans in 1901 when Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was captured in
Palanan, Isabela, up to this time, voluntary, enthusiastic,
sought-after, and publicly-accepted community labor to repair and
cement a public road has never been undertaken, except in Villareal,
Samar since October 2004. Perhaps, during the three-year occupation
by the Japanese of the Philippines, Filipinos might have been forced
to work on public construction. But this would have been the
exception, rather than the rule.
of what these poor Samarnons are doing are profound. First, they
have regained their pride and self-respect. They are not smiling
stupidly and sheepishly, holding out their hands to some
contemptible public functionary for dole outs where they can divide
the spoils while partying in some dingy nightclubs. They are in
effect telling their incompetent and corrupt political and
governmental officials that: “Go ahead, steal and plunder as much as
you can. Nothing lasts forever. There is always a reckoning
Secondly, if they
can repair and cement a public road, they can do other things for
the community: build schoolrooms, construct mini-irrigation dams,
clean their streets, construct public toilets, protect their
environment from destruction, and establish cooperative livelihood
projects with the help of their town mates from all over the world.
But the most
important lesson of this bayanihan, community, road building,
and cementing project is the goodwill, the trust, and the pride that
have been generated among the people of Villareal, Samar. They can
tell the world: “We may be poor, but we are not beggars. We trust
our leaders in our town. They are working together for the common
good. So we will support them.”
These are the
hallmarks of a democratic society, a people aware of their
responsibilities, their rights, and their dignity and willing to
sacrifice for them.
But as we are
extolling the novelty of a proud, self-reliant, dignified, and poor
group of people, in a Third World society, a dark pall is hovering
over this land. The Mayor of this town, Renato R. Latorre, has been
able to mobilize his town mates all over the world. But he is
popularly known to be associated with a pro-poor, pro-Filipino
group, Bayan Muna or “Country First”. I don’t think he has
the intellectual sophistication to argue with anyone on the various
“isms” that characterize the more articulate personalities
associated with this group. Highfalutin concepts and pompous ideas
of “historical determinism” and “laws of history” are beyond his
ken. It is enough that no one can question his passion to help his
people. And yet because of an emerging pattern where people who have
been very vocal in their criticisms of a weak and ineffective
governmental system to provide the basic needs of the 84 million
Filipinos, Mayor Latorre’s life can be snuffed any time now.
girl, helping in the repair and cementing of the public road
in Villareal, Samar. A prominent Villahanon in San
Francisco has pledged to help the future schooling of this
To say that it
would be a waste to kill Mayor Latorre or the father of the child
shown in the picture is an understatement. In the Philippines, the
killing of those who are aware of their responsibilities as leaders
of the people and are discharging them to the best of their
abilities while the corrupt, the plunderers, the exploiters, and the
criminals are free and are lionized by the powers-that-be who are in
uniform or in coat and tie or barong tagalog and using
weapons provided by American taxpayers has become an almost daily
Indeed, it is not
the people of Villareal, Samar or their Mayor or this young girl who
have become crazy. And you don’t need to have a Ph.D. from Berkeley
to arrive at your own conclusion.
[The author is a regular columnist of
“The Filipino Insider”, a monthly supplement of the “San
Francisco Chronicle”, one of the major newspapers in America
with a circulation of 500,000. This piece is for the April 2005
issue of the publication. He can be reached at