The most striking part of my day happened early Friday morning as I was waiting for the jeepney ride to school.

Four children with burnt skin and tattered clothing were seated at the bench in the waiting shed where I was standing.  Two adults who were seated beside the children scooted to the farthest sides of the bench, staying as far away from the children.

I stood with my back to them, looking out for my route. Then I heard one child say, “Te, lingkod te” (Miss, please take a seat). Their repeated invitations prompted me to kindly decline as the bench was fully occupied.

A little later I looked back and saw the kids running off to a car that was about to park. I kept looking at them, hoping I would catch their eyes so I can approach them. But they were too busy tapping at the car window. I checked the time and saw I was running 30 minutes late and I decided to take a ride instead.

The jeepney I rode in was roomy with a group of four male teens among the passengers. They too had burnt skin like the children I encountered. Although their clothes were not tattered, they weren’t new either. A couple of them wore a bandana around their heads and all wore mud-caked slippers. None of them carried a bag or anything other than what they were wearing. They weren’t carrying cellphones either, like most of the passengers were doing. It was a Friday. These teens were certainly not in school.

A while later, the driver asked them where would they disembark. One of the teens answered, “Sa unahan lang mi ‘tay” (Just a little farther, Sir). “Asa man ang bayad? Palihog bayad na daw sa uban wala pa diha (Where’s your fare? Please those who have to pay, pay up na), “the elderly driver requested.

The teens took out some coins and I peeked and saw it was enough fare for only one person. They passed it around until one of them pocketed the money. When the jeep stopped on a red light, they hurried out of the jeep. They never paid.

It’s striking how much change there can be in the years between childhood and adolescence. I can’t help but think, if they had the means to study in school, things would have been far more different. If there were enough financial aid and/or scholarship grants that are not exclusive to those with grades that are above average, things would have been so different. If there were activities such as sports for those who, for some reason, cannot go to school, things would have been so different. If there was support, things will no longer be the same.

While everywhere on social media, photos of the Estradas’ lavish lifestyle are surfacing. I cannot help but think, if everyone received a fair amount of or means to acquire money for a living, if the thousands of dollars spent on hotel suites and designer shoes were distributed fairly, those young boys would have been able to pay for their ride. Those children wouldn’t have to knock on cars. They would have been able to go to school.

Collecting is a distinctly human trait. We like to have things that we like to use. Cellphones, iPods, laptops, etc. Some collect books while some collect colored markers. Some collect shoes while some collect lipsticks. Some collect money while some apparently like to collect everything.

It calls to memory the words I once heard from a wise man who didn’t fake his wisdom with a degree. “If everyone had a piece of land, everyone can plant rice. Then no one will go hungry. If everyone had wood, everyone can build a house. Then no one will sleep on the streets. If no one claimed properties that are not theirs, no one would be poor.”

This was said by Datu Tungig Mansumuy-at, a Manobo. Mansumuy-at has been accused of being taught what to say in interviews, but this only served to make him question their logic. “Why can’t I think on my own? I have a mind and that is what I use. I have not gone to school, but in the month that we stayed here, I have spent many sleepless nights because I was thinking.” He is one of the Manobo evacuees from Talaingod.

Even the simplest man can be a great philosopher. Datu Mansumuy-at did not graduate with high honors, he did not earn a degree, nor did he study law. In fact, he has not gone to school at all. Yet he knows a lot about governance. This goes to show that even those who are voiceless have a mind.

Concerning politics, many of us Filipinos are often fooled by credentials, which is somehow understandable. But horrifyingly, many of us are fooled by wide smiles, dramatic speeches, and movies. Yes, movies.

In this day and age, it is often very hard to discern when we are bombarded with tactics and strategies from all sides. So this is a plea for all the Filipinos. Schooled doesn’t always mean educated. Movie characters are different from the actor. Ethnic doesn’t always mean ignorant.

If things were different, I wouldn’t be writing this instead of doing my homework.

If only.

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