Remembering Sarah Jane Salazar (the first Filipina HIV-AIDS victim)

Remembering Sarah Jane Salazar

(the first Filipina HIV-AIDS victim)

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

During the time that Manila was gripped with the detection of HIV-AIDs among the sex workers, I was just reading about the news that were splashed on the pages of tabloids, until the name, Sarah Jane Salazar was mentioned as the first  victim. Her photos accompanied news and commentaries about the disease. She was very young and beautiful. Never did I expect that I would meet her….

 

Four times, as I would leave the gates of our subdivision as early as five in the morning for work, I would see an attractive young girl sitting in the waiting shed of the tricycle terminal. She was always puffing a cigarette and would courageously stare back at me as I made my way to the jeepney stop by the highway. On the fifth time, she returned my smile and that was the time that I finally recognized the face – she was Sarah Jane. As I already knew from write ups that she hailed from Cotabato, I spoke to her, but asked which Visayan dialect she knew, Hiligaynon or Cebuano. She said she knew both.

 

From then on, I would sit by her in the waiting shed for a few minutes every morning before making my way to the jeepney stop. She told me that she was boarding in the house of her “manager” not far from our subdivision, and, that she made it a habit to take a few minutes of rest in the waiting shed before finally taking a tricycle ride home. She was then working as a guest relations officer (GRO) and the manager she mentioned was her real manager in the joint. I did not know that she was referring to a woman I knew as her landlady. She was all praises for her landlady who showed her motherly love while the rest of her friends began to drift away when they learned about the sickness that she was carrying. In fact, she even had a close relationship with her landlady’s son who also pitied her.  The relationship, though, did not last long.

 

When I asked her about what I read in tabloids, she honestly admitted them without batting an eyelash and a tone of sadness. That was how I began to admire her toughness. She told me about the poverty that her family was suffering back home which forced her to work in beer joints even as an adolescent, adding that all she wanted was to help her family. Her frail frame barely stood at less than five feet. She had smooth brown skin and heart-shaped face with a ready smile, a beautiful face, though petite in physical structure.

 

After less than a month of friendly encounters, I no longer found her in her usual corner of the shed. I found out that she transferred to another boarding house somewhere in Pasay City. Later I came across interviews of Justo C. Justo, a Councilor of Pasay City who claimed that Sarah Jane was in his care and he was planning to sponsor a project about HIV-AIDS. I thought it was something like regular check- ups for sex workers or free hospitalizations. I was shocked when I learned that it was about a nude statue of Sarah that will be erected on a strategic portion of the EDSA extension, within the Pasay area. According to him, it will “ immortalize” Sarah Jane as the first Filipino victim of the dreaded disease, a reminder for the rest who would be careless about their sexual practice. When I contacted Sarah by phone, she told me that she did not know about it and that was the first time that I hear her cry. Good thing, the project did not materialize, as the local citizens perceived it as immortalizing the dreaded disease at the expense of Sarah Jane.

 

Months after, I saw on TV that Sarah was living in with a boy, barely past his teen years and who fathered what she was carrying for a couple of months that time. Comments about such carelessness were printed in tabloids. The parents of the boy were being accused of negligence. Sarah was already adamant and uncooperative during interviews until she finally gave birth to the child. I lost track of her after that.

 

I just learned that she was confined in a government hospital with facilities for HIV-AIDS victims due to her rapidly deteriorating health when it was flashed on TV. For the last time, I visited her and gave her the original handwritten copy of the poem I composed. I told her that I made the poem several days after our meeting in Cavite. I did not ask about her young husband or the child supposedly in his care. She cried (for the second time) after reading the poem in Filipino. I honestly told her that it was my last visit, so that she can have more time for rest. Her last words for me almost in whisper were, “sige lang manong, okey lang ako, daghang salamat…damo gid nga salamat” (it’s alright manong, I am okey…thank you very much…thank you very much.)

 

How many Sarah Janes do we still see around us roaming the streets of the cities throughout the country at night or entertaining customers in beer joints? They who are carrying responsibilities on their shoulders to augment the income if there is, of their parents? They who are supposed to be carrying bags of notebooks and books on their shoulders to school?….. They who are robbed of financial benefits as young citizens, by greedy government officials and politicians – all, without conscience?!!

 

(Note: “daghang salamat” is Cebuano/ Visayan, while “damo gid nga salamat” is Hiligaynon/Visayan, and both means “thank you” in English).

Si Nelly…nagka-AIDS, pero nakapagpatapos ng isang kapatid sa kolehiyo

SI NELLY…NAGKA-AIDS, PERO NAKAPAGPATAPOS

NG ISANG KAPATID SA KOLEHIYO

Ni Apolinario Villalobos

 

Matagal ko nang kaibigan si Nelly, halos sampung taon na. Nabulyawan ko siya noong una ko siyang makita sa Avenida. Mag-aalas-siyete pa lang noon ng umaga nang sundan niya ako habang naglalakad sa Avenida, upang humingi ng pangkape, kapalit ang short time “check-in”. Sabi ko sa kanya, “ang ganda mo, pwede ka namang magtrabaho sa karinderya man lang, bakit ka nagpuputa sa Avenida….ang aga-aga, eh, iniistorbo mo ako…”. Dahil napahiya, yumuko na lang at umupo sa bakanteng silya sa tabi ng babaeng nagtitinda ng sigarilyo at kendi. Tiningnan din ako ng masama ng tindera. Papunta ako noon sa Fabella Center. Subalit nang makarating ako sa Recto ay nakonsiyensiya ako sa ginawa ko kaya bumalik ako sa puwesto ng tindera upang kausapin si Nelly.

 

Hindi ko siya inabutan dahil ang sabi ng tindera ay umalis daw kasama ang nakakabatang kapatid na ihahatid sa eskwela. Kinabukasan ay binalikan ko siya sa lugar kung saan ko siya nakita subalit nang makita niya ako ay umiwas at tumawid sa kabilang panig ng Avenida. Pinakiusapan ko na lang ang tindera na tawagin si Nelly na ginawa naman, kaya bilang pasalamat ay bumili ako ng maraming “snow bear” menthol candy.

 

Hindi nagmi-make up si Nelly kaya lutang na lutang ang likas na makinis at ganda niyang morena. Sa tabi mismo ng tindera ay una kaming nag-usap at nagtanong sila kung reporter ako na itinanggi ko naman. Maya-maya pa ay dumating ang kapatid na naka-uniporme na inihahatid niya sa eskwela. Nang umalis si Nelly ay tinanong ko ang tindera kung ano ang alam niya sa pagkatao nito. Sabi niya ay marami dahil kilala niya ang nanay nitong kamamatay lang. Matagal nang abandonado daw sina Nelly ng tatay nila, kaya bilang panganay ay ito ang tumatayong magulang ng mga kapatid niya. Nalaman ko ring 27 years old si Nelly. Ang sumunod na nakababata sa kanya ay 17 at ang bunso na hinahatid niya sa eskwela ay 10 years old. Nakatira silang magkakapatid sa isang maliit na kuwarto ng lumang gusali sa di-kalayuang kalye ng Raon. Ang kapatid na sumunod sa kanya ay nagtitinda ng banana cue at malamig na inumin malapit lang sa tinitirhan nila, at ang suweldo ay 75pesos sa halos kalahating araw na trabaho. Pagdating ng alas-tres, umuuwi na ito para maghanda sa pagpasok sa eskuwela.

 

Inabot ng halos isang linggo bago ko nakumbinsi si Nelly na isama ako sa tinitirhan nila. Ang sabi ko ay igo-grocery ko muna sila kaya natuwa at pabirong nagsabi na wala na nga daw silang bigas at kape. Hinahayaan ko siyang rumampa tuwing makatapos naming mag-usap dahil ang sabi ko sa kanya ay interesado lang ako sa buhay niya na gusto kong isulat….subalit hindi natuloy noon. Kilala si Nelly ng kaibigan kong  tin-edyer na taga-Baseco (Tondo) compound na rumarampa rin sa Avenida subalit sinuwerteng maampon ng mag-asawang retirado na taga-Pasay, kaya nag-aaral na ito ngayon at ang kuwento ay  nai-blog ko na rin.

 

Basta mapadaan ako sa Avenida ay dinidiretso ko na lang sa tinitirhan nina Nelly kung ano mang dala ko ang para sa kanila. Alam ng mga kapatid ni Nelly ang ginagawa niya at wala silang magawa dahil noong nagtrabaho ito sa isang restaurant ng Intsik sa Quiapo ay pinagtangkaan itong reypin ng kanyang amo. Nang pumasok naman sa tindahan ng mga damit ay kulang na kulang ang kita nito para sa pangangailangan nila dahil ang suweldo ay 200pesos lang isang araw, kaya sumama na lang sa kaibigang kalapit-kuwarto nila na rumarampa sa Avenida. Dahil nahihiya pa, ibinugaw muna si Nelly ng kaibigan hanggang matuto na siyang mangalabit.

 

Ngayon, kung kaylan nakatapos ng BS Tourism ang kanyang kapatid ay saka nalaman ni Nelly na may sakit siyang AIDS. Nagtatrabaho na ang kapatid niya sa isang hotel sa Roxas Boulevard at ito na ang gumagastos sa bunso. Gumagawa ngayon si Nelly ng mga pulseras na crystal beads upang maibenta sa tabi ng Quiapo Church. Regular din siyang nagpapa-check up. Ikinuwento ko sa kanya ang buhay ni Sarah Jane Salazar ang unang biktima ng AIDS sa Pilipinas na naging kaibigan ko rin. Magkaiba nga lang ang “tema” ng kanilang kuwento dahil si Sarah Jane ay talagang pakawala at nagpabaya sa buhay na walang direksiyon samantalang si Nelly ay may layuning makatulong sa kanyang mga kapatid, at may pangarap sa buhay.

 

36 years old na si Nelly at nagkikita pa rin kami hanggang ngayon. Naisama ko na rin siya sa Tondo upang ipakitang mas marami  ang hirap sa buhay kung ikumpara sa kanilang magkapatid. Ang pinakakaingatan niya ay ang dalawang magasin na kinapapalooban ng mga retrato niyang naka-bikini…naging bold star din kasi siya noong 16 years old pa lang at dahil malaking bulas ay hindi halatang menor-de-edad. Naka-apat na pelikula din siya pero puro second lead lang, at ang bayad daw sa kanya ay 15,000 pesos kada pelikula. Ang malaking bahagi daw ng kita niya ay sa ahente niya napupunta….isang call boy na kabit ng direktor ng mga  pelikula.  Naging addict at patay na ngayon ang call boy na ahente niya.

 

Ang tatay nila ay lasenggo at malakas mag-marijuana at ang nanay daw nila ay alaga ng bugbog nito tuwing malasing. Ang pangarap niya ngayon ay makatapos ang bunso nilang kapatid at kung makapagtrabaho ito ay uuwi siya sa Lucena. Pupunta na lang siya sa Maynila upang patuloy na makakapagpagamot sa isang ospital ng gobyerno na malapit sa Bambang. Ang sakit na HIV-AIDS ni Nelly ay nasa stage na maaari pang maagapan basta walang patlang o tuluy-tuloy ang gamutan.