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).

Ruby…young hooker of Manila

Ruby
(Young Hooker of Manila)

By Apolinario B Villalobos

A star sapphire glitters in the dark
just when your first cry tore the silence apart
and two faces smile with no word said
but a heartfelt thanks to the God above.

Into this world comes forth
another flower for their eyes and bundle of joy
who there lies for every body to behold
and now your story’s being told.

You’ve trodden enough
roads of stones and thorns so rough
for a woman but you are strong in heart
and full of hope that even the searing sun
could not wilt your will
melt your strength as you go on still
just like the fire
I find in your name.

Mga Pangarap ni Nanette…isang Batang Prosti sa Avenida

Mga Pangarap ni Nanette

…isang batang prosti sa Avenida

Ni Apolinario Villalobos

 

Nang minsang bumili ako sa isang tindahan sa Baseco Compound, may nakasabay akong batang babae na paulit-ulit na binibilang ang dalang mga barya, habang nakatingin sa naka-display na mga ulam. Nang akmang aalis na walang nabili, kinalabit ko siya at tinanong kung may gusto siyang bilhin na ulam. Hindi siya sumagot, nakatingin lang sa akin. Sabi ko huwag siyang matakot dahil kaibigan ko ang nakatira sa isang barung-barong sa kantong itinuro ko. Kilala pala niya ang mga kaibigan ko. Noon pa lang siya ngumiti at nagsabi na gusto sana niyang bumili ng kalahating ginataang gulay, pero kulang ang pera niya dahil ang iba ay naibili na niya ng bigas na nilutong lugaw. Ibinili ko siya ng ilang piniritong galunggong at dalawang takal na monggong ginisa. Sinabayan ko siya sa pag-uwi. Tanaw mula sa bahay ng kaibigan ko ang tinitirhan nila na isang halos ay magiba nang barung-barong.

 

Sabi ng kaibigan ko, iniwan sina Nanette ng kanilang ama kaya mag-isang itinataguyod silang magkakapatid ng kanilang nanay na ang pinagkikitaan ay ang pagbalat ng bawang at sibuyas. Nagulat ako nang ibulong niya na nabisto si Nanette na umiistambay sa Avenida, kasama ang isang kilalang bugaw. May ibig siyang sabihin na naunawaan ko agad.

 

Nang hapong yon, gumawa ako ng paraan upang makausap si Nanette na tumutulong sa kanyang nanay sa pagtalop ng mga bawang at sibuyas. Kunwari ay nagpasama ako upang bumili ng miryenda para sa kanila at sa mga anak ng kaibigan ko. Habang naglalakad kami, marami kaming pinag-usapan tungkol sa mga kapatid niya na ang isa ay nilalagnat pa. Dahil sa sinabi niya, bumili na rin ako ng gamot panglagnat sa tindahan. Pinakiramdaman ko siya at nang bandang mag-aalas kuwatro na, nagpaalam siya upang maligo daw. Bumalik na lang ako sa kaibigan ko. Subali’t may hinala na akong magbibihis na rin siya upang “rumampa” sa Avenida.

 

Nang makita ko siyang paalis na, nagpaalam na rin ako sa kaibigan ko upang sumabay kay Nanette. Biyaheng Recto ang sinakyan naming jeep. Ang dahilan ko sa kanya, LRT ang sasakyan ko pauwi. Subali’t pagdating sa Avenida, inanyayahan ko siyang kumain muna sa McDonalds. Doon ko na siya kinausap ng masinsinan. Dahil sa tiwalang nabuo, naging tapat siya sa mga sagot sa akin. Inamin niyang nagpapabugaw siya. Noon ko lang din nalaman na labing-anim na taong gulang siya.

 

Siya ang panganay sa kanila…anim sila lahat. Dalawa ang nag-aaral, at siya naman ay biglang tumigil sa kalagitnaan ng second year high school dahil sa paglayas ng kanyang tatay. Mag-isa siyang rumarampa sa tulong ng isang bugaw. Gusto niyang makatapos man lang ng high school kaya may itinatabi siya mula sa kanyang kita. Sa susunod na taon ay magpapa-enroll daw siya. May mga nahingi na siyang mga gamit mula sa mga nakilala niya sa Avenida- dalawang pares na sapatos, isang balat at isang goma, may bag na pwede pang-eskwela at ilang maaayos na damit. Pagkatapos daw niyang mag-high school, papasok agad siyang waitress sa gabi at mag-aaral ng computer sa isang eskwelahan sa Tondo, sa araw. Ito yong vocational course na pang-dalawang taon lamang daw. Malinaw ang mga paglalahad niya ng kanyang mga pangarap.

Nakakaantig ng damdamin ang mga sinabi sa akin ni Nanette…wala siyang kagatul-gatol sa pagsasalita na para bang nanggigil pa. Inisip ko na lang na excited lang siguro siya. Subali’t bigla niyang sinabi na gusto niyang ipakita sa lumayas nilang tatay na kaya nilang mamuhay, at kakayanin niyang magtaguyod sa kanyang mga kapatid katulong ang kanyang nanay.  Yong balak pala niyang ipamukha sa kanyang tatay na kaya nilang mamuhay nang hindi aasa sa kanya, ang dahilan ng kanyang panggigigil.

 

Hindi kami nagtagal ng pag-uusap dahil umiwas ako sa trapik subali’t nangako akong mag-uusap kami uli. Nabanggit ko si Nanette sa isa kong kaibigang balikbayan na nakatira sa Pasay. Pensiyonado siya bilang American citizen  at kaa-approve lang ng dual citizenship kaya nakakuha uli ng Filipino citizenship. Ako ang umalalay sa kanya sa pagpabalik-balik niya sa immigration office, dahilan upang magsabi na kung ano ang kailangan ko, siya naman ang tutulong. Pinaalala ko sa kaibigan ko ang pangako niya, sabay hiling ng tulong para kay Nanette. Chicken feed daw lang pala ang hiling ko.

 

Tinyempuhan namin si Nanette sa Avenida nang sumunod na Sabado at nang makita namin ay niyaya agad na kumain sa MacDonalds kasama ang bugaw niya. Doon binitiwan ng kaibigan ko ang pangakong tulong upang maipagpatuloy niya ang kanyang pag-aaral, kaya sigurado na siyang makakapag-enroll sa susunod na pasukan, kaya lang second year pa rin – nagtawanan kami. Hindi rin napigilan sa pag-iyak si Nanette dahil sa sobrang tuwa, at dahil binigyan ng pera ng kaibigan ko, hindi na nagpabugaw nang hapong yon. Ang kaibigan ko ay nangakong tutulong pa rin kay Nanette upang makapag-aral sa isang government vocational training center, pagkatapos niya ng high school, pero hindi na computer ang ipapakuha sa kanya, kundi welding course na in-demand sa abroad, lalo na sa mga bansang Muslim.

 

Ang mga tulad ni Nanette ang nagpapamukha sa atin na hindi lahat ng pumapasok sa mga alanganin at hindi katanggap-tanggap na trabaho ay masama, dahil karamihan sa kanila ay biktima ng kapabayaan at naitutulak ng matinding pangangailangan.  May pangarap din silang mabuhay ng maayos sa hinaharap kaya sila nagsisikap at malaking bagay ang tulong na walang taling hila-hila ng nagbigay.

 

Hindi tayo dapat mainis sa mga batang yagit na namumulot ng basura o namamalimos. Ang mga bata ay walang kamuwang-muwang kung sila ay magiging bunga ng mga iresponsableng magulang o mayamang mag-asawa na sabik magkaroon ng anak, habang sila ay nasa sinapupunan pa. Sa pagmulat ng kanilang mga mata sa mundo, hindi sila nakakapamili kung saan sila hihimlay – sa sahig ba ng isang barung-barong sa gitna ng tambakan? o sa isang malamig na kwarto ng isang magarang bahay. Kadalasan, sa murang gulang nagagamit pa sila sa pamamalimos ng mga taong maitim ang budhi. Huwag natin silang pagkaitan ng ilang barya o isang pirasong tinapay, kahi’t  may kutob tayong nagmamaang-maangan lamang sila, dahil ang gutom ay hindi kayang itago ng pagkukunwari.