Jaime Mayor…honest “kutsero” of Luneta

Jaime Mayor

…honest kutsero of Luneta

By Apolinario B Villalobos


At dawn, from his humble home in Caloocan

He diligently pedals his way to Luneta

The same he does when he goes home at night

But all these he does with unpretentious delight.


In Luneta, for years, he worked as kutsero

Guiding his tame horse, he fondly calls Rapido

Both of them braving the rain and searing sun

Even  pangs of hunger as best as they can.


A typical Filipino, this guy – Jaime Mayor

For earning honestly, he could not ask for more

With perpetual smile on his sun-burned face

He and Rapido, in Luneta, strollers can’t miss.


One day, his honesty was put to a test

When a purse was left behind by a tourist

Whom he pursued just before she was gone

And who was amazed by such an honest man.


Tightly he was hugged and praised to heavens

In a language that sounded strange to him

But just the same, these he took in stride

Though, his appreciation, he could not hide.


He said, he is proud to be a Filipino

And proud that he lives in a beautiful country

His modest knowledge of English, then…

Is always ended with –

“It’s more fun to be in the Philippines”!

Jaime Mayor 1


(Jaime Mayor is a driver (kutsero) of a horse-driven rig (kalesa) in Luneta (Rizal Park) of Manila. His average daily earning is Php200.00. This is carefully budgeted to suffice for the needs of his wife and four children. One day he drove around the park, four French ladies, one of whom left her purse in the back seat of the rig. After finding it, he took time in looking for the group. The ladies were surprised as they were not aware that one of them left her purse in the rig. The amazed owner of the purse gave him a tight hug. On September 13, 2012, the Rizal Park administration gave him a plaque of appreciation.


After three years, I finally met Jaime Mayor. On December 27, 2015, a Sunday, while I was gathering materials for blogging, I happened to talk to a rig driver if he knew Mr. Mayor. He nonchalantly pointed to the rig that just passed by. I practically ran after the rig up to its unloading station where he obliged some photo opportunities.


Mr. Mayor is among the rig drivers of Castillan Carriage and Tour Sevices which is based at Fort Santiago. According to Mr. Herson Magtalas, Checker/Operations Coordinator of the said agency, despite the popularity of Mr. Mayor, he remained humble as the nationwide recognition given him did not affect him a bit. He is still the same guy whom they knew – unassuming, hardworking and a man of few words. Mr. Magtalas added that the former Department of Tourism, Mr. Gordon gave him profuse praises, and the same recognition was followed by other government officials. He was also given a spot in a commercial, the earning from which helped his family a lot.)


Touristic Manila

Touristic Manila

By Apolinario Villalobos


When I came to Manila during the early 80’s, the city was just gaining a momentum toward its recognition as a prime tourist destination in Asia. The most popular district then was Ermita which would come alive just when the sun was about to set beyond the horizon of Manila Bay. From its daytime drabness the district would undergo an instant transformation into the gaudiness made heady by the loud music that emanated from the hole-in-the-wall beer joints. The jolly racket lasted until just before sunup. A night was never complete without a brawl. And when the sun finally warmed its sidewalks, giddy girls with still rouged faces lined the sidewalks for cheap jeepney ride home.


Today, Ermita has been transformed into a safe tourist haven. Roxas Boulevard is dotted with five-star hotels, and side by side with the Children’s Museum is the United States Embassy complex at the western end of the boulevard. M.H. del Pilar and A. Mabini Streets previously known for their raucous beer joints are now assuming a wholesome façade with rows of restaurants, affordable hotels, and a casino housed in five-star Hyatt Hotel that provides a highlight. The newly-renovated National Library of the Philippines breaks the monotony of T.M. Kalaw St., and a few meters from the imposing structure is the office of the National Historical Institute. A big shopping mall stands out among the condo buildings being built along the  United Nations Avenue where the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters are also located. Manila Pavilion that adds splendor to this particular section of Ermita was once the popular Manila Hilton.


Avenida, the main thoroughfare of the Sta. Cruz district, is still alive with sidewalk bazaars that overflow to the adjacent Quiapo district. Both districts have historic churches that serve as their centerpiece, and which are popular among pilgrims during Lenten season. Quiapo Church is the shrine of the Black Nazarene, the festivity of which draws millions of devotees every year. On the other side of Quezon Boulevard is the Islamic district, in the midst of which is the Golden Mosque. Though differing in faith, the residents of the two districts live in harmony.


Another shopping district of Manila is Divisoria where malls have mushroomed during the past years. It is still the most popular shoppers’ mecca of Manila where one can find practically everything – from school supply to the latest electronic gadgets. It is, however, more popular as showcase for latest fashions.  Late in the afternoon, a portion of the Recto Avenue is closed to give way to stalls of vegetable wholesalers who come from different provinces. Practically, the whole area is alive the whole night until six in the morning of the following day during which the merchants begin to pack up whatever are left of their goods. It is also at this time that the sanitary teams of the city begin to haul out piles of garbage and mop up the street for daytime shoppers.


The Chinatown of Manila, known more among the locals as Ongpin, referring to the main street, is the oldest in the world. It went through different historic transformations – from its being made as a segregated Chinese settlement or “parian” during the Spanish regime, into becoming a hideaway of urban Filipino guerillas during the WWII, until finally blossoming into an elegant enclave of oriental culture today with its towering condo buildings and restaurants where one could partake of exotic cuisine, though, the reliable steadfast apothecaries are still around with their different aromatic concoctions.


The Pasig River cuts across the landscape of Manila. The Manila City Hall is found on its west bank which is lately enhanced by a newly-built shopping mall, while the Malacaῆan Palace occupies a well-shaded north bank. The so-called “university belt” because of the several educational institutions within this particular section, is located several street corners from the palace.


The Liwasang Bonifacio (Bonifacio Park) near the Manila City Hall is dominated by the Post Office building and across from it is the idle Metropolitan Theater, still trying to stand proud despite years of neglect. The structure, though, could still gain attention because of its classical architecture. The theater was once the principal venue of both local and international plays, aside from concerts which launched several singers, actors and actresses to stardom.


Across the street from Liwasang Bonifacio, the Old Intramuros beckons to those with a desire to quench their thirst for history. Within the walls of Intramuros are the centuries- old Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church. On foot, going around the Walled City, including leisurely stops for refreshing drinks or snacks, takes only about three hours. However, if the Fort Santiago is included in the itinerary, one should add another hour to their stroll. Inside the fort, one can find cells where prisoners were confined during the Spanish regime and the WWII. Local horse-driven coaches or rigs are available for leisurely ride that can be contracted for a jaunt up to Rizal Park or Luneta.


Rizal Park  was known in history as Bagumbayan where Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero was shot for purportedly instigating rebellion against the Spaniards. Behind the grandstand, one can find the H20 Hotel and Ocean Park which are just a few steps from the historic Manila Hotel. Lately, the park has undergone facelifts that made it more alluring to regular visitors. The park’s administration is not daunted by the small area of the park, instead, defied this limitation by using resourcefulness and creativity. The park’s crowning glory today is the cluster of renovated fountains that “dance” with the music and lights. The imposing Department of Tourism building is located on the T.M. Kalaw side of the park with its façade facing the giant bronze statue of Lapu-lapu that stands at what was once the skating rink, and a few meters from them is the National Parks Development office that manages Luneta. The Philippine map lagoon has been made more stroller-friendly with the floating lane that diagonally cuts across it.


The mentioned landmarks of Manila are accessible via the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, jeepneys, buses, and aircon vans. 

The Pain of Homesickness

The Pain of Homesickness

By Apolinario Villalobos



When I was young, I had that ardent desire to go abroad. For me that time, abroad was America. As I grew older, however, that desire slowly faded from my mind. Many are surprised then to know that despite my having worked with an airline, my passport has never been stained by any US consular mark. I love to travel, yes, but my heart never pines for the so-called land of opportunities until now. My gladness, however, goes to those who endeavor to step on Uncle Sam’s shores, by doing practically everything, including borrowing documents and money for “show”, just to successfully acquire that longed-for mark on their passport.

The overused one valid reason to get a US visa is for having relatives to visit. Some honestly admit their desire to look for a “greener pasture”, but will not stay permanently which is just fine. But still, some find America as a last resort in their effort to evade the law after having committed a crime in the country.

Those who are hardworking, indeed, found a greener pasture by working three shifts at the most, leaving barely four hours of sleep after spending at least one hour for their commuting from home to their jobs and back. There are some however, who got dismayed for not landing a single job after almost a year of stay, which to some extent could be their own fault for expecting similar white collar job they have in the Philippines. General disappointment begins to seep in when not enough is left for savings after finding hourly jobs.

American life is very much different from that of the Philippines’. While America’s economy is hinged on its people’s habitual spending using the plastic card, in the Philippines, most transactions are still in cash. In America, what you earn you “should” spend as you have no choice but pay credit card purchases on time based on the bills that you regularly receive. So what is there to save? Any failure to pay could mean nightmarish court appearances. In the Philippines, unpaid bills are still afforded a special consideration of extension, except of course, the electric and water bills as failure could mean cutting off of connection.

The life as earlier mentioned is what the senior citizens who found their way back home to the Philippines always mention to friends after having spent considerable time in America. Practically, all of them would say that there’s nothing like being back to one’s land of birth. They say that they came home to die, but will spend their remaining days  island-hoppingto make up for the lost time. The pang of loneliness have always gnawed at their heart, especially , during Christmas.  It is the worst time for those who brave thick snows just to get to work to earn the green bucks that loved ones back in the Philippines need for tuition fees, house rent and the like. Filipino families who are used to the kind of Christmas in the Philippines make do with inviting relatives and friends to their home to enjoy Filipino foods, some window shopping, and the rest of the time spent at home with families or alone, pretending that they enjoy every minute of the season.

In the Philippines, the “simbang gabi” which has always been the mark of Christmas becomes the occasion of reunions, being attended with friends or families.  For those who live in Manila, the Rizal Park provides a solace with its dancing lights, “tiangge” stalls and gay crowd. And, one can always make a surprise visit to friends and families, something that cannot be done in America, where, practically everybody is busy.

Last December, while enjoying the company of two families from Tondo, sprawled on two big mats for the night in the crowded space fronting the dancing lights of Rizal Park, I observed an elderly man and a boy giving out small bars of chocnut and biscuits to children. An exchange of smile between us sparked a conversation. He told me that the boy was his grandson, and that his wife with their two other grandchildren were in the vicinity of the grandstand doing their own round of sharing. They were balikbayans, he said, and just arrived four days before from California. For what they were sharing, he said, the budget was ten thousand pesos. He extended an invitation for me to join them in their van at around ten that evening. For curiosity’s sake, I accepted the invitation.

Locating the van was easy as it was parked just near the south gate of the Children’s Museum. A small table beside the van was filled with boiled bananas and sweet potatoes, several broiled tilapia and bangus, salad that consisted of half-ripe mangoes, tomatoes and white onion with a dash of alamang bagoong, rice, ginger brew and coffee. Nobody sat as there was no chair. Stories of how each enjoyed sharing the goodies were shared. I just listened.

The elderly guy told me that he has already made an arrangement for the purchase of a house in Laguna so that he and his wife could retire in the Philippines in two years’ time. They would like to bring with them their grandchildren here so that they would grow just like any other Filipino, while their parents could stay behind in California as both have good jobs there. He said that America with its seemingly deteriorating values no longer appear to be a paradise, but for short stays to earn dollars would be alright. His parting words were, “if homesickness could kill, I would not be here now…but I held on to my wits and pretended to enjoy my stay there, for the sake of my family…”


As I traced my steps back to my two family friends, I was thankful that I did not harbor such painful feeling of homesickness, the way my new-found balikbayan friend described it. I felt blessed that night in the company of my friends belonging to two families, one considers home a pushcart parked in a sidestreet of Divisoria and the other contented in  a cramped small room in Baseco Compound in Tondo. Our dinner fare that night: chicken feet adobo, cow’s skin (balbakua) which I cooked myself in coconut milk, plenty of siling labuyo and curry powder, boiled green bananas, sweet potatoes, Milo for the children and coffee for the adults. The two heads of the families were the ones I mentioned in my earlier blog, about two cigarette vendors who were having a late breakfast in a sidewalk food stall near Fabella Center, and who were talking about donating their saved money to the victims of typhoon Yolanda. I went back to the sidewalk food stall two weeks later, and patiently waited for them with the intention of getting their trust so that I would know more about their lives. After getting such, I was given the liberty to spend some of my time with them, an opportunity that included the invitation to join them in their yearly Christmas dinner at the Rizal Park.