Miracles of Quiapo 3

Chapter 6: Junie, Reg, and Joey

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Despite financial constraints, Junie demonstrates his aptitude and will to succeed and give honor to his parents by successfully earning a college degree. He aims to build a career in politics. Reg Makatigbas has a solid career in the military and transitions to become a political leader at the national level. Joey is a young and idealistic military man. He is Reg’s protegee. Joey is also the son of Mr. Ty, whose wife expelled Yago, Junie’s father, from her household supposedly for being an agent of bad luck. Joey tries hard to compensate Yago, through Junie, for the injustice that his family inflicted upon Junie’s family. Joey supports Junie in the latter’s work to achieve his political ambitions. Joey leverages the trust he has with Reg to build the alliances that Junie needs.

The wedding reception of Lee Tan’s daughter, Pearlie, gathered the country’s who’s who in a customized hall at the Borbon Hotel. This event, long-awaited by the rich and powerful for its impact on the bourses, had once been postponed due to an accident involving the groom, Gibo “Lloyd” Sim, scion of the country’s richest family. It also did not help that the political climate dampened what should have been an auspicious start for the Sim and Tan partnership. The national leadership of the government was under siege, both internally (with disgruntled cronies and military generals publicly criticizing the national leadership) and externally (political opposition). While the Sims brought money to the partnership, Tan provided insurance cover with political connections. With political alignments in disarray, Tan deemed it prudent not to press getting the marital union done, despite the bleeding his listed companies were suffering from at the stock exchanges.    

In keeping with Chinese tradition, parents of both bride and groom invited most of the guests.

Pearlie wore a white and red wedding gown, also in keeping with Chinese tradition while showing sensitivity to local preferences. Lloyd was in traditional Filipino barong.

Originally planned for 1986, the wedding pushed through in 1988, the year of the dragon, on September 22, the best date in the feng shui calendar. On that day, Pearlie was twenty-one years old, while Lloyd was twenty-three.

Among those who were seated at the presidential table, aside from the wedded couple and their respective parents, were key government executive and legislative officials, supreme court judges, retired and active military and police generals, a media mogul, movie and TV celebrities, etc. They included Luciano Mascardo, the new vice president; Dimas Uy, former general and now Secretary of National Defense; Supreme Court Justices Delfino Abuyonador and Tomas De Yamat; Senator Ruben “The Gadfly” Quemas; General Sir Dikomo; moviedom superstar Vinnie Iglesia; media tycoon Irene Pucot De Barizar; Manila Mayor Octavo “Bonggoy” Watkasing (legally changed from Kaw-Huat-Singh); and Vice Mayor Pilandro Cujaco, called by his nickname as either “Juan Posong” or “Polong,” a descendant of Johnny Cuanco who changed his family name to spite the old man when the latter favored his cousins over him in a conflict of ownership over family business interests.

All of them were supporters of the new administration, although most had connections, one way or the other, to the old administration. The president had tactfully declined Tan’s invitation, saying he was already committed to other official functions, but assured Tan and Sim that the vice president would not only be representing himself but the president as well. Dimas Uy was a trusted lieutenant of the old administration but felt insulted by the repeated snub by the former president of his well-deserved promotion as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. His disenchantment grew when it became obvious that favoritism had widely influenced personnel movement in the military.

His reputation preceding him, Sir Dikomo seamlessly joined the revamped Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police. He soon was promoted to become the country’s top cop. There had been rumors that Lee Tan would support him to become Manila’s next mayor.

The Manila mayor, whom the press had nicknamed “Commish,” was of Chinese Indian descent. He was the former Bureau of Immigration Commissioner. He allegedly (never proven) made millions from bribes generously given by shipping operators that smuggled thousands of individuals from mainland Qina. He then used some of his kickbacks to pay press people to drumbeat his accomplishments at the bureau.

Being thorough as usual with his plans, Lee made it a point that his connections with the previous administration were likewise represented. The invitees included the former prime minister, former customs commissioner, Investigation Bureau diRectors, former members of congress from both the senate and house of representatives, fellow cronies and oligarchs, among others.

Of course, Lee could not talk about VIP guests without inviting Ben Benaobra, the former defense minister and later interior minister who owned logging companies in Mindesaba and Ispratly. It was the latter who introduced him to the center of political power where he saw how money talked, and how money bent rules in his favor. In return, Lee made sure that politicians who danced to his tune were amply rewarded. In the case of Benaobra, Lee had committed to bankroll Benaobra’s planned bid to reclaim the presidency his party lost in the last elections.

Lee understood that inviting Benaobra also meant inviting his trusted aide, General Reg Makatigbas. Both Mr. and Mrs. Dayamante managed to get invited as well. When Lee saw Reg, he greeted him with “when will I get invited to your own wedding party?” It was of course nothing more than banter among acquaintances, as Makatigbas had been a widower for eleven months now, more or less. 

Sim’s associates in the real estate, banking, and transport industries were also there. Tobacco magnate Venancio Co, with allies Leopoldo Ty and Luis Verzosa, was also present.

To the fringes of the sprawling hall could be seen the less consequential government functionaries. They mixed with friends, colleagues, and relatives of the newly married couple. Almost unnoticed was the table reserved for Manila Archbishop Maximiliano Calaveria, who officiated the church rites at the Manila Cathedral but begged off from attending the reception at the Borbon Hotel. He sent Monsi Ubanon to represent him instead. The Quiapo Rector wanted to cheer the sickly Father Revo up, so he asked the controversial priest to join him at the party.

Guests were treated to an unlimited array of food and drinks. The buffet included symbolic dishes, again in keeping with Chinese tradition: fish for abundance, turkey dish for peace, a suckling pig (symbolizing the bride’s purity), and a sweet lotus seed dessert for fertility.

Halfway through his meal, Father Revo stood up to help himself with extra servings. He proceeded to the row of symbolic dishes and filled two saucer plates with the sweet lotus seed for dessert. Then he gave one plate to Monsi Ubanon and kept the other for himself.

Despite their outsized responsibilities, men of the cloth hardly take themselves too seriously. They have always been known to have a sense of humor, probably a way to keep their sanity while depriving themselves of so many pleasures of worldly life.

Here, at this banquet, Father Revo was at his jolly self. Not done at making fun of themselves, he went on a mini monologue, without necessarily addressing his superior.

“If this happened during Spanish times, some insulares and ilustrados here could have been extradited for not sitting a monsignor at the podium table.”

He waited for some reaction from Monsi Ubanon. He did not get anything. He pressed on.

“Even lowly friars had to be at the presidential table on any social occasion.”

Monsi Hoben finally said something. “Gomburza is probably to blame for why we are a forgotten lot.” It was a subtle dig at the revolutionary bent that Father Revo had been known for.

Both clerics knew that being present at that expensive party was in itself distasteful, if one was going by the book. The issue could spark more nitpicking. Even among priests, Calaveria had been accused of favoritism, in hushed tones of course, not only on the matter of parish assignments, but also in choosing his representatives to occasions like these. Some thought it was the archbishop’s way of reciprocating Ubanon for being the biggest funder of Caritas Manila, the humanitarian and social development arm of the Manila Archdiocese. But then the next question was why the parish priests weren’t being rotated for assignment at Quiapo, where collections practically poured in perpetually. What was commonly understood was that Calaveria and Ubanon were classmates at the Jesuit seminary where they obtained their theology degrees. Whenever small talk like this took off, the scuttlebutt spared no one: that the scourge of politics, money, envy, and lust, among other strange gods, was alive in the house of God’s servants.

After an hour of feasting while artists performed entertainment numbers, many guests had left. Monsi Ubanon and Father Revo themselves had earlier asked permission to be excused, but seeing Vida De Gracia, who waved at Father Revo as if to invite him to come over, at the other end of the hall prompted them to drop by at her table for a chat. The retired judge was retained by one of Sim’s companies to litigate, in collaboration with three other law firms, the eviction proceedings against urban poor settlements squatting on a one-thousand-hectare reclaimed property at Manila Bay. Sim was reportedly on the planning stage for a shopping mall, hotel, and entertainment complexes in the area.

“Nice to see you here, Father Calasanz—am I right?” Vida greeted Father Revo. Monsi Ubanon asked to be excused and left.

“That’s right, Judge, Revo Calasanz. I, too, have been wishing to see you.”

After the customary banter, Father Revo inquired how she was doing with her big-ticket cases. He was aware that homeless families in Quiapo and Cerrito had transferred to the reclaimed site years ago when he was still active in community organizing. He wished to know from Vida, who could only accept a few but very expensive cases, if she had updates on the judicial proceedings involving the urban poor communities. Vida, whose late son was one of Father Revo’s classmates in the same Jesuit seminary where Monsi Ubanon completed his priestly formation, said the paperwork needed to provide for a relocation site was taking time to complete.

“By the way, Father Revo, you and Dante were ordained in the same year, right?”

“That’s right, Judge, although I was ahead of him by one year in the Theology class.”

“I have something here. Please take this as a gift, to thank you for being a classmate of my son.” Vida picked up a silver ring from the side pocket of her bag and gave it to the priest. “One of Dante’s godparents, a distant relative from my side of the family, gave it to him when he was ordained a priest.”

Father Revo smiled and thanked Vida. “This is priceless and …”—reading the engraved letters— “timeless.” 

Embossed on the outside surface of the ring was a name: Leo Benedicto III. Engraved on the inner surface were the words “Fraile Franciscano 1649.”

Vida, visibly controlling her emotions, continued, “Dante told me the ring was given to the member of the family who received the Sacrament of Ordination. I think that ring has transferred hands from one generation to the next since 1649… Dante is long gone, and my search for another priest in the family had been fruitless, perhaps until now. Hope you can accept me as family.”

Father Revo smiled again but said nothing more. He had no idea what the ring signified, if it signified anything at all, except for who he purported to be. Ever true to his vow of poverty, Father Revo wondered how a Franciscan, supposedly a role model in self-denial, could have in his possession a richly crafted jewel. Was Vida’s gift an attempt to soften the impact of a possible unfavorable ruling in the eviction cases he inquired about?      

Before they parted, they hugged in a genuine show of respect for each other. 

Soon, guests who got busy intermingling with fellow guests had dwindled to such an ampaw density that those who still remained could easily see or wave at each other. Among the last to leave were Lee Tan, Sir Dikomo, Justice De Yamat, and The Gadfly.

Father Revo and Monsi Ubanon, who rejoined the former, were about to finally leave when Sir Dikomo, dapper in an impeccable black suit, passed by. The top cop was heading for the comfort station. Both clerics had been on the lookout for the opportunity to confer with him in private. They thought that that opportunity had come. They waited for him to come out of the comfort station.

“Good afternoon, General!” Monsi Ubanon greeted Sir Dikomo.

Looking genuinely pleased and surprised, Sir Dikomo shook the Rector’s hand and gestured to kiss the latter’s ring. “Nice to see you, Bishop!” Vida also reappeared to join them.

Monsi Ubanon wanted to know if Sir Dikomo remembered about the toddler which the Quiapo police were supposed to have presented to the parents years ago.

“Is he with his family now?” Also, would he remember the name of the parents?

Sir Dikomo could hardly remember anything. Monsi, who was probably older than Sir Dikomo by ten years, thought that maybe Sir Dikomo’s new role had taken its toll on his memory.

As usual, Father Revo was quick to offer help. “It was in 1990, General. Some kind of a riot erupted at the underpass.”

“Yes, of course!” Sir Dikomo howled in his usual deep voice. “But we lost that kid due to coincidental disruption. Our investigation showed that the prisoner, the inmate who was accidentally fired upon by the prison guard, had issues with the Quiapo crowd that pushed him to try to escape. With respect to the identity of the parents, I’m sorry, but we are not at liberty to disclose anything for security reasons. I hope you understand.”

Both Monsi Ubanon and Father Revo were pleased to hear Sir Dikomo’s explanation. They then asked to be excused, wishing both Sir Dikomo and Vida the best before they left.

When Sir Dikomo and Vida parted, he did not look like he had just been a guest of a fun-filled party.

At the main entrance of the hotel, Lee caught up with Benaobra, Makatigbas, and Dayamante. The latter three were seen in a huddle with Justice Abuyonador and Leopoldo Ty at the reception hall; the other five were still by themselves at the parking lot. Lee chatted with Benaobra in private before they both hopped into their respective valet-driven cars. 

PHOTOS OF GUESTS SEATED at the presidential table dominated the upper half of page one of newspapers the following day. They were enough to push upward the value of the shares of stocks of both Tan and Sim publicly listed companies.

In the days that followed, opinion writers extensively discussed “The Wedding,” as one newspaper had captioned the event. Most commentaries hailed it as auguring well for the economy in general; others savagely bashed the lavish display of wealth and power. There were also those who mixed their optimism with sarcasm.

“One thing is sure,” one opinion column said, “this marriage will last longer than Vinnie’s one-year affair with Julio.”

MASCARDO, THE INCUMBENT vice president, narrowly defeated Benaobra in the 1998 presidential elections. The same thing happened to their respective party mates. Mascardo’s party won seven senate seats. Benaobra’s allies won five senate seats, including Makatigbas, the former multi-awarded military field officer who became police general when the law creating the Philippine Integrated National Police took effect.

At the local level, the majority of Mascardo’s allies also won, although at an uneven fashion. Most of his Metro Manila mayoralty candidates won by landslides. However, Manila re-electionist Mayor Commish barely made it.  

Considering that Benaobra’s party were thoroughly defeated in the preceding presidential elections, Lee Tan agreed with Benaobra’s analysis that the results, indicating a gradual shift in voter preferences for Benaobra, augured well for a more organized bid to reclaim Malacanang in the next presidential elections. While Tan did not thread on hostile territory under the previous administration and had no reason to think things would change under the new one, he still preferred a government led, or at least orchestrated, by Benaobra. Thus, his next agenda would be finding ways to provide covert support for his party.

It was obvious to Tan that the strategy he needed was one that took into account winning beyond 1998. Two presidential terms, which meant winning not only in 1998 but also in 2004, was the minimum target; winning more than that down the road was ideal.

Tan had pending tax-evasion cases in the supreme court. Although his clout succeeded in slowing down their litigation, the risks remained high that an unfriendly administration could reopen them. Any adverse result from the judicial processes could send his companies to bankruptcy.

Aside from the pending cases, threats of other cases—ranging from estafa to complicity in graft and corrupt practices—hung over his head. He needed a friendly court. He did not need judges whose decisions he could influence. He needed a president whose appointing persuasion could influence judges to decide in his favor. A one-term beholden administration cannot ensure a majority of friendly supreme court justices at any given time, but two, better yet three or more, successive beholden administrations should do the trick.

After a series of inner-circle consultations, Tan and Benaobra agreed to polish the projection for both highly popular former generals—Sir Dikomo and Makatigbas. The initial steps of the strategy would call for either of the two to run for president in 2004. In the intervening midterm elections in 2001, Sir Dikomo would run for Manila mayor and Makatigbas would run for re-election as senator.

WORKING ON A TIP FROM ENVIOUS competitors, Quiapo police raided the store of Guimo and Katalina. The store was charged with selling counterfeit products. Fifteen-year-old Boy Deo was also implicated; he was charged with swindling as an impostor, a fake faith healer. But Madis-ogon, the Quiapo Police Station chief, later released him for being a minor.

Guimo sought Father Revo’s advice as he and Catalina got dragged into an apparent conflict with the law. The priest asked Guimo to tell him all the facts he knew about the raid of their store and the circumstances that led to it. When he mentioned that Boy Deo was being suspected as a fake faith healer—whose endorsement of their merchandise boosted their sales—and therefore his safety could be in peril, Guimo was baffled by Father Revo’s nonchalant reaction. Father Revo assured Guimo that Boy Deo would be fine— “he is just going through a learning process,” was all Father Revo said.  

What Guimo did not know was that Father Revo (then known as Father Mel) also went through a “learning process” right at the first year of his ministerial tour of duty as a Catholic priest. In keeping with his idealistic bent, he opted to take a missionary role following his ordination. This brought him to a remote barrio in Biringan, a settlement nestled at the central part of Ispratly Island. The master plan for this settlement was developed by missionary Jesuit and Franciscan priests in the 1800s.

An 8-hour boat ride through an upstream labyrinthine riverine system brought him from Biringan to Barrio Guinhikaptan where about a thousand parishioners longed for a full-time saver of souls to be stationed in their chapel.

After 8 years of relatively easy living in the city as a seminarian, then 26-year-old Father Revo found his Biringan mission to be quite a chore. Although his volunteer helpers were not lacking, he often cooked his meals and did the dishes. Even more challenging was that he often ran out of cash for his daily needs. Although the parish priest in Biringan to whom he reported exempted him from remitting the shares due the diocese and the Vatican from his Sunday collections, there was just not enough by which to support his operating expenses. With the anemic monetary support he was getting from his parishioners, his dream of building a bigger church edifice that all of Guinhikaptan could be proud of was at risk.

Father Revo hatched a plan and soon swung it in motion. Twice a month he presided over what he announced as “a healing mass.” His marketing strategy worked. His healing masses attracted throngs of believers, including parishioners from neighboring barrios. His mass collections doubled because of it.

Father Revo left Guinhikaptan after two years of missionary work. Many of his parishioners begged him to stay, not only because he was their resident “healing priest,” but also because they feared the credit union he organized might not function well if he was not around.

The priest had grand dreams for the community. With the money he earned from being a “healing priest,” he raised enough seed capital for the credit union. Parishioners initially constituted its membership, but eventually expanded to allow non-parishioners to become members, including those from neighboring barrios. After 20 months, the credit union was robust enough to be able to support farming activities—including the purchase of farm equipment such as sprayers and hand tractors—of some of its members. 

He earned the respect of his flock for his hard work and his ability to communicate and coordinate. Aside from helping the community generate livelihood opportunities through the credit union, he invited instructors from a nearby agricultural school to conduct sustainable farming systems for community members. On top of all his “worldly” pre-occupation, he was also able to renovate the physical structure of the church. Attendance during Sunday masses also dramatically increased by more than a hundred percent. His parishioners now in fact included churchgoers from neighboring barrios.

Thus, when Guimo told him that Boy Deo’s life was in danger for being a suspected faith healer, Father Revo told himself that everyone went through a learning process. He went through it himself when he was a young priest, a time when people called him a “healing priest.”

Before Madis-ogon set Boy Deo free, he falsely accused the youngster of using drugs. It was an age-old police trick, bluffing suspects on the likely outcome that they would relent, especially among young offenders. The pressure on the one being accused could break his will and try the underworld for which he was being set up.   

Both Junie and Boy Deo started to skip their classes. For a time, they completely stayed away from school.

One time, Father Revo substituted to preside for the four-a.m. mass. He did a Father Andoy by sniffing the dawn air at Plaza Roma. And there, on one of the wooden benches, he saw Boy Deo asleep. Probably because there was nothing else he could use for a pillow, the boy used his right hand as buffer between his head and the hard wood. It was the second time Father Revo had seen him sleeping on that same bench, with the same pillow, and similar sleeping position. Boy Deo was probably seven or eight when Father Revo saw him sleeping among street children for the first time.

IN HIS SENIOR YEAR, Joey exchanged letters with Olivia Paez, the dashing Executive DiRector of Peace and Sustainable Progress Foundation, a Jesuit-run non-government organization (NGO). They personally met two years ago when Olivia, who was the Foundation’s Community Organizing Supervisor at the time, represented Cerrito urban poor communities in a dialogue organized by the Manila City Hall. His father, Mr. Ty, was one of the signatories of a petition supposedly lobbied by concerned citizens to get rid of the urban blight posed by squatters within the vicinity of Cerrito’s commercial district. His father sent his son Joey, who again was on semestral break at the time, to represent him in the dialogue.

Olivia impressed Joey with her arguments, saying the urban poor helped raise profits of businessmen on account of the cheap labor they provided. Citing poverty data, she explained that low wages kept them from gaining access to affordable housing, forcing them to squat. She also made a persuasive presentation of papal encyclicals that preached social justice.

Later on, Joey would know Olivia was born to and raised by a well-off family. She studied in an exclusive school. That she would choose a profession by which she practically lived with the poor and owned their issues impressed him even more.

Joey knew his father, who had reconciled with his mother on his and her sister’s demand, had arranged for somebody to be his future wife. Except for the mother, nobody objected to the father’s choice, even among the would-be in-laws. The mother objected for reasons that only she could ever know: the father of the would-be daughter-in-law was also the father of her son, Joey.

In the end, in his desire to make amends for his philandering ways, Mr. Leopoldo Ty proposed, to make it appear he was not totally submitting to the decision of the wife, a compromise: nobody would get in the way of Joey making the decision for himself.

Joey and Olivia were married a few months after he graduated from the military academy. He joined the PC-INP, now renamed the Philippine National Police. His first assignment was in Region 3, where he was assigned to lead an anti-illegal-gambling unit.

One day, his unit brought in a big-time jueteng lord. Expecting an on-the-spot promotion or reward, he was chided instead by his superior.

“But don’t worry,” the provincial diRector assured him. “You’ll learn how things work around here as you go along. Rookies are like that.” He got a pat on the back, though.

Next, Joey ran an errand for the boss who was about to celebrate his birthday. Tell him, he was instructed, to contribute some bags of rice.

Joey expected a donation of at most three sacks of rice, but imagine how surprised he was when a truck fully loaded with sacks of rice parked inside the compound of the police provincial office.   

The unspoken aim of the mission was to help Joey hone his skills at building rapport with the underworld constituency. But he was too young to lose his idealism. He doubted his capacity to adapt. He soon requested a transfer. 

His request to be stationed in Nueva Vizcaya for his second assignment was granted by the hierarchy. He did not elaborate, without necessarily being untruthful, on why he needed to leave Region 3 and on the reason for choosing Nueva Vizcaya. He wanted to locate Golek, who his father said came from a farming family in Nueva Vizcaya.

Joey was determined to repay Golek for what his family had done to him when the boy was just about eight years old.

Joey later learned from Porferio that Golek was accidentally killed in Quiapo. He also learned a few other things: that Golek was survived by Katalina, Golek’s wife, and Junie, their son; that they lived in Sta. Cruz, etc.

It took a while before Joey was able to track Katalina and her son down in Sta. Cruz. Golek’s family was barely getting by. They had lost almost half of their merchandise from the raid. They were also having a hard time trying to win their customers back. Their consolation was the police did not press the charges after they settled the penalties imposed arbitrarily by the arresting officers.

Junie was also having problems in school, owing largely to the tutoring he missed from Boy Deo, who was mostly away from their studio apartment. Again, their consolation was having Guimo by their side, who was equal to the task as protector and provider for the family. In some respects, he could be considered an upgrade; Yago’s shrinking legacy, insofar as Katalina was concerned, was that Yago was there when nobody else was around to keep her company.

Joey offered Katalina an apartment in Iztapalapa where her family could transfer to if she wished it. The apartment was one of his and Olivia’s wedding gifts. However, the couple preferred to stay in a newly constructed two-story house within the Ty complex in Cerrito. As in their Sta. Cruz home, Katalina and Guimo were supposed to pay rent. The only difference was that they were under no obligation to pay, unless they were financially able to pay.

Worried that Junie and Boy Deo were sometimes seen hanging out with known drug peddlers, Katalina and Guimo decided to transfer to Iztapalapa eventually, but Junie remained enrolled at Quiapo Catholic School for high school. Boy Deo also eventually enrolled at the Philippine Science High School. He stayed at its dormitory during weekdays; he was back in Iztapalapa during weekends. The change of surroundings gave Boy Deo and Junie more time to focus on their studies.   

TEACHERS AT QUIAPO CATHOLIC SCHOOL conceded that Boy Deo was exceptionally intelligent. Showing scant facility for speech as a toddler, his intellectual growth was something Teresa, if she were around, could not have anticipated. But his decorum and absences pulled his grades down. Junie was coping well, although he depended mostly on Boy Deo for the correct completion of much of his home assignments, especially in math.

Before they graduated from elementary, they applied for admission at the Philippine Science High School. Joey was particularly gung-ho for both youngsters to go through the science-oriented high school, as this would prepare them well for possible enrolment at the military academy later. Joey had promised Junie to personally sponsor his higher education if ever he made it to the academy.

In the fourth year, Boy Deo passed the admission test for freshmen at the state university. He eventually joined the School of Social Work and Community Development (SSWCD). For his part, Junie enrolled at another university to take up a political science course, with the ultimate aim, on Father Revo’s advice, to pursue a career in politics. The Rector’s endorsement enabled Guimo to secure a scholarship for his surrogate son.

Part of Boy Deo’s academic training entailed learning from real-world experiences. Once a week he, along with some of his classmates, immersed themselves in the slums of Cerrito. They called on community leaders and engaged community members in small talk, introducing themselves as college students who were conducting studies in Cerrito. Having gained the trust of the community, Boy Deo organized clustered meetings.  

There was an existing community organization, Kalakal Urban Poor Association (KUPA), but it had not been active since the ’80s. Former students and faculty of the SSWCD had helped the urban communities in Cerrito organize themselves during the early years of previous administrations’ authoritarian rule. KUPA was one of the urban poor organizations that resisted demolition of mostly makeshift houses that squatted on government land. It became inactive when its leaders were arrested by the military.

Boy Deo facilitated meetings with the existing members of KUPA. He engaged them in freewheeling discussions of issues that they considered important and urgent. KUPA went on to identify such issues, with security of tenure for the land on which their houses were erected as top priority. They longed to see the day when they would have no need for moving from one squatter area to another so that they could focus on their livelihood. 

When Boy Deo and his classmates returned for a follow-through meeting, he was ready with a list of possible donors, both from the private and government sectors, that could help them address their main issue. Information was complete with contact persons and the steps of how to access external support.   

KUPA agreed as an organization to submit proposals for external assistance. Boy Deo watched as KUPA leaders and members discussed a work plan for the tasks ahead. With Boy Deo’s suggestions, responsibilities were divided among individual members, who committed to finish their tasks within an agreed time frame. The tasks included rallying the support of the rest of the community members for the adopted proposal. The needed support included submission of household data and related documents as well as financial contributions to help defray expenses as the assigned leaders liaised with the offices from whom they needed assistance.

Before he graduated from college, Boy Deo received news from KUPA that the proposals it submitted had been favorably considered and were on process for grant of award.

His organizing work in Cerrito enabled the KUPA to access on-site housing through the government’s Community Mortgage Program. Some were given housing units in relocation sites in Dasmarinas, Kabite, or in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan. They also received livelihood grants from private humanitarian organizations. Years later, seeing community cohesion at work, politicians chipped in to provide financial support for KUPA-identified community projects.

More urban poor communities in Cerrito copied KUPA’s approach. And Boy Deo in many ways had become the poster boy for community renewal, transformation, and empowerment. The young man with a knack for community organizing had attracted a vast market from among Manila’s urban poor population.