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Opinion | National

INHUMANITY OF INDIFFERENCE | 'Padyak' driver dies in front of passing pedestrians near DLSU-Taft

A queue of "padyak" drivers in Mendiola, 26 June 2013. BERNARD TESTA/
The online news portal of TV5

(Editor’s Note: A shorter version of this piece was posted on C.J. Chanco’s Facebook page. sought C.J.’s permission to run the piece. He sent us this.)

I was at first reluctant to write this. Afraid of being accused of taking literary advantage of life’s many tragedies. But some things cannot be left unsaid.

On a rainy Friday night, a man lay motionless on the sidewalk below the LRT right across De La Salle University-Manila. It was clear he was sick, and needed urgent attention. He was a de-padyak driver.

Security guards from DLSU were the first to arrive on the scene, I was told. His pedicab had stalled for half an hour in a corner of Taft before I arrived. I would not have seen him if the jeepney I’d been riding had not stopped at Quirino, and I had to walk the rest of the way to Vito Cruz.

The guards were reluctant to shelter him at the university. The DLSU clinic had apparently refused to grant him entry.

Maybe one of the nurses could come out and see him then? I asked. To verify, at the very least, whether or not he was still alive?

They would have to check. Would have to seek bureaucratic approval from the school authorities. Bureaucratic approval for the life of a man, who just might be a con artist. It was Standard Operating Procedure, after all. Perfectly understandable.

Okay. Did he have a phone? Maybe we could call his relatives.

There was nothing in his belt bag. Someone had probably snatched it in the quarter of an hour or so that he lay slumped motionless inside his pedicab before the guards arrived to check on him.

(Only the DLSU guards, by the way, did anything. There were a couple of cops and an MMDA officer on hand and they did all they could -- as passive observers.) 

I felt for a pulse. Nothing. The guards performed CPR for the second time. One of the bystanders, recognizing him, had rushed to alert his relatives. He was from Munoz.

We looked desperately for a cab, an FX, a bus, another pedicab -- anything -- to take him to the hospital. A full 20 minutes ticked by, and not one of the cars stopped to pick him up, or even paused to see what was happening. Not even in Pinoy usisero spirit.

His family arrived minutes later. Amid the increasingly hysterical wails of a woman, presumably his wife, I could only catch that it was his “pangalawang beses” (Second what? Stroke? Heart attack? Seizure?)

At this point, I knew it was too late. Even a man without a medical degree can understand the first 10 minutes after a heart attack or a seizure can mean the difference beween life and death.

At this point, not one of the La Salle students streaming out of Henry Sy Hall and into their private cars bothered to look. A crowd, however, did gather around the man’s body, which was rapidly turning cold: his fellow de-padyak drivers, JC, Renzo, and the other street kids, who were flagging down occupied taxis and banging car windows to get them to pay attention. Not one of them ever did, and only a tricycle driver -- probably another relative -- finally agreed to take him to Ospital ng Maynila.

The rain was pouring down, of course, and it was rush hour. Perfectly understandable.

I, for my part, was useless, as usual. I never got the man’s name. As his family brought his body (now cold and stiff) into the pedicab, I could only watch the scene unfold. Moments like these, I would later realize, bring a certain mental clarity, a numb blankness, before questions (and guilt) start nagging at the back of one’s head.

If the man did not have to pedal in vain for hours on end, ferrying St. Scho, CSB, and DLSU students to and from the bars and discos around Taft -- in the heat and the rain, for less than a hundred pesos a day -- would he have suffered the same fate?

If he had collapsed in a sports car, carried a La Salle ID (as I did) -- or was, for instance, someone’s prized purebred pet dog and not a human being -- would De La Salle Inc. have let him in?

He was around 50 -- old enough to be my father. Did he have children? A wife? A pet dog? Could he afford maintenance meds? Did he have a doctor? Did he have health insurance?

If his family took him to a public hospital, would they have to foot the bill?

Would the doctors even care? Certainly the school hardly did.

It was half an hour or more before the guards reached the man and called for an ambulance. And none arrived. They called the police first. The man’s relatives from Munoz were ahead of them (while the PNP and MMDA officers looked on, stupefied).

Now, be fair, I’ve been told. What if the school simply was not prepared to deal with such an incident?

The university clinic doubtless has proper equipment to deal with emergency situations, in or off campus. The school has enough money to spare to refurbish our canteens and make each one look like a five-star resto -- and not enough money for the clinic? The families of La Salle students do not pay 150,000 to 200,000 thousand pesos a year for nothing.

By the time I arrived, the man had no pulse or it was so weak none of us could feel it. I felt the guards, who have doubtless received first aid training, knew what they were doing. They had administered CPR before I came.

Again, I asked if we could at least carry the man into the south gate lobby - which was just a few meters away from where he lay. The guards refused, not until they received permission from the school administration or the security office. Again I asked if a school nurse could at least come out and check on him. They had received no approval from "sa loob," so we could nothing.

Again, it was raining hard outside.

I am not blaming the guards. The La Salle guards did all they could at the time and had already gone far beyond the call of duty. I'm blaming whoever was "inside": the baboon who had neither the heart nor the brains nor the common sense to at least say, “yes, bring him in.” This is bureaucracy at its finest. The school's inaction was inexcusable whichever way you look at it.

It was also probably afraid of having to foot the bill if they had brought the man to the hospital. They would have had no such qualms if Henry Sy tripped on some sidewalk on Taft, broke his ankle, and had to be brought to the clinic, ASAP. The man can afford it, and in fact paid for his own building on campus.

So yes, this is -- at least partly -- a rich versus poor issue. Bureaucracy with all its attendant ills arises from a system that prizes efficiency more than humanity, money more than compassion and common sense. Social insensitivity is part and parcel of a system that has normalized inequality, promotes fear and distrust of the “other” -- especially the “rabble on the streets” that we would rather flush away.

Are we being unfair to the school? Perhaps. But there is no fair play when a man's life is at stake and we did nothing, when we could have done everything. And I say “we” -- because I am as much involved in what happened, and what is happening (to the university and to the wider world) as the baboon inside.

We are told, at times like these, not to overreact, not to be emotional. That it happens all the time. That there is nothing we can do. That children and old men collapse of neglect, starvation, or sheer exhaustion, every single day. That they die ignominious deaths out on the streets, in slums, in war zones, in prisons, in dumpsites, in distant lands far from their families.

That they drop dead like flies -- as nameless in death as in birth. The fact is: The way we treat these nameless millions in death is in direct correlation with the way we regard them in life.

 That is, like trash. To be flushed out of the streets. 

I am struck at the callousness of universities that earn tens of millions of pesos to teach their students how not to give a damn about the plight of the rest of society, in the world beyond their white walls, beyond their conscience-tight, air-conditioned classrooms.

As though money can ever shield young people from reality. But they end up blinded, not immunized.

I am struck at the reality of how cheap life is, in a society that wears its values and casts them off when they prove inconvenient; casts them off like they shrug off countless, nameless millions because they are somehow beneath us.

It’s as cheap as our collective hypocrisy. 

[See: The story of Reynaldo Carcillar, a pedicab driver who died on the streets of Manila]