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Bananas on the Streets of Davao
During the season I was bidding friends good bye in Hong Kong, I happened to have a conversation with a friend about our fathers. My friend who liked to ask about people’s social backgrounds asked what my father did for a living. I replied: ‘My dad is a farmer. He has his own little plot of land in one of Davao’s adjoining towns, plants his own vegetables in his backyard’
My friend scoffed, for he was the type who would not associate himself with anyone less than honest; however, in characteristic l’esprit d’escalier, I failed to say the rest that follows: My father ‘steals’ bananas on the streets of Davao when the trucks from Dole or some other mega plantation in Mindanao to dump bananas which are considered substandard, but edible nonetheless.’
If one were to read Tristam Stuart’s latest book, Waste, one would realise how much ‘substandard’ food is completely edible and should be fed either to animals, or to human beings with more resilient stomachs.
But ‘stealing’ in the strictest sense it is, for those bananas were never my father’s property nor produce.
‘Stealing’ is still is, although the whole town takes to the streets, not to protest the seeming disregard for public property with bananas on the streets.
‘Stealing’ it is guiltily regarded, even when the townspeople havefor as long as those mega plantations have been shipping prime quality bananas to Japanpicking up substandard and unworthy bananas from the streets to create a whole industry of banana products consisting of banana fibre, banana chips, banana cake, banana chocolate pudding, banana pie, and all the delicious banana delicacies that come from my father’s home, largely considered by the rest of the world as plunged into religious turmoil and ruin: Mindanao.
When the trucks come dumping, the people in my father’s town are elated, for they have new banana products to sell and have a living to make. But ‘stealing’ it is, for the bananas are not theirs. Right.
I purposely could not use the word ‘scavenging’ to describe one of my father’s little pleasures, because it would have been demeaning. My father had done nothing in his life to bring himself, or his daughters, dishonour. He had done his duty as a member of the military, realised he could not wield a gun as soldiers could, earned a living by circumnavigating the globe with the opportunity he was given, raised three daughters with his absence, and has finally come home to a place he knows his own daughters and his daughters’ children would never follow.
Despite being away from his own children, living in conditions his own children would not themselves enjoy, my father has found contentment. In my last visit to Davao with my daughter, my fatherthe outdoorsman he can betook his bolo and with one swift stroke, plunged it right in the centre of a coconut he had just picked from the nearest tree in the orchard, and cracked the fruit open. Out flowed the freshest coconut juice one could wish for, even in cities envisioning the freshest organic products on supermarket stalls. Nothing could beat the juice flowing from a newly cracked coconut skull that was detached mere seconds from its wiry twig and husk. He must have forgiven my daughter for not drinking it all; it must have been all that sugar in more citric acid based drinks.
My father has shown me how difficult it can be to shun all the glistening attractions of money, power and wealth; sometimes he wishes he had won the lottery,
but he couldn’t bring himself to gamble away FOOD, he would joke, as he would admit that he hadn’t the money for such ‘games’; but to walk away from all the things that one could not take to the grave when the death knell tolls, apparently quod est demonstratum, can be done. Yes, it can be done. Grayling wrote about ‘the good life’ described in summary as a life in which a. one does no harm to others; b. one improves oneself to the highest degree that one’s mind can muster and to the degree one can afford; and c. one remains productive, active and capable of helping those in need while one’s limbs are working.
It has become common practice for some government officials to engage in bribery (lately in the form of brown paper lunch bags somewhere along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City), but it takes a level of skill and, I dare say, artistry to wield a bolo and strike only ONCE at the very centre of a coconut with deft and ease to crack the skull open and expose the flesh.
It takes strength of will and the courage to go against one’s heart to drive that wedge between the permissible and the unacceptable, the wheat and the chaff.
In other countries, where the natives are suspicious of foreigners, some visitors like to assure the natives, ‘We are good people.’ I often wonder nowadays what being a ‘good person’ constitutes. Grayling’s What is Good? But what if the person speaks for a community? The academe, or a community of learners, for instance?
Can the academe be trusted to safeguard its doors from admitting people who havewhatever their reputation in their chosen industry and despite their personal flaws, deliberately or notcommitted a form of intellectual dishonesty? If the admission be done out of compassion, then it may all be well and good for the recipient of this kindness, as the faux pas can be forgotten, especially if the deed were an honest mistake. However, the deed creates a precedent for the whole community of academies in the country, as a recent event has been publicised elsewhere in the English speaking world.
The next question the Philippines will confront is: Are the graduates of Philippine universities capable of upholding the highest standards of academic honesty, despite the Philippine government’s ills, the country’s economic difficulties and its society’s inequalities?
If the answer is an insipid ‘no,’ then one should fear the harm an act of kindness may do to the many intelligent and honest intellectuals of the country whose lives and vocations depend on scholarships, prizes and grants. More scrutiny will be involvedthough unnecessary if one were from another, supposedly first world country. The Philippines has become another laughing stock in the English speaking world: this time, the affront is not another cultural anecdote as a form of ‘mild’ racism, but an insult to the collective Filipino mind. And as most Filipino cognoscenti who travel extensively with their Philippine passports know, the forms of scrutiny can be humiliatingand that is an understatement.
The fault of one’s fortune has become a scourge upon the plenty.
Such is the Filipino story of the public life, tainted by an exhibition of deception, the ostentatious display of greed, and the guiltless disregard for scruples and decency. How else can it be viewed without any other explanation sounding like a pretext?
Luckily, on the streets of Davao, the trucks that come dumping bananas don’t drive over their company ‘waste products’. Should that happen, not only public property will have been desecrated, but public trust as well.