Thursday, July 9, 2009


Welcome back, Mildred Perez. We are very proud of you.

And you, Chip Tsao, what say you? (We have not forgotten.)

Back two days ago from Hong Kong was the praiseworthy 38-year-old Filipino domestic helper who returned P2.1 million (HK$350,545) in cash and checks which she found in a garbage bin several months ago.

Why in a garbage bin? Because Mildred was scavenging. Because she had quit her job. Because she had an abusive employer. She had been rummaging through garbage piles for scraps in order to support herself and find means to pursue her case in court against her employer. She was out of work.

Hong Kong law prohibits foreigners who have sued their employers from being employed while their case is being heard. And so fate led Mildred to a foul, slimy and vermin-filled pile that yielded an envelope that could have been her family’s ticket to a better life. It was like manna from heaven. A cinematic moment indeed. Mildred could have become, to borrow a movie title, a slum-dog millionaire. There’s a lot Mildred could have done with what she found.

Instead, Mildred searched for the envelope’s owner. She found the owner. She returned the cash and checks to the owner. As a reward for her honesty and effort, Mildred—unemployed and hungry—received a can of cookies from the envelope’s owner.

“Biskwit”—that’s what Mildred said she received. That was the word she used when airport reporters interviewed her upon her return. She said it with a straight face, with nary a hint of self-pity.

“Biskwit” is a Filipino generic term for biscuits, cookies and crackers. Biskwit is a cheap, light crispy flour-based snack that is better than the artificially-flavored, cholesterol-laden, artificially colored chips in non-biodegradable foil packs. I grew up on Marie biscuits, Graham crackers, Fita and Skyflakes that, I later learned, are all generically called biskwit. Jacob’s I found too bland.

Biskwit and coffee are what the Filipino masa usually serve in wakes. Biskwit used to come in cans; now they are in colorful plastic tubs and all-purpose buckets. They are sold in bus terminals and piers, are the perfect pasalubong (homecoming present) for a waiting brood in remote areas where there are no groceries.

While pursuing a story in a poor, far-flung community many years ago, I was served, several times, a barrio-style buko (young coconut) drink with biskwit floating on it. I will never forget that and it still makes me smile.

Some years ago, a photographer friend asked me for a title for his photograph of a shy boy in a relief center receiving a biscuit pack. The boy was about to break into a smile. I insisted on the title, “Biskwit.” The photograph won an award and it’s still hanging in the Inquirer photo gallery.

So what brand of biscuits/cookies/crackers did Mildred receive from the lucky owner of the cash and checks? Were they Danish, English, Chinese? With or without melamine? Did she partake of them by her lonesome or did she share them with fellow OFWs? I will be honest to say that if I were in her place, I would be very happy to receive some monetary reward from the Chinese owner of the envelope. Mildred was jobless and without money—that’s why she was scavenging.

But an honest deed goes a long way and it is heartwarming to know that it is in the Philippines, and from her fellow Filipinos, that Mildred is getting her material and psychic reward. She cannot expect that from Hong Kong where many, the likes of magazine writer Chip Tsao, regard Filipino OFWs with contempt. Tsao openly mocked them and us here in the Philippines by saying that we are a nation of servants and other demeaning things.

A native of Nueva Vizcaya, Mildred is the mother of two teenagers, is married to Eddie, an honest tricycle driver himself, who several months ago also returned the money that a passenger had left behind. He also went out of his way to search for the owner.

Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla paid for Mildred’s trip home. He and the provincial government have promised P150,000 in cash for the Perez family, plus scholarships for the children. I hope more people would pitch in because Mildred has to go back to Hong Kong to pursue her case of indecent assault against her former employer. I hope he goes to jail.

Padilla announced that he will be inviting Mildred to the House of Representatives to personally receive commendation from Speaker Prospero Nograles. Politicians should meet her and look her in the eye and behold honesty in person.

If you are poor, P2.1 million is very, very big. If you are very rich, you can just splurge it on one big SUV.

Sometimes I feel uneasy when honest deeds by poor persons are made much of in the media. It is not that they do not deserve the accolade. But have honest Filipinos become so rare, are we a world of dishonest people that we showcase these acts of honesty? And not just the honesty, but more important, also the poverty. Not that it’s hard for the poor to be honest, but that the rich have a lot to learn from them.

* * *

Texters unite! Speaking of honesty, the cell phone companies have a lot of repenting to do for the unused vanishing loads that revert back to them, for stealing them, in the millions, from hapless consumers. I have to add to the list of complaints (which has not been brought up by the text advocates) the fact that cell phone cards have expiry dates (like in food items) at the back. You have to load them before the expiry date, and once you’ve loaded, you are slapped another expiration date before which you should consume your load.