Monday, January 5, 2009

In small things forgotten: Mang Milton's iskolar pays it back as we all should (update)

(Shelving a New Year post in favor of this story which I hope will help start the year right. Thank you for reading.)

There were three 'cute guys' over at the UP Repertory Company in my time, all of them more than just acquaintances in the theater campus scene: Eugene, Mike and Bernie.

Cute they were, physically and in demeanor, but 'guys' they weren't, biologically.

Eugene is Eugenia Domingo, the spontaneous wise crack who, back then, was an underrated actress with overflowing confidence you could sense it from buildings away, and now, properly recognized for her talent. Mike is Mike Rivera — Michelle, if you will — the petite and dependable over-all production person who always had a ready, sincere smile for everyone; now wife and mother married to campus sweetheart Augie. And Bernie, real name: Bernadette de Castro, Aureaus' Solito's original Jaclyn Jose-look alike 'beautiful laundrette', she, not just the frank Rep and Tropa member but a level-headed, pragmatic student; erstwhile flight attendant and Vegas resident.

Like everyone in UP in my time, all three were state scholars who at some point in their UP lives have had to seek financial assistance or other to complete a course. Unlike everyone in UP, however, they enjoyed campus life differently in that extra-curricular work, theater in this case, became an alt-life they pursued with passion while maintaining above-average school standing and still managed to avoid being slapped the maximum residency rule.

A [re]connection for a hero
I got reconnected with Eugene and Mike last year at the 2008 Cinemalaya screening. Though brief, the reunion was nonetheless gratifying.

A few days ago, through mutual friend Dante Garcia, Mike and I are now virtually reconnected because of Mike's story on Meliton Zamora, or Mang Milton.

"Meet Meliton Zamora, a retired University of the Philippines janitor and my hero. For forty-five years, he swept floors, cleaned up trash, watered plants and did odd jobs at the University", Mike wrote.

It turns out that dependable Mike, always present at Rep's activities and visible at their tambayan, was much like the majority of Iskolars ng Bayan in our time: juggling studies, org activities and familial obligations.

Also, Mike's generous smile defied this multi-tasking reality so adroitly that she always came across as problem-free and relaxed.
"Back then, [Mang Milton] was just one of those characters whom you got acquainted with and left behind as soon as you earned your degree and left the university for some big job in the real world...But for many UP students like me who were hard up and had a difficult time paying their tuition fees, Mang Mel was a hero who gave them the opportunity to finish university and get a big job in the real world."
The mop and a pen
STFAP, UP's socialized tuition fee scheme, was already in effect then, and Mike was categorized under Bracket 9. That meant full payment of tuition fees and being ineligible for any financial assistance from the University.

Mike's father had lost his job three courses short of her graduation. Mike worked part-time to supplement her allowance and had to avail of a student loan on her last campus semester. However, looking for a faculty member to guarantee her turned out to be a daunting task (..."But those whom I approached either refused or were not eligible as guarantors").

Twenty-four hours into the last day of enrollment, Mike was hopeless and helpless on the steps of the AS lobby.
"Mang Mel... mop in hand, approached me and asked why I was crying. I told him I had no guarantor for my student loan and will probably not be able to enroll this semester. I had no hopes that he would be able to help me. After all, he was just a janitor. He borrowed my loan application papers and said softly. 'Puwede ako pumirma. Empleyado ako ng UP.' He borrowed my pen and signed his name. With his simple act of faith, Mang Mel not only saved my day, he also saved my future."
That was fifteen years ago. That summer, Mike settled her dues.

675 days less
Mang Mel is now retired from UP and, although given due recognition for his 45 years of service, his retirement pay was only credited 171 days of work. The University deducted about 675 days from his full retirement pay as a result of the unsettled loans Mang Mel guaranteed countless of students.

"This seems to me a cruel repayment for his kindness", Mike wrote. Even in retirement, Mang Mel still works odd jobs like "doing a little sideline gardening for a UP professor in Tandang Sora" to make ends meet.

Not the blues
Sometime in November 2008, Mike was told that Mang Mel recorded an album in a mall to sell to help with daily expenses.

I had availed of a student loan myself with a faculty as guarantor. I wonder, however, how many students in all of Mang Meliton's 45 years in UP actually had his signature on their loan forms, and how many students of the 675 days deducted to his retirement pay failed to settle loans due him.

In retirement, Mang Mel is creative. I personally think, though, that a CD at P350 each only goes a long way.

It seems Meliton Zamora is not asking for much. Forty-five silent years of service Mang Mel, or Milton, routinely cleaned away the floors and corridors of AS the best he could while students engaged themselves in on- and off-campus pursuits. Yet Mang Milton, with so much goodness in his heart, demanded nothing back, save perhaps for some appreciation for his voice this time around.

A cyber call to a real cause
"This is a cybercall to anyone who did not get to pay their student loans that were guaranteed by Mang Mel. Anytime would be a good time to show Mang Mel your gratitude." Could a recipient to Mang Milton's generosity be anyone I personally know besides Mike? Could anyone else be moved or be interested in listening to a silent hero, this time by purchasing Milton Zamora's CD from No. 16-A, Block 1, Pook Ricarte, U.P. Campus, Diliman, Quezon City (behind UP International House) or through his daughter Kit V. Zamora (0916-4058104)?

Kitakits, taumbayan! (update)
Meanwhile, Mike and a couple of friends from UP Rep, like Eugene, Dante and others are putting together something soon on Jan. 17, 2009, 7:30 pm at the new Taumbayan place on 40-A T. Gener Street on Kamuning. The evening will be dedicated to Mang Milton who will not only speak of stories but sing live to whoever might care to listen and share.

An invitation: A Night with Mang Mel at Taumbayan

My friends and I have invited Mang Meliton Zamora to a night of food, music and kuwentuhan at Taumbayan, a new tambayan that serves delicious grilled food. Mang Mel wil be selling his CD’s there. So if you want to buy a CD, meet Mang Mel, show your gratitude or pay your student loan back (don’t worry, you can pay it back discreetly and we won’t make a target out of you and will be thankful that you paid it back)…
[Read full invite]

Do come.

Read Mike's full post and album list here.

Added 05 Jan 09: Map to Taumbayan

Palma Hall photo by ButchukoyD
Mang Milton's CD photo by Mike R.


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