by PATRICK V. MIGUEL
THE SUN is starting to peek through the sky by the time Ate Maricar Yabut heads to work. Before the laughter of the Artlets reverberates around the building, Ate Maricar and her fellow maintenance staff walk around and work in AB’s decades-old hallways.
From there, she starts on the first floor to tend to the trash bins. Working her way up to the second floor, Ate Maricar ensures that AB would then be a spotless, conducive learning environment.
In contrast, Kuya Rayman David’s shift starts in the afternoon as the afternoon shift students enter their first class. Students would often find him in the lobby, welcoming the Artlets.
As night time comes, the students’ voices around the hallways gradually fade. Once the lights around campus shut off, Kuya Rayman and his fellow workmates go home, fulfilled for the day’s job.
For the next day and until the coming days.
For their service
Kuya Rayman and Ate Maricar have been working in AB as maintenance staff for 2 years and 15 years, respectively. Throughout, they formed friendships not only with their coworkers but also with the professors and students.
Ate Maricar recalls her favorite memory in UST, saying, “Ang pinaka paborito kong alaala [sa AB ay] kapag December… kasi maraming nagbibigay sa amin dito kapag Pasko… lalo na ‘yung mga propesor at mga admin.”
Reminiscing the days that have passed, Kuya Rayman says, “Masaya ako kapag nakikita ko kayong mga estudyante. Na-miss ko na nga ‘yung bonding [kasi] makukulit eh. May mga pasaway, mabait, [at] mga nerd. Masaya.”
Unfortunately, the days when students and professors roamed the hallways of AB have passed. It has been more than a year since the start of lockdown and classes went online. With this, the desks in classrooms and offices have gathered dust, leaving behind small remnants of how lively AB once was.
“Ngayon, malungkot kami kasi wala kayo rito. [Ang lungkot] dito sa building…napaka-tahimik,” Ate Maricar shares.
With his voice shifting to a forlorn tone, Kuya Rayman expresses, “Miss ko na kayong [mga estudyante].”
Gasping for air
With the threat of coronavirus in March 2020, Kuya Rayman decided to stay in Pampanga; away from the epicenter of the pandemic. Ate Maricar, on the other hand, stayed in Manila to work, despite her family staying in Quezon Province.
“Noong nag-lockdown, wala kaming sweldo… Tapos ngayon… ang pasok lang namin ay dalawang araw sa isang linggo. ‘No work, no pay’ rin kami,” Ate Maricar says. To make up for lost wages, she was hired by the professors to clean their houses.
Since Kuya Rayman is scared of getting exposed to the virus, he chose to temporarily not go back to UST. He says, “Isang taon na ako [rito] sa Pampanga…. Sabi ko, kapag okay na ang lahat, doon na lang ako papasok.” With this, Kuya Rayman has no stable job at the moment. He now occasionally works in construction.
Unfortunately, despite working more than one job, Ate Maricar still struggles to make ends meet. Ever since the start of the lockdown, she is financially challenged with the monthly bills and the tuition fees of her children. Lamenting her situation, she says, “Mahirap… kaso no choice tayo… kasi ‘yon ang pinapatupad ng gobyerno. Sa amin, kami ang naapektuhan talaga ng todo.”
With Kuya Rayman, he grapples with landing a stable job. He says, “Naubos ‘yung ipon [ko]. Walang pagkakakitaan […] Mahirap na kung wala kang pagkukuhanan… wala kang makain […] [Kaya] ‘yung [sideline ko] dito sa Pampanga na construction, okay lang basta makaraos….”
Both Ate Maricar and Kuya Rayman are gasping for air to breathe, as they continue swimming in a perilous sea of uncertainty and impediment. Struggling to stay afloat in the middle of a pandemic, they both have only one priority: to survive.
Maraming salamat, po
The AB Faculty, AB Chorale, and the AB Student Council altruistically expressed their gratitude to the maintenance staff by starting donation drives. Kuya Rayman notes, “Buti may ganoon… malaking tulong sa amin ‘yon […] Kahit papano, tinutulungan pa rin nila kami.”
When asked what inspires them to work in AB, they share a tender smile and say that that was their favorite question. With this, Kuya Rayman wholeheartedly answers, “Kayong [mga] estudyante.”
Moved by the question, Ate Maricar says, “Ang aking pamilya. Kaya ako nagtiya-tiyaga… kaya ako nagiging matatag kasi mayroon akong pamilyang binubuhay […] Para sa kinabukasan nila…. Kahit mahirap, kakayanin [ko].”
Despite their struggles during the pandemic, they both remain hopeful for the day when students are back in school, excited to see AB bloom back to life.
“Lagi kong pinagdarasal na sana makabalik na sa dati,” Kuya Rayman shares.
Full of optimism, Ate Maricar speaks with full manifestation, “Magkikita pa tayo.”
The day will come where hallways would be paved by students and professors once again. By that time, these hidden figures often overlooked before should no longer be treated as mere shadows. Now, students should be able to at least sincerely tell them, “Maraming salamat, po.” F
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Vol. 56, Issue No. 3 of the Flame. View the entire issue through this link