MARILOG DISTRICT, Davao City (MindaNews/6 June) – Who says backpackers are the only good hitchhikers? Count the teachers assigned in this district who may have mastered the art of hitchhiking after all these years.
Public school teacher Marilyn Camarillo wakes up at 4 a.m. everyday to prepare her packed lunch, which she would bring to school.
Camarillo, who lives in barangay Maa, has to take a jeepney going to Ulas junction as early as 6 a.m. because she needs to catch the 7:30 a.m. flag ceremony at the Sto. Niño Elementary School at Barangay Datu Salumay in this district.
Although it would only take about an hour of jeepney or bus ride to reach her school in Marilog District, the 47-year-old teacher should be at the junction in Ulas before 6 a.m. to hitch a ride to get there. Marilog, located along the Davao-Bukidnon highway, is around 60 kilometers from the junction.
“As much as possible, we would opt for a free ride because we don’t have travel allowance and we are getting our fares from our own pockets,” Camarillo, who teaches grades three and four, told MindaNews.
Sometimes they get a free ride, but sometimes not.
“In a week, the most would be three free rides, on private vehicles like SUVs, fish haulers, hauler trucks and even dump trucks. We will ride any vehicle as long as it’s for free because one-way fare by bus is P50,” said Camarillo. Or P100 a day if the should take the bus.
Most of the teachers, Camarillo said, are spending about P1,500 a month for transportation, from their respective homes to Ulas, and then to Marilog. It could be much more if they won’t hitch rides at all.
That would be a huge chunk from their salaries that range from P16,000 to P20,000, allowances included.
Mostly private vehicles
Rose Bangcas, 50, who teaches at Marilog National High School, said they can seldom get free rides from government vehicles, particularly the SUVs.
“In most cases, the only government vehicles that would give us a free ride are the dump trucks,” Bangcas said with a chuckle.
She said they have no choice but climb up the dump truck, especially if there is no room in the front seat.
For safety reasons, the teachers usually travel in groups. “The least is three, and the most would be 10,” the high school teacher said.
Bangcas, who travels every school day from her home in Barangay Bago all the way to Marilog, recalled the time when 10 of them teachers squeezed themselves at the sleeping compartment of an International Harvester trailer truck.
Camarillo could not hide her disgust on her fellow government employees who travel with government-owned vehicles and do not offer a free ride.
“They’re government employees like us, but I’m wondering why they won’t let us ride in their vehicles,” she said.
Politicians’ promise: a school bus
Camarillo, who is also the officer-in-charge of her school, said some government officials in the district have promised to provide a school bus for the teachers.
Bangcas pointed out that in Marilog proper alone, 70 percent of the teachers live in downtown Davao.
But during election period, Camarillo said some politicians would give them a free ride. “We would have a free ride almost everyday because they were busy campaigning in the barangays. But on normal days, those politicians would just ignore us,” she lamented.
Bangcas said it would be great if they would have a school bus so they could save money. “Even an Elf truck would do. Just place seats there, add a roof, and we’re happy.”
But Camarillo said they will try to ask for school bus this time from Mayor Sara Duterte.
For the love of the profession
To be able to hitch a ride is not the end of a happy story, because not all of them teach in schools along the national highway.
Camarillo, for one, has to walk one kilometer from the highway to her school. This she has been doing for 25 years. Sometimes she can ride on a motorcycle. But with the added cost, and an impassable road when it rains, she’d rather walk.
“I was assigned here in 1986, and never been transferred elsewhere. I didn’t request to be transferred to the city, too,” said the teacher who is married to a farmer who hails from the same village. Mrs. Camarillo goes home to Maa everyday, while her husband sleeps in a hut in the farm on weekdays and joins her in the trip to Davao for the weekend.
Like Camarillo, Bangcas has never requested for a reassignment in the city because she has also learned to love the place as well as the students.
“If you’ve taught in a school for long, you don’t want to abandon the students anymore,” she said.
Both teachers said it won’t be easy for the teachers to live near the school on weekdays because there is no electricity and water is scarce.
“Without electricity, you cannot work on your lesson plans and other school related stuff. So we would rather go home everyday. But when I was still single, I have tried to live near the school and go home on weekends,” said Camarillo.
In early 2001, she also lived near the school during weekdays. She recalled that at the height of the nationwide anti-Erap protests, her transistor radio ran out of batteries. “I only learned that Arroyo was already our President three days later when I visited a friend in a nearby village to have my batteries recharged,” she said.
Prepared to hitch
Amor Sibucon, 27, who just started to teach in the same school with Bangcas last year, said she has prepared herself to travel everyday from Calinan to Marilog.
“When I applied for this position, I knew I have to hitch a ride going here to save money,” said Sibucon, who taught three years in a private school before she was hired as a public school teacher.
Margie Jimena, 31, finds it exciting to be a teacher in far-flung areas, like in Marahan West Elementary School. Although the school is just along the national highway, Jimena said the most exciting part is the daily wait for a free ride.
“When we hitch, we get to meet other people. There is always the thrill if you would get a free ride or not,” said the grade six teacher.
She recalled that her first assignment was in a remote village in Marilog where she had to walk 10 kilometers for four to five hours. “I stayed in the area for a week, then go home on weekends,” said the mother three boys from Calinan.
Like Camarillo and Bangcas, Jimena also never requested for a transfer to schools near her home. “The list is very long. It may take you forever to wait for a slot in the urban schools. Besides, we love being here because the students are more eager to learn than those in the urban areas,” she said.
And so when 4 o’clock in the afternoon strikes during school days, the teachers would once again stand along the highway to wait for vehicles that would offer them a free ride back to Ulas. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)