With the year 2013 ending, it’s always fun to recall all that has happened. All the changes one has gone through, new stuff, recurring stuff, good and bad moments, people you met, length of hair, realizations etc. Perhaps one’s New Year’s Resolution can be formulated from reflection. So, what has happened in my 2013?
(Okay, too much has happened in the 2013 of Duane Fernando, so this post will be strictly for my salary giving life.)
The Employed Life
Before I graduated from STI in 2012, I made a decision to build on my internship with OPAPP. So Ms. Joey, my superior at the time, made arrangements to take me in as a volunteer. Eventually, at the start of the year, before she left, she made some final signings. 4 of my mentors in the ICTU office got promotions. And I was given one of the items left by one of my mentors who left for greener pastures. So hello, first job. Hello DTR, PDS, TOR, L/UT/A and all the abbreviations in the life of an employee (except for SSS, GSIS and PhilHealtjh, which isn’t a commodity us contractual employees enjoy).
For a first job, OPAPP wasn’t exactly what you would call ‘for starters’. At least not in my case. When an office reorganization took place circa March, the administrative division took the ICTU under its wing. However, me and Kaloy would be pulled under the domain of the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation unit, due to the fact that Data Management was tied to our function as System Development. Thankfully, we got to keep ourselves seated with the ICTU, contrary to a previous proposal to separate the two of us from them.
The first few months under our new director went so-so. I helped Kaloy by continuing system documentation and a few tasks associated with the data (like data extraction) within the system he was tasked of developing, which is currently in its Prototype stages.
When June rolled around, a string of field operations began to unfold. And they needed biometric activities. The head of the administrative division which oversaw the ICTU office wanted nothing to do with the biometrics unless IT support was needed, so the only ones left were me and Kaloy. We were aghast. But we also saw it as an opportunity to gather data needed to consolidate the information in the database, so we took the task head on. Because choices exist.
Not your usual government employee
The first few trips to the Cordillera mountains were assemblies of the provinces’ respective People’s Organizations. Me and Kaloy were there simply to verify and gather fingerprint codes. We were beginning to feel exhausted by the long hours spent traveling. We were starting to blame the innocent biometric devices. Little did we know it was only a preview of things to come.
Oh, and just a quick note, around the last week of June, we were asked to help with the inventory of turned-in firearms to the Army. This becomes significant later.
August. We are once again pulled from the office to once again aid in a turn-in activity. Scratch that; “activities”.
This was the first time I witnessed insanity. Or dedication to work, call it what you want. We stepped foot in 6 provinces in 3 days. We were sleeping in our van. We were a mobile team. It wasn’t healthy. This was OPAPP.
In a span of 15 days, I had literally been in every province in the Cordilleras. Our annual travel to Baguio with my family, which is a 6 hour trip, looked like a stroll. The winding curves of Kennon Road, which takes from 30 minutes to an hour, looked straight compared to the numerous elbows of Ambuklao (3 hours) and Halsema (5 hours).
The rest of the year consisted of more travel.
We spent 5 days in the Sugarland Hotel in Bacolod, where a long-lost treasure was found. This untapped fortune consisted of unlimited breakfast buffet, which includes the largest strips of bacon I have ever seen in my life. That’s right, UNLIMITED BACON, ladies and gentlemen. Unlimited bacon breakfast which includes fried rice, some other stuff which paled in comparison to the bacon, and the freedom to have your egg cooked any way and how many you want. Bacolod Chicken Inasal what?
Birth of the ‘Unusual Government Employee’ Terminology
Kaloy was eventually put under a hold travel order in October. No papers signed, by the way, our director simply declined all requests for him to travel with a wave of the hand, due to the hard coding he was leaving behind. I could handle the biometrics by that point anyway, so I was the going back and forth to the military camp in Isabela. Operations in the region were found to have gone haywire, and we were tasked with helping patch up the situation.
A colleague of mine took up the duty of managing the thousand names. I relieved her of the firearms data. With that, the DDR unit became my client.
We went back to the Cordillera Region a few weeks ago. 3 teams went up, and I went with the team that traversed Apayao, Abra and Benguet. Because the activities were simultaneous, even my companions in the ICTU had to travel with us. (Again, the concept of travel time dawned upon me. I used to think the 10-hour land trip to Bicol by a friend in college was terrifying. Then we spent 18 hours on the road to Luna, Apayao. Way to shatter my beliefs.)
It was nearing Christmas and we were working our asses off. This was where the unusual government employee term was coined by Tinaii. OPAPP seemed to be the only office still in full throttle despite the Holiday season (although there were the DTI people in Apayao who spent 23 hours on the road because they somehow took a wrong turn into Ifugao). And we were disturbing Local Government Units.
Apayao Governor Bulut had a hangover from partying the previous night when we made a courtesy call (his chief of staff said the governor wasn’t feeling well and was advised by his doctor to stay home. But he forgot to leave out the partying part. I call BS on the doctor part). We attempted to make a courtesy call to Abra Governor Bersamin…on a weekend. Not even the security guard, who was the only sign of life in there, entertained us. Then in Baguio, I think the one person we were supposed to wait for wasn’t in any mood to compromise his holiday fever.
Despite the tight schedules, this string of activities had more time allotted for each province to be visited (unlike in August where we spent something like 6 hours in Abra then rushed off to Apayao at 10 in the evening, arrived at 4 in the morning then woke up at 6). We had some leeway to stroll around and explore after the preparatory meetings. We got to throw rocks right in the banks of the Abra River. The Cariño couple showed us to Victoria Park, where one could see the city of Bangued from a higher vantage point.
Still living up to being unusual
Before we were even on our way back to Manila, I received orders to travel to Mountain Province on the 26th (TWENTY FREAKING SIXTH, right after Christmas!).
When we went up there, we realized Mountain Province wasn’t going to be the venue of the activity. It was just a place to sleep for the night. Which was convenient since Ms. Susan had to meet with the Sadanga mayor, who is a staunch supporter of the peace process. The activity was to be held in Tinglayan which is the municipality adjacent to Mountain Province. Again, we were disturbing these people during the holidays, because we are the almighty OPAPP.
Thankfully, Mike is from Bontoc; and he’s fluent in 4 of the dialects in the region, so conversing with them was made a lot easier. Come afternoon, we dashed off to Tabuk City, but not before filling ourselves up (willingly and unwillingly) with newly butchered pork. We went home on the morning of the 28th. My companions went home, anyway. I went home to Baguio. Ms. Susan wished us farewell. “See you next year!” she said.
There’s a silver lining to everything. And most hardships come with lessons.
- Time is a valuable resource, and can also be your downfall if you’re a chronic latecomer.
- Being kind in the office isn’t always repaid well.
- Overtime pay is important. Sad that we don’t have any, not even hazard pay.
- If you submit your DTR after the deadline, you get a full month’s pay. Then the deductions pile up.
- How to thread Cat-45 UTP Cables
- It’s easy to get fat once you’re employed.
- A matrix is different from a table.
- Fairweathered people exist.
- Water beats beverages any time.
- Biking to work, in Quezon City, is faster.
- Everyone is human. Even your boss.
- The low salary for government employees is somewhat compensated for by food in meetings.
- Traveling is fun. For me, anyway.
- Unlimited bacon exists.
- Lift the water heater before touching the water.
- Abra is a source of pure honey.
- The Ilocano dialect has several variants that differ even in pronunciation across areas; sometimes one barangay’s dialect will differ from one adjacent to it.
- Bus companies in the mountains earn a fuck load. Imagine P200 per passenger, including the ones on the roof.
- They eat a lot of pork and vegetables in the mountains.
- They smell that way because of the pork and sun. Spend a whole day there, you’ll smell the same.
- It’s disrespectful to refuse when invited to eat; so chow if you value your life, even if their cooking is the same.
- Tribal wars aren’t uncommon in the mountains. Even if you’re friends, you have to honor your code once war breaks out.
- It’s either very hot or very rainy in Apayao.
- Kalinga has been known as a hotspot for all kinds of wild shit for so long that its denizens and public transports in and out are the ones that adapt. But they make the best brooms, chili paste and brewed coffee.
- You can’t smoke in Davao; at least not in public or your vehicle with the window open.
- It’s possible to get to Manila from Baguio and vice versa in 3 hours; pre-TPLEX
- Sitting beside the driver can be just as exhausting if you do it right (i.e. NOT sleeping on the driver)
- etc etc etc too many to mention
- I will miss traveling. My relatives have been nagging me to transfer into a job which pays more moolah (like twice of what I earn in hard cash), but they’re mostly stagnant, sit-in-your-office-and-get-fat jobs. Money doesn’t buy experience and free travel expenses.