September 12, 2014. About half an hour after the curtains close on another one of my most memorable training seminars, I get a call that two of my participants met an accident involving a tricycle on their way home. A young woman was telling me that it occurred near the public market. I wasn’t really sure how to react. I wasn’t going to panic because I felt like the woman in the other line was panicking. I thought that it may sound worse than it is. Anything said in a panicked voice would have you believing all kinds of stuff. But after three nights of drinking brandy, about 16 hours of not eating anything but one scrambled egg, and a whole morning of talking in front of a big crowd, it got tough to ignore the stress I suddenly felt. Rattled, I asked a co-worker and the hotel sales manager if we could get to the participants as soon as possible.
The three of us hop on the vehicle very quickly. The ride felt quiet but I knew we were all talking. I imagined this scenario happening a long time ago. I have already played it out in my head. I have trained more than a thousand people in the past year and I knew eventually something like this might happen. Statistically, it wasn’t too far off. We reach the site of the accident and no one was there. We get a text that they were now at the provincial hospital.
The hospital had lots of people looking stressed. My co-worker said that if society wanted a look at the face of despair we could look at either a community of indigents or a public hospital. Everyone looked tired in both and I was feeling it too. We were greeted by other participants who seemed to have postponed their own trip to home to check upon their two friends who were being treated at the hospital.
I heard a woman’s voice from near the entrance of the hospital: “Sir Darius! Ito po ang driver.” I approached the man. He was old and had bad dental work. He held up a child who looked like didn’t bathe in days. He said sorry. He was shaking. I felt compassion. Or partial compassion, if there was such a thing. I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t concerned too much about the driver. I wanted to see the two participants. I hurried to the information desk. No one was there. I entered a room, I wasn’t even sure which. I asked why no one was sitting for the information desk. I was told that it was lunch break. I exasperatedly replied “Lunch or not, that seat must not be empty!” I wasn’t too keen on hospital policies, but I said it with such certainty and conviction because it was common sense.
“Sir?” a familiar participant called. I was being lead to the surgery room. My co-worker was silent now. He once worked at a hospital too, and if his silence was any indication, I better start praying. We saw some familiar faces. I saw one of the victims of the accident - Angelica. She was walking fine, albeit bruised on one leg. She led me to the other victim named Purita. I saw her with a quiet stare. She had a small wound bleeding next to her nose, a bump on her forehead, and pain on her nape. It wasn’t as bad as we all thought it was. But, I wouldn’t know. She might be concussed, and some of the damage might surface a few hours after the fact.
I contacted the provincial link to inform what happened. I got careful not to phrase my story in a way that it would make her as stressed as I was an hour ago. She asked me to take care of things around here. I thought of texting my fellow training specialist, but I opted not to. “She was busy all day, like she always is. I’ll just text her when this is done.”
I approached the victims and they told me that the driver was driving recklessly when a deep pothole near the gas station caused the tricycle to suddenly stop, throwing the passengers within towards the hard glass and steel encasing the passenger compartment. A screw sticking out caused a gash in the face of Purita. It must have been intense; a face wound would have been bleeding hard when before they got to the hospital. They were still in line for treatment and I went out looking for food. I haven’t eaten a proper meal since yesterday. I bought the other participants and the driver some food. The tricycle driver didn’t want any of the food. He was feeling too guilty. I asked him to eat some because we might be waiting the whole day.
I asked his side of the story. He was blaming the poor road conditions. I asked him if he had gone that route before. He said yes. That fact reinforced that it was his fault. It didn’t matter anyway, since by principle anything that would happen to the passengers of his tricycle would always be his accountability. I told him he had to pay for the medicine. He only had 70 pesos in his wallet and none at home. He was as poor as a church mouse.
I saw Angelica going back from the pharmacy. The total amount of medicine they had to pay for now was worth at about 486 pesos. I gave them the money. After buying their medicine and receiving their injections, they were told that Purita should be observed for the next 24 hours. I talked to them about the options they had. I told them that we had to go to the police station to ask for a report of this incident so that any unforeseen complications are to be shouldered by the driver. I knew it was standard protocol but I wished it wasn’t the case since I didn’t want to make the driver feel anymore scared. The driver wouldn’t be able to pay for any further damages anyway. The driver might lose his license and his tricycle impounded if the angry victims wanted it too.
I told the driver to that we were all going down to the police station. He was being defensive and saying that it was all an accident. He was careful to keep his tone casual. I knew he wanted to shout and cry. He was shaking some more. I told him that nothing bad will happen to him. I was trying to calm him down but his gaze doesn’t seem to look at mine. I turned to see what he was looking at – a police officer putting handcuffs on a criminal he must’ve just caught. I knew nothing like that would happen to this poor driver, but what he saw just made everything seem worse. “Wag ka mag-alala sir, gagawan lang natin ng report para sa susunod na mga araw kung kinakailangan pang bumili ng gamot maihahabol pa sayo ang pambayad dun.” He managed a response and said “tara.”
I asked the participants to ride the car with the hotel manager and my co-worker. I needed to ride the tricycle because the guy might run off. I was looking at where Angelica and Purita might have hit themselves. There was a screw sticking out. It wasn’t sharp. The force of the tricycle’s sudden stop must be outstanding to have caused a gash. Two others joined me in the tricycle. I didn’t mind them. I was lost in thought.
At age 22 I was still trying to figure out what kind of person I was. This was the experience that will show the kind of leader I was eventually going to be. Do I become stern and stick with the “law is harsh but it is the law” thinking, or do I allow a bit leeway to show some compassion to the poor guy? I was already feeling sympathy towards the person who ultimately this story would not favor. If truth be told, I have always been something of a man of contradictions. I was the guy that would fall in love in a heartbeat but would walk away without a moment’s notice. I’m a soft-heart at times, and a merciless decision maker at the times I am not. Sometimes, I relied too much on my emotions. Other times, I was like a computer failing to empathize with anyone, even me. I’ve had been given many comments by casuals that observe me that I am a man with differing personalities each time. I was always on edge, trying to find the balance. I’m left-handed at times but right-handed at most. I’m a left and right-brainer, with both my hemispheres querulously divided. It was a compelling characteristic too. But, the lack of ability to align and find the right balance has led me to a lot of regrets in the past.
I woke up from deep thought when I noticed that we zoomed past the police station. The hotel manager driving the car was far behind us. Is the driver making a run for it? How will the guy escape this one? Fortunately the hotel manager overtook us and rolled down his windows, ordering the tricycle driver to go back to the police station. We go back to the station and the driver was racing towards the police men. He wanted them to hear his side of the story first. He came in and already explained that it was all an accident. This infuriated the two victims because the guy clearly was trying to dodge any kind of responsibility. The police asked us to head unto the investigator’s office down the road. The tricycle driver explained to me that he zoomed past the police station because he knew we were supposed to head to the investigator’s office anyway. Dubious.
After parking the tricycle at the investigator’s office, he was again racing towards the guy. I walked brisk. I didn’t want him to speak out first. I told the investigator that all we wanted was a report. The investigator agreed to write one in his log book but he could not give us a copy because he was busy with other things. He said the log was public anyway. I wanted to be angry but I felt too tired and dizzy. I was probably experiencing the symptoms of hypoglycemia and low blood pressure. Last time the hotel staff checked me I was at 80/60 mmHG. I could only nod my head. I had to sit down. I asked the investigator how we could get the tricycle driver to compensate the medical expenses incurred. He replied with a swift “nasa pag-uusap niyo na iyon.” I’m a very patient man, but incompetence is not one I can tolerate. I raised my voice “kaya nga kami andito eh.”
The investigator looked like a guy that doesn’t get his authority challenged. He said that the tricycle shall be impounded until the driver pays. I questioned the man in a tone that questioned his common sense “Eh, paano po mababayaran yung utang kung wala siyang tricycle.” At the back of my mind I knew the investigator wanted to impound the tricycle just to piss me off. It was the very thing I asked him not to do the moment I came in his office. I wanted to be fair to the victims but I didn’t want to regret this day for ruining a guy’s life. I tried to sound humbled, confused, and uncertain, looking for guidance from the investigator just to appease him. I asked “Sir, papaano po natin lalagyan ng ngipin ang mapag-uusapan dito upang gumawa ng paraan ang driver upang mabayaran ang expenses?”
“Kukunin ko ang lisensya niya. Bibigyan natin siya ng thirty minutes para makapaghanap ng pambayad. In thirty minutes na wala pa siya dito, impound ang tricycle niya.”
I saw the driver and the look on anguish on his face. I approached him and told him “kaya mo yan.” He responded with a nod, like he heard my voice but nothing of what I said. He went on his way. 486 pesos is a relatively small amount. Money I could spend for just a few minutes while on a date. But to him, the 486 pesos was HUGE. I had thoughts of asking the victims if they could just send the driver home and I’d pay for everything myself. But that would set aside the insistence of the victims. That arrangement wouldn’t instill a sense of responsibility to a tricycle driver who’s been trying to run away from his obligations all afternoon. I would have found out that I was a leader that is not strong in principle, following personal morals instead of laws, and succumbing easily to emotional statements of seemingly innocent men.
What if then the driver comes back to report he really had no money to find? Would I have his tricycle impounded so that I am strict and stern? Wouldn’t such an act, although correct, ruin his life? He didn’t want any of this, no one did. But how do I ensure that I not put too much of a burden on the tricycle driver while still being fair to the victim participants and to my own word? I remembered back then how much I hated the rich for bullying and exploiting the poor. Would I be any different from them? A relatively easy problem actually, but marked by personal significance. This is an important phase in my life.
It has been an hour now and the driver hasn’t come back yet. I was receiving comments that I looked paler than usual. I walked to find a convenience store but they only had potato chips to satiate my hunger. After eating, the driver came back. He was apologizing for he did not have a single cent on him left. The 70 pesos he had was paid for gas so he could come back. A police officer, visibly irked, asked the driver to come back soon. I told the driver “in 15 minutes kapag wala ka pa impound na yung motor mo!” I leaned back feeling a measure of pride for my firmness. But I knew that wasn’t said out of firmness. I was tired. The hotel manager had already missed a meeting. The participants and the victims were sitting for an hour and a half now. My sympathy for the driver was replaced by annoyance.
I told the victims and their fellow participants that they could go home now and that I’ll handle everything myself. I told the police station that I, the hotel manager, and my co-worker would be heading back to our hotel now to pack up. We told the police station that should the driver come back, he should be made to stay there until we get back from the hotel.
Back at the hotel I was feeling full and noticeably in a better mood. Finally was able to eat lunch. The hotel manager said that we should be heading on to our office in Alabang now to deliver the training supplies. The tricycle driver wouldn’t come back anymore. An hour has passed. He could avail of a new license anyway by just reporting that he had lost the old one. He could now be sitting back at home, resting. He said that I should just charge the 486 pesos to experience. I disagreed. It wasn’t about the money. I had faith in the driver. I asked the hotel manager if we could go back to the police station just for a few minutes. I really want to find out if the driver would return. I wanted to find out how I’d look at people after this experience. I wanted to find out what kind of leader I was going to be a few decades from now.
Arriving at the station, the driver was nowhere to be found. I felt defeated. As we were leaving, a familiar tricycle went pass us. The driver came back with his two small daughters and his wife. I shouted enthusiastically: “Tingnan niyo! Sabi ko sainyo eh! Tiwala lang!” I met with the driver and he was apologizing for only having 398 pesos to pay. I was so happy. I told the driver to just go inside the investigator’s office.
The police officer started writing in his log book when I saw a word that struck my ire: settlement. I told them that this was not a settlement offer. The police officer asked me if I didn’t want to finish this case. I said that the driver still has responsibilities. If in case new medical complications arise then the driver has to pay for additional fees. The police officer really wanted this done now. “Eh bakit pinauwi niyo na ang victim?” “Kasi po four days na sila nasa training seminar ko. Kinakailangan na nila umuwi upang makasalamuha ang pamilya nila. Ilang oras na din sila nandito sa office niyo. Malayong bayan pa sila.”
The police officer irritated asked me what we do now. I wanted to end this now, but if I agreed that the 398 pesos was for settlement then that would effectively waive any of Angelica and Purita’s rights to further ask for financial assistance from the driver. That would be good for the driver but unfair for the victims. The driver was surprised; he thought this would all be over by now. The hotel manager and my co-worker were probably bored waiting outside too. I asked them a big favor to go back to this station and I didn’t want to waste any more of their time. I could just settle this now. What’s the worst that could happen? Angelica and Purita only suffered minor injuries and I didn’t think any more complications would arise anyway. But, I wouldn’t know. I don’t want to regret settling this case prematurely.
I suddenly had an idea. It all came to me in a split second, as if I was suddenly possessed by wisdom. It’s as if any thought I’ve had for the pass 6 hours intertwined and developed this ingenious solution to all these problems.
I asked the police officer if he could log the money being paid as mere medical assistance instead of settlement pay. I also asked if it were possible that the tricycle driver’s license be kept by the investigator’s office until after the 24 hours observation for Purita was up. If after 24 hours I did not call this office, then no further complications were observed for Purita and the case is settled. I then asked the police officer to give the tricycle driver a ticket so that he could still work tomorrow despite not having a license.
Everything was agreed upon. The driver was visibly relieved when he breathed easier. I asked him to meet me outside. I gave him 150 pesos of the money he paid. I told him that what was important was that he did his best and he took responsibility. I told him that money was so that his kids would have dinner and then breakfast tomorrow. I took a look at his license; he was born 1954. I chuckled. He was 60 and his youngest daughter was one year old. He was bowing at me who was a third his age. I asked him to stop that. I asked him if I could meet his family. I talked to his wife and kids. I told them to take care of each other and to love each other every day. They were looking at me with a smile, radiance spreading across their faces. I thanked them. They do not know the huge debt of gratitude that I owe them.
On my way home I received a text from an old classmate. “Shot na!” “No, thanks. Pagod ako. I’m drinking water tonight.” I eat some instant Pancit Canton, brushed my teeth and hopped on to my bed. I couldn’t move anymore. My pillows and my bed had never been more comfortable.
“There was something I’ve been wishing for a long time now: a life with no regrets. If only I could make decisions as clear as I did today, with the right balance. Maybe that would be possible.” I thought aloud. I was tired from four days of managing the best training seminar ever in the lives of my participants. I felt fatigued handling the accident that occurred that afternoon. Staring at my ceiling I rerun my entire day. As I lay across my bed waiting for my eyelids to close I realized what kind of leader I was eventually going to be: FAIR.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past. I can’t claim that I made those mistakes because I was young and stupid, because I’m still young today and I’ve never been stupid. There’s no excusing my mistakes. Some of them I did deliberately, for selfish reasons. Some of them I did because of a frail ego. Most of the time, I get away from any consequence. That’s when it got worse.
I’ve made mistakes hurting people. Back then, I didn’t think much of other people’s feelings. I made women fall in love without much follow up. I promised things I had no intention of doing. I used the attention I got from women to make myself feel more desirable.
I’ve made mistakes at work. Being a Regional Training Specialist is tough. You have a hundred different hats and a lot of deadlines and sometimes you forget things. What’s worse is that making mistakes affects a lot of people too. It’s not like I didn’t value work, it’s one of the best jobs there is. There are just times that I overestimated; when I depended on the unreliable memory of man.
I’ve made the mistake of not being able to control my rage. Sometimes, I blew up in anger and shouted at people in public. Sometimes, I got angry at family or friends for even the smallest things. A little soul-searching revealed that I get angry because I have a frail ego. I used to think that putting people on the spot was okay as long as I was in the right. I forget that people who do me wrong don’t usually do it purposively; it’s just that they didn’t have the foresight to think that they’d do me wrong. I was the only one wrong in those past situations.
I’ve changed my ways. I saw how much I’ve pained some people. Now, I’m trying to atone. This past year has been a catalyst for a big change in me. But, in my journey to make up for the people I’ve wronged, I realized that I’ve been making another error: I’ve been too hard on myself for the mistakes I’ve committed in the past. I don’t let them go, even when the people affected have already done so. I forget that I am only human too. Today I start anew. I will take responsibility for my actions. I will go the moral way forward from now on. But, I’ll leave the past where it belongs.