GAZELLO “BUOY” GALLEGOS
Kidapawan, North Cotabato
Chief Mate, 1988-present
Boarding House Operator, Farmer
“Mapanatag ang loob ko dahil sa kapatiran”
J. dela Torre
Buoy and Dhang sat closely to each other during the interview and held each other’s hands tightly. We were on the narrow passage way of the one-storey boarding house which they owned and which catered to students of the University of Southern Mindanao in Kidapawan. Above us, the drying laundry of the boarders hanged out like multi-colored banners. Behind us was a large dining area where a couple of boarders sat and watched, bemused by the proceedings, and on the opposite side was a common kitchen where boarders could cook their own food.
I noticed that when the narrative touched on something sad in the past, the couple stroked each other’s hand, giving comfort and encouragement, and as if telling each other, “It’s alright. I’m here now.”
Buoy had a very short barber’s cut, white sidewall, as the military calls it. His voice was firm and he spoke directly to the interviewer’s eyes. He had a burgeoning beer belly, and as newly-promoted Chief Mate, I thought he had to lose this extra fat. The work of a deck officer is relentless and taxing, and he had to be in tiptop shape. Dhang was petite and had smooth flowing hair, which complemented her fair complexion. The couple met in Manila when Buoy was buying something from the appliance store where Dhang worked.
The road to the campus was rough and gravelly, and a bit narrow. Kidapawan is still basically rich in agricultural foliage, its roads strewn with fruit trees, as well as rubber and coconut trees. It’s not called “The City of Fruits and Highland Springs” for nothing, the hot springs because of the city’s proximity to Mt. Apo.
“Maaga kaming naulila sa ama,” Buoy began, “apat kaming magkakapatid, puro lalaki.”
His father was an agriculturist who first taught in a public school before finding work in his chosen profession at the Bureau of Plant Industry, but who eventually retired at the Bureau of Agricultural Extension.
“Nakakaraos naman po kami,” Buoy answered when asked how his family’s socio-economic status was when his father was still alive. The old man passed away when Buoy was still in Grade 6. Buoy remembers his father as a strict disciplinarian, and it was from him that he learned the value of respect for others.
After his father’s passing, his mother took on the heavy responsibility of caring for and educating four sons. Because the family had to live on a teacher’s salary, they went through some very difficult times.
“Nakakain lang po kami ng kanin kapag suweldo ng Mama ko. Pagkatapos ng suweldo, balik kami sa bigas na mais. At madalas ang ulam namin ay tuyo lang,” Buoy pursed his lips and his voice faltered. The family tried to make both ends meet by raising and selling swine and selling iced candy, but the money was not enough. Buoy remembers suffering from delayed allowances when he was still studying for his marine transportation degree in Davao City.
He persevered and on 1988 he boarded his first ship, a general cargo ship, as an Ordinary Seaman. True to his word, and being the eldest child, Buoy supported his three brothers’ education, and all three are now professionals: the one next to him, is a nurse in Kuwait; the third child is a Marine Engineer now working in Japan after marrying a Japanese girl; the youngest is likewise a Chief Mate. While Buoy was roaming the world, Dhang took care of the kids, with the help of Buoy’s relatives and Church members, mga kapatiran, as he calls them. The couple and the children are active members of the Iglesia ni Kristo church in Kidapawan.
“Laging subaybay,” was how Dhang described her way of managing her children’s growing up years without their father by her side. It helped too that the children were active choir members of the Church.
Buoy was confident his savings were not being squandered. His wife did not spend what he sent as allotment, but she relied for their everyday expenses and the children’s school needs from earnings of their 16-room boarding house and internet businesses. His earnings as seaman were instead invested into purchasing commercial and agricultural real properties, and put away what was left in the bank. They also have a farm planted to bananas and corn, which is already earning, and another farm planted to rubber, which are still growing.
Now that his businesses are earning well, is it time for him to retire from seafaring?
“I’m one step closer to being in command of my own ship. So, I think I will continue to work as seafarer for a few more years to fulfill my own dream to be a ship captain and be able to save up more. We still have plans to expand our boarding house business. We have recently purchased a commercial lot near our present boarding house, and we will build our next boarding house here. Actually, we plan to build two more boarding houses,” Buoy disclosed their plans for the future as a couple. “When these two boarding houses are completed, who knows whether by then it is time to decide to retire,” he smiled for the first time in the interview. Dhang smiled too, and pressed her husband’s hands in approval.
To OFWs, he advises:
“Start saving as early as your first day on the job overseas. Invest your savings in the country. Our life as OFWs is difficult:
Dapat pag-aralan ang pagiging negosyante. Dapat sapat ang puhunan bago pumasok sa negosyo. Not everyone is suited for business. Not everyone is suited for a particular business. Just because one businessman has been successful in one kind of business doesn’t mean anybody can be successful in that business, too. Dapat pag-aralang mabuti ang papasukang negosyo.”
“Higit sa lahat, ihingi ng tulong sa Panginoon,” he concluded his peroration.
After the interview, we visited their modestly-sized house, where Dhang set about issuing instructions to a couple of houseboys to pick off a number of durian, rambutan and marang right off the branches, while we took shots of the family’s album pictures. After a hearty lunch at a well-appointed restaurant, we said our goodbyes and started our descent to Digos, and I was left wondering whether there was something about the Iglesia ni Kristo faith which made this family quite successful in business and family life. I emailed the couple and I found the answer to my question, and I’m paraphrasing from their emailed response:
“The Church values the integrity and solidarity of the family. Overseas employment is considered temporary, and members who find themselves abroad because of necessity are encouraged to save up and invest their savings in decent businesses, so that in the end the family is preserved and reunited.” (Source: www.nrco.dole.gov.ph)
GAZELLO “BUOY” GALLEGOS