Amid the shanties and narrow recesses of Baseco Compound, she stares into the void as she blows, in short gusts, the cigar between her fingers while the kids, huddled around her, cackle in a discombobulating noise. She turns to the camera then wears a smile that covers her dilemma of raising 22 children.
In his Front Row documentary “Bente Dos (22)”, Joseph Israel Laban follows Rosalie Cabeñan, 47 years old, a wife whose story permeates truth and hope despite the pervasive poverty that threatens her and her family’s daily lives.
The Family Grows and Grows
“Taun-taon, may binibinyagan kami. Kasi hindi ko naman alam noon yung family planning e. Mahirap lang kami dito dati,” reveals Rosalie while recalling how her neighbors used to make fun of her for frequently getting pregnant.
While she just laughed about her friend’s japes, Rosalie stood her ground. Although she wanted to undergo ligation, it became impossible because she suffers from goiter. Practicing safe sex was never an option for the couple since her husband does not know how to use condom. Thus, being a regular patient of the hospital (giving birth almost every year), Rosalie has treated her labor and childbearing like shooting fish in a barrel.
Rosalie delivered her first child when she was only sixteen. At the age of 42, she gave birth to her youngest daughter which almost put her life in danger. Giving birth for the 22nd time, Rosalie discovered that her uterus became thinner. “Pinapili na nga yung mga anak ko kung sino ang piliin sa amin ng anak ko e. Sabi na lang ng asawa ko, siyempre misis ko yung piliin ko,” Rosalie reminisces.
Meanwhile, Rosalie’s husband, Danilo Cabeñan, 49 years old, reveals that he never desired to have many children considering their situation. Apart from his faithfulness to his wife, Danilo says that nobody has ever advised them to use contraceptives. As a sweeper who earns a meager wage, he wades through his dilemma of paying debts and sustaining a living for his wife and his children.
Under the Looming Shadow of Poverty
For Rosalie’s children, they know that history must never repeat itself. Being cognizant of their parent’s plight, Danilo, Jr. and his siblings avowed their will to tread a clearer path despite putting their lives on a razor edge. But the road seems ominous as they grapple with the same fate as their parents have, and the shadow of destitution looms over them. Some of the children decided to live on their own, married at a young age, and chose to stay with their relatives in the province. Dreaming for a better future, they struggle from the uncertainties of life brought about by their current situation and the ignorance due to lack of education.
Now, we see Rosalie as she pays attention to the doctor’s advice after her check-up. She needs to undergo an operation. Feeling worried, she wipes her tears as she prepares herself to convey the news to her family yet another catch-22.