Saturday, 11 June 2011

For this toilet attendant, it’s honesty over poverty

By Edison A. Delos Angeles
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANDAUE CITY—While cleaning the toilet at the public market of Mandaue City in Cebu, Hermisa Cejas found a bag left by a meat supplier. Inside the bag was P250,000.

Although the 45-year-old attendant could have kept the money for herself and no one would know about it, she didn’t.

“I feed my children through honest means,” Cejas said in Cebuano. She returned the bagful of cash to its owner.

It was not the first time that Cejas had found a stash inside the public toilet. According to the office of Market Administrator Musoline V. Suliva, she turned over at least P500,000 in cash and checks inside bags and wallets, and three cell phones left inside the toilet since she started working as a casual employee in 2009.

She never thought of keeping these items, even if she received only P265 a day or close to P7,000 a month.

Because money has been scarce, two of her four children—Rhea Mae, 21; and Wemore, 20—dropped out of college. A son, Van Adam, 16, stopped last year and is now a sophomore at Mandaue City Comprehensive School (MCS).

The youngest, Sunshine, 7, is a Grade 2 pupil at MCS and helps her father, Romeo, raise fighting cocks and pigs in their backyard in Barangay Cambaro.

Strong faith in God

Cejas’ strong faith in God that the family will be able to get through financially is behind her exemplary acts of honesty. She was never tempted to keep the valuables she found because these meant something to their owners.

“No matter how small the value of the lost item is, it means a lot to the owner,” she said. “I feel light whenever I return what I find inside the toilet.”

She doesn’t accept tips from grateful owners because she believes she is only doing her job. But she is willing to take only food, which “is a grace from God.”

A native of Lanao del Norte, Cejas moved to Cebu in the early 1980s as part of a charismatic group. Her father, Bonifacio Marfe is a church volunteer.

She later met and married Romeo, who hails from Mandaue.

In 2001, Cejas sold native delicacies to pupils of Mandaue City Central School. She applied for a job as market clerk at the city government in 2007, and was accepted. She was reassigned as maintenance personnel in charge of the toilet more than a year ago.

Religious devotion

She has remained an active member of the charismatic group and regularly attends the 5 a.m. Sunday Masses at St. Joseph’s Parish Church. Sometimes, she would go to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño in downtown Cebu City to light a candle for the Holy Child Jesus on Fridays and to the Berhin sa Regla (Virgin of the Rule) in Lapu-Lapu City on Saturdays.

As toilet attendant, Cejas returned a bag containing P250,000 on Oct. 2, 2009, to Rosalia from Davao, who supplies beef meat and cacao to the public markets in Mandaue and nearby Consolacion town.

She found another bag with P8,000 on Sept. 7, 2010, and it was returned to Estrella Palang, a dry goods trader.

A wallet containing P800 was recovered in December 2010 and returned to Ryan Castillo, a vegetable vendor.

Cejas also returned checks amounting to P245,000, as well as three cell phones.

In recognition of her honesty, Mayor Jonas Cortes directed the city’s human resource department to look for a regular position that would fit her qualifications. This has elated Cejas, but added that she is proud of her current job though some may think of it as lowly.

Not even once had she thought of quitting. “What would I feed my children if I stopped working?” she said.

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