Pila-pila 

Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano

Pila-Pila - Number 6 in a series of articles about Tagalog Words and everything Tagalog

A long pila-pila snakes three blocks away, leading to the National Food Authority outlet. Harassed sellers are being harassed by buyers who have been in that pila as early as 4:00 o’clock in the morning. Most of them have not had breakfast yet. Meanwhile, on the next block – a pila of Meralco customers snail towards the Land bank to get their refunds. They had consumed less than a thousand peso worth of electricity so they will get a government dole out of five hundred pesos.

Tempers erupt in an exhausting pila-pila at the MRT and LRT during rush hours, or in a week-long queue for government dole out of 500 pesos, or in a snake-line as one beats the deadline of bills payments. In a pila or queue there is always the threat of someone forcing himself in front of the line. Those who got there first would naturally resist and an exchange of angry words would ensue. “Did you buy this place? Do you have your name on it?” Hopefully the word-war would not turn violent and cooler heads would ensure that the conflict wouldn't accelerate.

Other scenarios - while waiting for so long, a kapila (fellow queuer) shares her life story and the unwilling listener endures the soap-opera. A clown cracks some jokes and makes people laugh until the jokes become attacks on perceived purveyors of his miseries. People eat everything on stick that is sold on the sidewalks, burgers oozing with mayonnaise, duck eggs wrapped in orange flour. A pickpocket goes about his secret trade; the victim discovers the loss too late and the line becomes abuzz with talk of similar encounters - with pickpockets, hold-uppers, kidnappers, robbers, and corrupt politicians.

The pila becomes bearable only because of all the games and music played on mobile phones and other gadgets. Under the heat of the sun or heavy rain, in the swirl of dust and noxious smell of gasoline and garbage, or even in the midst of a storm or flood, to pila or form a line becomes the norm. 

Some say that queuing is not part of the Filipino system. Often, the pila  has to be imposed and rarely does it become automatic. Discipline is often bad and in order to get ahead of others some people utilize the short cuts that either steal or corrupt another person's right to an earlier number.

The pila-pila for food and dole out has become a line for survival. It takes at least two weeks - from investigation to affirmation - to establish that a family deserves the dole out. In some barangays, it takes at least two days of lining up to reach the person who hands the check out. The line is long because there are too many poor and hungry people, and not a great number of volunteers to help facilitate the cash distribution. Non-government organizations, charitable individuals, and churches have intervened and initiated their own sustainable livelihood programs. But even with all the intervention, getting to the point of comfort and abundance will have the poor Filipino wait in the tedious pila for a very long time.