At first it seemed like nothing more than a joke, a bad joke to be sure. After all how could I or any other rational adult take the claim seriously? That the claim was made by the country’s biggest utility company gave it a surreal quality.
This is what happened.
Sometime last week, as I was writing a story on my laptop, I heard and felt a sudden explosion outside my window. It was not a big blast, but immediately after, power went out.
The brownout was not just in my condo unit since I knew that my Meralco bill was fully paid for. Looking out the hallway, I saw that the entire floor was on emergency power.
The light overhead had dimmed and the aircon was not running. I switched it off and turned on an electric fan, and noted that the blades were turning at a noticeably slower rate.
I thought nothing of it and after about three hours power was restored to normal. And that, I thought, was that.
A few days later, however, a sign was posted outside the elevators by the building administration. The sign said that power was lost because a squirrel had gnawed and cut the main Meralco cable leading to the building.
I had to take second look. Then a third.
The administration said that it was Meralco that claimed that a squirrel had done the damage.
The explanation seemed as ridiculous as extraterrestrial craft being dismissed as swamp gas by the US Air Force.
As far as I knews, squirrels were not indigenous to the Philippines. I also knew that they mostly lived in trees and ate nuts and maybe fruits. Oh, and they were cute little critters which were essentially harmless.
Heck, there’s even one superhero called Squirrel Girl and there’s been talk of making a movie about her. From Marvel, no less.
The idea that squirrels would be running around Makati, climbing electric posts, and chomping power cables was just too much for me to take. So I turned to social media to help me solve the puzzle.
I wrote a simple post on my Facebook page, to wit: “There are squirrels in Makati?? Didn’t even know we had them in the Philippines!”
Shortly thereafter, assorted friends and relatives said that yes, there were squirrels in the Republic of the Philippines. They could be found in the uber exclusive enclaves of Forbes Park and Dasmarinas Village. They were also to be seen in a number of other gated communities. A friend who is a semi-professional photographer sent me a photo of a squirrel on a tree branch, which he said was taken in Baclaran. A cousin said they could be found in Palawan.
One even suggested that the country’s squirrel population started when an expat who lived in Forbes brought some over from the US, then released them to propagate in his adopted country.
Others who were equally disbelieving as I was at first said that what Meralco was referring to was nothing more than a big rat or two.
Another wannabe comedian said that their names were Alvin, Simon and Theodore, which led me to ask if squirrels and chipmunks were the same thing.
In a follow up Facebook post, I asked what squirrel was in Tagalog or Pilipino.
As expected, a couple of jokesters gave me the same answer I would have given if I had been the one asked.
Eskwirel, they said. Yeah, right, I thought.
Good thing I got some good answers from friends who take such matters seriously. The correct term in the vernacular is “ardilya,” they said.
A couple of other friends corrected this by stating that it was a Spanish word, and the right spelling was “ardilla.” One went so far as to specify that the genus is Sundasciurus Squirrel.
After gathering all the comments, I have come to the unquestionable conclusion that indeed, there are squirrels in the Philippines. They may or may not be native to the homeland, I’ll never know. Actually, I don’t need to know.
I have yet to see one live and in person (although I know they’re not exactly persons), but when I do, I will know that the cute rodent like thing with a beautiful tail is not some unknown creature, but a Philippine squirrel.
I only wish that they would avoid munching on Meralco power lines in the future.