A spinal injury cost Jose Cabaltera the use of his legs but it did not stop him from moving on with a productive life.
By Riza Camille F. Talan
Instead of the typical white-collar getup of business suits and attaché cases, Jose Cabaltera, Bookstore Manager, wore a casual unassuming outfit, sat on his wheelchair, and had only a pen to doodle with. Students who have had the privilege to meet him attest that he is a very modest man—not any of the mental images we concoct in our heads when the word ‘manager’ is brought up.
Jose Cabaltera studied Foreign Languages and Literature at San Francisco State University. He has been working with FEU since 2011, and has since opened five bookstores—two in FEU Manila, and one in each of the three other campuses.
“I feel that I’m very stubborn.” Cabaltera mirthfully smiles when asked what drives him to work despite being differently abled.
At the young age of 18, Cabaltera got into an accident that brought him spinal injury. “It was nerve damage, and there was no way to cure it… I didn’t want to stop my life. I mean, when you’re 18 [years old], and that happens to you, you don’t know what to do anymore—you have to reinvent your whole self-image,” he shares. So, nine months after his accident, he moved out of his parents’ home without telling them.
“My mother was very doting, and my father wanted to do everything for me,” he wistfully recalled. His stubbornness was apparent in how he moved out despite the hardships his wish for independence would entail, “That was very much me being stubborn. I didn’t want people doing things like that for me.”
Eventually, this stubbornness pushed him to make it independently in the Philippines, “I’m in a third world country where the norm for a disabled person is to stay at home… I make it to work. And I do it every single day. I do work that I’m really proud of.”
Cabaltera shares that he encountered a few hitches along the way establishing a convenience that students enjoy today. A far cry from the long queue of students waiting for their turn to enter the Tams Bookstore, he invited students into the bookstore when they were just beginning. When students became aware of the in-campus bookstore, Cabaltera was taken aback by the fast-paced operations he was not used to: “I can sell 500 Filipino textbooks in one day. It shocked me and I wasn’t ready.”
Fast-forward to 2015, Cabaltera is now managing five bookstores for the University. “I only thought I was going to start one bookstore for the single university of FEU [Manila]. The other campuses saw what I had done and they all wanted one,” he shares.
The staff of the FEU Bookstore.
Now, the bookstores he established in the four campuses readily sell official textbooks to the students who no longer have to scour through bookstores or Recto for their required reading materials. Even graduates of the university who will be hurdling board and bar exams can enjoy the convenience of finding necessary materials for their review, thanks to the newly opened bookstore at the Main Building (formerly Technology Building) of FEU-Manila.
The successful establishment of the five bookstores by Cabaltera and his reliable team does not stop him from seeking more ways to serve his ‘family’. CNN recently reported that millions of pesos worth of textbooks do not reach Filipino students on time, causing inconveniences and delay in their education, “When I read that, two things came up in my mind: A, I’m not doing such a bad job after all, and B, I better take this very seriously,” he muses.
Cabaltera, obviously someone very service-oriented, initiated meetings with other FEU campus administrators to think of new ways to improve their services. The most important question was—“How can we serve our students? How do we serve our families better?” He wanted to avoid delays in the distribution of books and suggested a schedule for the next academic year, where concerned administrators could choose books to include in the official textbook lists ahead of time.
The bookstore has also started offering a wider range of merchandise, including books from FEU Publications, and some new titles by various Filipino authors. Being a graduate of Literature, it is only natural for Cabaltera to dream of providing students with books that they can read for leisure.
“Seeing something grow and thrive, that is the most rewarding thing,” he says. Cabaltera’s stint as FEU’s bookstore manager—only four years long as of this writing—has already established a legacy. Differently abled people are often dismissed for their immobility and for the stasis we assume they are stuck in. However, Cabaltera’s stubbornness and his will to get to the top, along with the drive to provide FEU students with a convenience, pushes him to hurdle great feats—taking with him the Green and Gold community.