The “Other Side” of Divisoria (Manila, Philippines)
By Apolinario Villalobos
While Divisoria has always been known as the shoppers’ Mecca, especially, during Christmas, there is” another side” of it which I do not want to present as an image of poverty but that of perseverance, patience, and honest endeavor. This is the “other Divisoria” which many people just refuse to see as it might cause them to puke! The accompanying photos show how these honest Filipinos contentedly strive to live in sheer honesty.
The skeptics always say, “it is their fault for going to Manila and suffer deprivation”. These hypocrite skeptics have TV, radio, and occasionally read newspapers, so they should know that the provinces from where these people who are eking out an honest living on the “other side” of Divisoria, are infested with NPAs, Abu Sayyaf, opportunistic landlords, and loan sharks. For the arrogant, the world is just for those who can afford to live decently. On the other hand, as these skeptics have not endured days of hunger, they may not understand how it is to make a difficult decision to live a hand-to-mouth life in Manila by scavenging in garbage dumps, rather than die of hunger and be in constant fear for dear life in the province.
It is true that the slums have been in existence for many decades now, but there would be no slums had the government ever since the time the nation has become independent, did not get infested with corrupt lawmakers and officials. The slums have been around since the time that deprivation and exploitation have been propagated by learned Filipinos who found their way in the halls of Congress and Senate, as well as, agencies, even at the helm of the government. Unfortunately, the seed of exploitation has grown into an uncontrollable proportion today, making corruption as wrongly and unfairly viewed to be always a part of the Filipino culture.
The striving people from the slums near Divisoria, and other districts of Manila, in this regard, may be viewed by the arrogant as akin to dogs and cats, because of their many children, oftentimes making them utter unsavory remark, such as, “they know they are poor, yet, they keep on having children”.
How I wish these skeptics can also openly, make biting remarks –
to the corrupt politicians and government officials, such as, “they graduated from prestigious universities and colleges, yet, they do not know what is right or wrong”
to the filthy rich, such as, “they have plenty of money, yet they can’t even throw a piece of bread to a beggar”
to the stiff-necked Catholic priests, pastors, and other religious ministers such as, “they are supposed to be representatives of the Lord, but they can’t afford to take a look at the spiritually hungry”
Finally, compared to the disgusting hypocrites, loan sharks, corrupt government officials, arrogant “religious ministers” and conscienceless rich, who are supposed to be learned and intelligent, the people who honestly make a living such as those who belong to the “other side” of Divisoria, are worthy to be called creatures of God – true human beings…slum denizens who are viewed by aforementioned with utter repugnance.
(This blog will definitely, not hurt those who do not belong to the mentioned “classes” of loathsome Filipinos.)
The “us” in the title refers to the four of us in the group. The two are based in the United States, but come home every second week of November for our sharing project that commences every third week of November and strictly ends on the first week of December. On the other hand, I and the other one are locally- based.
Many of those who know us still don’t understand why we “meddle” with the lives of others by helping them. One of my friends even went to the extent of sending me a message last year when he read my blogs about Baseco Compound in Tondo. His message read, “hayaan mo na sila, kasalanan nila kung bakit sila naghihirap…mamumulubi ka lang sa ginagawa mo”. I did not bother to reply to that message…but from then on, he seems to have detached himself from me. The other member of the group who is based locally, too, had a misunderstanding with his wife until their eldest son interfered…in his favor, so from then, his wife sort of just supported him. The two others, who are based abroad are lucky because aside from being supported by their families, they are also able to collect donations from friends who came to know about our projects.
My opinion is that it is difficult for others to really understand how it feels to be impoverished because, either, they have not been through such, or refused to admit that they were poor once, out of pride. I do not know if some of you experienced the pang of hunger for having not taken breakfast and lunch while attending classes. I do not know if some of you have experienced wearing underwear twice your size – being hand-me-downs from rich relatives. I do not know if some of you have experienced catching ice cubes thrown by a friend, instead of being handed even a sandwich by him during his birthday. I do not know if some of you have experienced making toys out of milk cans from the garbage dump, etc. etc.etc. I have experienced those when I was young.
My other colleague in the group and who is based in Manila, admitted to have been a scavenger when he was young. He also shared how every morning before going to school, he stood by carinderias and ate the leftover food on the plates of customers. As a scavenger, he and his brothers cooked “batchoy” out of the food they scavenged from the garbage bins of Chinese restaurants. He also unabashedly admitted to having worked as a call boy when their father got sick to earn quick money to support his two younger brothers and one sister (they were left by their mother). He got lucky when he landed a job as a messenger/sales clerk of a big hardware store in Sta. Cruz (a district in Manila City). Good fortune smiled at him, when the daughter of his employer fell in love with him, which made him part of the family business.
The third in our group, a doctor is the luckiest because at an early age he got adopted by a rich and kind couple who were US Green Card holders. But while growing up in Pasay, he was close to the less fortunate in their neighborhood. He is married to the daughter of their laundrywoman who is now operating a small catering business in the States.
The fourth in our group found his way toward us through the doctor, as he was the latter’s neighbor in the States. He shared that he grew up in a farm in Bicol and also experienced difficulties in life, as he and his siblings would cross a shallow river and hiked two kilometers to reach their school. He was introduced to our “operations” when he got curious, so he joined us in 2009, after promising to abide by our rules – no photo taking, wearing only slippers, t-shirt and shorts when on the road to share, and no giving of true name or divulging of real identity to the beneficiaries, as well as, willingness to partake of what our friends in slums eat.
What makes us click together is that, as if on cue, we practically forget who we really are every time we start hitting the road just before sunrise, to share. We would sometimes call each other unconsciously, by our assumed names…but we do not consider such slip as a joke, because we are those names every time we mingle with our friends to share. For those who insist on knowing us, we ask them to just remember us by our acts, and not by our face and name.
Dapat ay isama ng mga moralista ang pagbawal sa paggamit ng expression na “magpapasko pa naman” na tumutukoy kay Hesus, tuwing may kalamidad na mangyari bago sumapit ang “pista” na ito. Halatang ang habol lang talaga sa pistang ito ay mga kasiyahang dulot ng bonus, pagkain, gifts, Christmas lights, simbang gabi, caroling, etc.
Tuwing may kalamidad na nangyayari bago magpasko, ang mga naaawa sa mga nasalanta ay nagsasabi ng nabanggit na expression dahil siguro iniisip ng mga “naaawa” na ito, na mami-miss ng mga nasalanta ang mga kasiyahan, at hindi dahil bertdey ito ni Hesus… isang isyu ding kinukuwestiyon. Bakit hindi na lang dumamay at magbigay ng tulong dahil kailangan ng mga nasalanta at hindi dahil sa kung anu-ano pang dahilan tulad ng pasko?
Ang sabi ng mga researchers, ang talagang bertdey ni Hesus ay sa unang linggo (week) ng Abril. Ginamit ng mga matataas na opisyal ng simbahang Katoliko na mga Romano ang Disyembre dahil dati na itong ginugunita ng mga pagano sa Roma…isang makamundong pista na puno ng mga kasiyahang nakikita sa pagbaha ng pagkain, alak, at kalaswaan. Ang talagang orihinal na ginugunita ng mga Hudyo noon pa man ay ang araw ng pagbinyag kay Hesus na nakatala sa mga sinaunang records na ang iba ay inilagay sa Bibliya. Walang binabanggit ang Bibliya tungkol sa eksaktong bertdey niya. Ang sinasabi lang ay panahon ng pag-census ng mga Hudyo kung kaylan ay nataon sa pagpanganak kay Hesus. Ang census na ito ang ginawang batayan ng mga mananaliksik upang matukoy ang “panahon” at ang buwan batay sa kalendaryong pinagamit ng Roma sa mga nasasaklaw ng Kristiyanismo.
Sa makabagong panahon, maski sinong bata ay umaasam ng mga regalo tuwing sasapit ang pasko dahil ito ang itinanim sa isip nila ng mga nakakatandang Romanong Katoliko. Inaasahan nila ang paglundo ng mesa sa bahay dahil sa dami ng pagkaing idi-display. Ang mga tin-edyer naman ay excited sa pagsapit ng simbang gabi dahil magkakabandingan na naman sila ng mga kabarkada, at ang iba naman ay magliligawan – sa labas ng simbahan. Ang mga talagang isip at asal demonyo ay may lakas ng loob pang magsuot ng mga damit na kung hindi manipis ay may plunging neckline naman, at ang lalong malaswa ay ang pagsuot nila ng short shorts na nagdi-display ng maitim naman nilang kuyukot! Ang iba naman ay magdi-displey ng mga alahas na tulad ng ginagawa nila sa pagdalo ng misa kung araw ng Linggo.
Ang isa pang itinuro ng simbahang Romano Katoliko upang mapilitang magsimba araw-araw ang mga kasapi ay ang pagbuo ng siyam na araw upang matupad daw ang kanilang mga hiling! Hindi ba ito katarantaduhan….dahil wala naman yan sa Bibliya? Ang dapat na itinanim sa mga kasapi ng simbahang Romano Katoliko ay ang sakripisyo na kaakibat sa pagdalo sa misa tuwing madaling araw o gabi, upang pagdating ng talagang “kapanganakan” ni Hesus, ay hindi nakakahiyang humarap sa kanya….hindi yong hihiling ng kung anu-ano para sa sarili na kalimitan naman ay pera. Pati ang mga prutas na kung ilang piraso na puro bilog ay kasama din sa kinalolokohan ng mga Pilipino…pero ito ay paganong paniniwala naman ng mga Intsik na isinabay sa pasko at bagong taon dahil nakita ng mga taong ito ang malaking kikitain na resulta ng panloloko nila…mga negosyante kasi!
Bakit hindi sundin ang panawagan ng mismong santo papa na si Francis na sa paggunita ng “kapanganakan” ni Hesus, dapat ay iwasan ang pagiging materialistic?…dahil ba marami ang gustong magpakita ng karangyaan? Bakit pa ituturing ng mga Katolikong “tatay” nila si Francis kung hindi rin lang siya pakikinggan?…dahil ba sagad-buto na ang kanilang pagiging makasarili?
At, kung seseryusuhin na talagang “bertdey” ni Hesus ang isi-celebrate bakit hindi sa isang araw lang – ang pinaniniwalaang December 25? …dahil ba ginagamit ito bilang dahilan upang mag-celebrate ng mga makamundong bagay na orihinal na ginagawa ng mga pagano sa Europe?
Pinagmamalaki ng mga Pilipino ang “pinakamahabang pasko” sa buong mundo, pero kung talagang iisipin ang diwa ng pasko…ang kahabaang ito ay dapat ikahiya dahil sa kahirapang dinadanas na ng mga Pilipino at kalagayan ng Pilipinas! Nakakahiyang Setyembre pa lang ay hindi na magkandaugaga ang karamihan sa paglagay ng mga palamuti na para bang “mauubusan na ng pasko”. Kanya-kanya ang mga lunsod at bayan sa pagtayo ng mga giant Christmas tree pati mga lugar kung saan ay may mga kalakalan tulad ng malls. Ang maririnig sa radio ay mga kantang pang-krismas. Ang nakikita sa mga TV screens ay mga pagkaing mararangya na pang-pasko, etc….hanggang Enero ito. Habang nangyayari ang mga nabanggit , marami namang mga Pilipino ang halos hindi makakain ng kahit isang beses sa isang araw. Ang iba, makakain lang ay namumulot ng mga tira-tira sa basurahan.
Ang mga Pilipinong ayaw tumingin sa katotohanang ito, simple lang naman ang mga sagot: “kasalanan ko ba kung naghihirap sila at kaya naming gumastos?”, o di kaya ay, “kasalanan nila kung bakit sila naghihirap, dahil tamad sila!”….masasabi bang tamad ang isang taong nauulanan na’t lahat at halos malapnos na ang balat dahil sa init ng araw ay nangangalkal pa rin ng basura?
Though how Progressive a Country is, there will always be
Poverty because of Corruption
By Apolinario Villalobos
Perfection should be ruled out in the reckoning of a progressive country, because there will always be poverty due to corruption somewhere in the system of governance. In other words, the glitter of progress cannot hide poverty. For ultra-progressive countries, the signs may be insignificant as they try to blend with the glamour of urbanity. But in other countries, especially, the third-world, the signs are very prevalent, so that there is always a massive effort to cover them up occasionally, literally, as it is done every time there are special occasions such as visits of foreign dignitaries. This practice is successful in the Philippines.
Practically, poverty is the shadow of progress, and literally, too, as where there are looming high-rise buildings that are pockmarks of progress, not far from them are slums or homeless citizens who huddle together under bridges and nooks. These are misguided citizens who flock to the cities after selling their homestead, that have been farmed for several generations, to deceitful land developers, at a measly price. These are the urban squatters willing to be relocated but found out that the promised “paradise” do not even have a deep well so they go back to their sidewalk “homes”. These are contractual workers who have no job securities as they earn only for five to six months, after which they leave their fate to luck while looking for another job.
How does corruption ever be involved in the sad fate of the exploited? Simply, by the government’s negligence in providing decent relocation sites with job opportunities and basic facilities to those uprooted from their city abodes for more than so many years; by its cuddling of the spurious contractualization perpetrated by greedy employers; by its failure to guide and protect the rights of farmers who sell their rice fields to subdivision developers at measly prices that are not even enough to sustain them for six months; by its failure to provide the citizens with the basic necessities as funds are allowed to be pocketed by corrupt officials; and practically by looking the other way despite the availability of laws against vote buying.
Third- world country leaders should stop using the word “progressive”, but instead they should use “surviving” to describe their respective economy. If a country’s economy cannot sustain, much less, provide a “comfortable life” to majority of its citizens, then it is still “ailing”…hence, expect poverty to be trailing behind, just a few steps away from the pretentious allegations!
At Mga Walang Pinag-aralan Subalit Maayos ang Buhay
Ni Apolinario Villalobos
Dapat lang na hindi ibalik sa taong tumulong sa iba ang itinulong niya sa mga ito. Ibig sabihin ang tulong ay hindi dapat ituring na “utang” ng taong tinulungan. Ang dapat gawin ng isang tinulungan ay ipasa sa iba ang tulong na napakinabangan niya. Subalit iba ang usapan kapag ang tinulungan ay hindi marunong mangalaga ng itinulong sa kanya tulad ng mga sumusunod na kuwento:
#1…..Tungkol ito sa isa kong kaibigang seafarer, mayroon siyang malaking bahay na hinuhulugan at may dalawang anak na nag-aaral. Noon ay hindi hamak na malaki ang kita niya kung ihambing sa kinikita ng hindi sumasakay sa barko. Ang masama lang ay mayabang siya at galante tuwing magbakasyon at mahilig bumili ng mga bagay na naide-display niya upang masabing marami siyang pera. Kalimitan, makalipas ang dalawang buwang bakasyon, isa-isa na ring nawawala ang mga gamit dahil kung hindi naisanla ay naibenta…at sa akin tumatakbo upang umutang. Palagi ko siyang pinapayuhan, at oo naman siya ng oo. Ngayong nagkaedad, halos wala nang kumpanyang tumanggap sa kanya, kaya nataranta dahil ang bahay pala ay hindi regular na nababayaran sa SSS kaya malaki ang naipong arrears. Ang anak na babae ay isang teen-aged mom dahil nabuntis high school pa lang, at ang panganay na lalaking anak ay puro tattoo ang katawan at laman ng kalye. Ang asawa naman na suki ng mga parlor ay halos walang expression ang mukha dahil kung ilang beses nang inineksiyunan ng gamot na pampatanggal ng kulubot, kaya sa biglang tingin ay mukhang tanga. Ilang beses siyang lumapit sa akin upang umutang, subalit nagmatigas ako. Nang magalit, pinaalala ko sa kanya ang mga utang niyang niyang hindi ko nasingil dahil idinaan na lang niya sa “kalimot”.
#2…..Isa pa ring kaibigan ang inabutan ko ng tulong na pandagdag sa puhunan niya sa pagba-buy and sell ng mga prutas. Nang lumakas ang negosyo, biglang umarangkada sa pagbukas naman ng isang karinderya dahil naiinggit yata sa mga kaibigang may ganitong negosyo. Minalas sa mga taong tinanggap niya upang tumulong dahil puro kupit ang inabot niya. Wala pang anim na buwan, bumagsak na ang karinderya ay may utang pa siya sa inupahang puwesto. Pinahiram ko pa ng ilang beses subalit hindi pa rin natuto dahil nagbukas uli ng karinderya na talaga namang hindi niya nakokontrol ang pagpatakbo. Lumipas ang isang taon bago kami nagkita uli….balik siya sa wala. Nang subukan niyang “humiram” uli sa akin, tumanggi na akong tumulong. Tulad ng inaasahan ko, nagtampo at nagalit kaya iniwasan na ako.
Iba naman ang kuwento ng mga taong nakatira sa bangketa na ang ikinabubuhay ay pamumulot ng mapapakinabangang basura. Yong isang pamilya na naabutan ng pera, bumili agad ng mga scrap na kahoy, tatlong gulong na pang-kariton, mga pako at nanghiram lang ng martilyo, at tulung-tulong silang mag-asawa sa paggawa ng kariton, kaya ngayon ay lalong marami silang nahahakot na papel, lata at bote, kung ihambing noon na sako o malaking plastic bag lang ang gamit.
Yong isang pamilyang dating isang kariton lang ang gamit sa pamumulot ng basura, nagkaroon ng isa pa nang maabutan ng tulong, kaya tag-isa na silang mag-asawa ng itinutulak na kariton, at dahil lumaki ang kita, nakaya na nilang mangupahan ng isang maliit na kuwarto…hindi na sila nakikigamit ng kubeta ng restaurant ng Intsik, at hindi na rin natutulog sa bangketa. Nakakaipon na rin sila ng iba’t ibang gamit sa bahay na napupulot sa mga basurahan dahil naikakarga nila ang mga ito sa kariton nila upang maiuwi.
Yong mag-asawang matanda na sigarilyo at mga kendi lang ang dating tinitinda sa bangketa, nang abutan ng tulong, nagkaroon ng maliit na mesa, dalawang thermos para sa kape, mga biscuit, at tinapay na idinagdag sa mga itinitinda. Mayroon na rin silang picnic umbrella, pananggalang nila sa init ng araw at ulan. Nang dinagdagan ang puhunan nila, nagtinda na rin ng piniritong isda at kanin na tantiyado nilang mauubos sa maghapon, nalilibre pa ang tanghalian at hapunan nila.
Yong mga namumulot lang dati ng mga reject na gulay sa Divisoria, may mga kariton na rin at ang tinitinda ay mga gulay na binibili nila ng maramihan sa mga papauwi nang mga mangangalakal kaya mura nilang nakukuha…nabawasan na ang hirap nila dahil hindi na sila mangangalkal pa at maglilinis ng mga reject na gulay.
Kung minsan mahirap unawain ang tao. Kung sino kasi ang may kakayahang pinansiyal ay sila pa yong nagmimistulang kawawa bandang huli dahil sa pinili nilang pagpapabaya sa sarili ganoong may pinag-aralan naman sila na magsisilbi sanang gabay sa paggawa nila ng mga desisyon. At, kung sino pa yong sa tingin ng iba ay walang pag-asa sa buhay dahil mga yagit sa bangketa kung ituring – walang pinag-aralan at ni walang ekstrang damit, ay sila pang nakakaraos dahil sa pagsisikap upang mabuhay ng maayos! Ibig sabihin, hindi kailangang maging titulado ang isang tao upang makagawa ng malinaw na desisyon sa buhay!
When impoverished Filipinos are born, their normal and healthy growth stops at a point where their mothers ceased to produce breast milk. Due to poverty, parents cannot afford infant milk, so they resort to feeding their babies from bottles that contain rice soup. As they are living in depressed areas crammed with makeshift homes of cardboard, scrap plywood, and leaky tin roof, children are practically exposed to the elements. Most likely, they get infected with skin diseases, their guts becoming home to parasites, and they slowly grow with weak respiratory system. Picture the impoverished children with bloated stomach, bulging eyes, and runny nose.
In a big urban area like Manila, the parents try to eke out a living from dump sites where thrown refuse sometimes yield recyclables that they collect and sell to junk shops. Some though, end up in their home to be used further. Some wake up at past midnight with their children and standby at dumping areas for reject vegetables in Divisoria to salvage what can be trimmed of unwanted parts, cleaned and sold. At six, after earning a few coins, the children go home to change their clothes for school, walking to which, they do without even a sip of warm coffee. Fathers peddle their service as stevedores, or pedal tricycles for a measly fare. And, still some brave the searing heat of the sun and sudden downpour, as they roam around the city pushing carts to collect junks from garbage bins.
In agricultural provinces, families suffer every time drought or flood occurs. Rice fields become useless so they resort to borrowing money from loan sharks. If there are pockets of forest still standing nearby, they resort to cutting of trees, even the premature ones, to be made into charcoal. As a result, they eradicate what could have been a watershed and protection of the topsoil that erodes with the onset of rain.
Those living along the seashores depend on fair weather for their fishing ventures out in the open sea, but the erratic weather system prevailing today, prevents them from doing this dangerous kind of livelihood most of the time. The worst scenarios are during the typhoon or monsoon seasons during which they have no choice but stay home. For their subsistence, they borrow from loan sharks.
It is true that the situations mentioned are similar to other impoverished countries. But what is glaring in the Philippines is the government’s neglect of the country as being agricultural. Lands are converted into quick money-making ventures such as real and industrial estates. Also, instead of having its God-given natural endowments made use to the fullest by Filipinos themselves, these are practically offered to foreigners. The Filipinos are deprived of God-given opportunities by the very government that is supposed to protect them.
The government claims that its concerned agency, the Department of Social Welfare has programs for the impoverished families, one of which is the 4P’s, but this is shrouded with suspected corruption. Reports even prove that the program is not effective, as it just exacerbate the idleness of parents. Also, where are the social workers while children are sniffing rugby in street corners to stave off hunger? Where are the social workers while families living in carts are drenched by heavy rains?
As with the educational system, for so many years now, loopholes that have been shown by parents and concerned sectors are not plugged by the Department of Education. Today with the K-12 program, the parents are further pushed further down the mire of financial difficulty. Such ambitious program will eventually produce a new a generation of dropouts as impoverished parents can no longer afford to spend for their children’s education beyond Grade Six. The situation for inadequately- schooled Filipino children has just gotten worse than before, in which dropping out happens after graduating from high school.
The government refuses to acknowledge its inadequacies, and instead, it proudly shows a perfect image of the country that keeps its pace towards progress, which is a blatant lie!