Friday, February 29, 2008

For Whom do We Fight For? (Part I)

(story continued from Amid the Flags and Banners)

Jostling for a space to pass through, I was briefly distracted by some pretty girls in the group warily guarded by nuns. Pushing and squeezing to my destination my head turned on another comely batch of ladies from UP. Focus, I said to myself. Finally I arrived to the place I wanted, a middle aged softdrink vendor with a gangly “blondied” teenage assistant. We exchanged pleasantries and given the crowd, music, the general festivities and the feeling that we as a people have the power, they were animated and more than willing to talk.

Street Vendor

The object of my informal interview was Aling Cynthia, a 37 year old vendor, unusually bouncy and youthful looking for her age. I could sense a positive aura from her, perhaps it was because of the general vibrant atmosphere of the massive protest rally. Beside Cynthia was her 19 year assistant “padawan” apprentice, Buboy, gamely pushing his hopia in a box for sale to those who approached. Aling Cynthia was already 15 years in the business and been the breadwinner of the family for 12 years.

Her husband, now 45, suffered a partial paralysis of one of his legs which resulted from a series of bad luck where a leg boil got infected by a powder spark from a firecracker. Her husband’s leg got swollen expanding to about 3 times its size. Finally when the boil burst and oozed its unsavory contents, complications arose which nearly killed her husband. In short, her husband was unable to properly walk and took care of their children and house chores while she had to be the family breadwinner for more than a decade. I wondered how she managed to survive on sidewalk vending alone since she has 4 children, one of them in 2nd year high, while the others in grade school. What’s more she has to pay rent for living space in a squatter shanty in Divisoria for P 1,000 a month. (Her landlords is Buboy’s parents so I kidded Buboy as being a “rich kid” which he replied with denials and a toothy grin)

Asking her what she expected of these rallies, she said that she hopes that Gloria Arroyo will be removed from office and things would get better. Buboy echoed the same sentiment. I then asked the two whom they wish to replace Gloria Arroyo with. I was half expecting they were going to choose Noli de Castro but their answer differed. Buboy chose Mayor Alfredo Lim; that was unexpected. On the other hand Aling Cynthia chose Erap Estrada. Buboy chose Lim as he expected better things for his community which is in Divisoria. Understandable since it was a local choice with him expecting better benefits to be given to his own community. For Aling Cynthia, I asked why she chose Estrada. Her answer was that they get better benefits and that if it were not for Chavit Singson, he would not have been deposed. I then asked her several times about the ex-president’s involvement in mulcting funds from illegal gambling activities; Cynthia never really answered the question.

Mayor Alfredo Lim
(Image from ABS-CBN news online)

So going to specifics, I shifted my tack and asked what do they REALLY want after Gloria resigns and is replaced. Their answer took me aback. They simply wanted a place where they can sell their wares. They intimated that there was just no space available in the city for them and they were constantly being chased by the authorities each time they set up shop. I asked them if they were willing to pay for the location if indeed they get one, the unified answer was yes. Buboy said they would pay if they were issued a “ticket”, I guess that means a payment for a day’s stay and vending in a particular area. Deep in thought, I had no heart to say to them that it is unlikely that even a new president would be able to think much less prioritize such an “insignificant” request. So I went along with their simple dreams, so I asked them if they are willing to be relocated in that Reclamation Area facing the Manila Bay, even though it is not exactly a place where people frequent. Still they agreed.

Thinking about it more, it is still possible for these people to business in a semi-desolate place if they would be there in greater numbers, set it up like a flea shop, set up something unique to promote the place and of course the occasional traveling carnival may help. However this would definitely entail the help of the local or even national government. Here are people willing to work just as long as they have a place to stay and are not lacking in drive and enthusiasm in their own little way. Governance for many decades had been more focused in dole-outs and social help, which is good. But there still an apparent lack of projects which promotes development where the ones who would design and spearhead these economic development are the people themselves. A softdrink vending cart is still a business; a small one but still a business.

A poor family economically improved in practical terms actually also means more business for those higher up in the totem pole. If made economically strong and independent, they can begin to afford to buy things that only the middle or even upper class people of society can buy. Economy and manufacturing becomes vibrant. Everyone will feel good about themselves. Debilitating poverty, ignorance, and despair will be reduced to a minimum if not eradicated completely. These are supposed to be the goal not only of governance but of society as well. We, who have a bit more than those in the slums have the capability of making things better. Not necessarily through dole-outs but also through the proverbial “teaching the people to fish, providing them the fishing reel and rod, and give them a week supply of food while the newly trained fisherman tries to catch adequate fish supply for himself and his family.”

(Image from Yahara Fishing Club)

(Continued to article - For Whom do We Fight For? (Conclusion))


Jennifer said...

Salamat Kabayan,
Very thought provoking. Tipong pang meditate. Tamang tama pang holy week.

Bren said...

The vendor you interviewed reinforces what the CBCP has said. The priority among the people is livelihood.