Los Baños eyes measures on informal settling

A child stands in front of their house found in Maahas, Los Baños relocation site. The relocation site has 76 houses which the Municipal Urban Development and Housing Office built for informal settlers of Barangays Bambang and Lalakay.

by Asle Carey A. Ciscar

The woman wailed when she saw their clothes, utensils and other belongings washed out from their house in Bambang, Los Baños. The sight was painful for Irene Malana, 44, who had their house cleared during the havoc of Habagat or southwest monsoon in August.

Malana said it was past midnight of August 8 when they heard a huge blast due to collapse of terrain and rocks from the mountainside. She said that upon hearing the blast, residents immediately ran to the evacuation center because of fear for massive landslides.

Akala namin hanggang doon nalang ang buhay namin kasi may gumuguho dito, mayroon din dyan, meron pa doon. Kasabay pa nun yung napakalakas na daloy ng tubig na may kasamang mga bato [We thought that our lives would end there because there were landslides everywhere. Synchronous to it was flashflood that carried away rocks], she said.

Malana was one of the 496 informal settlers in Bambang who were displaced from their houses due to massive flooding, rockslides and landslides. Yet despite the risks of informal settling in Bambang, barangay officials said that the number of informal settlers is increasing. From 1,345 families in 2008, they already have recorded 1,800 families in the first quarter of 2012.

Increased informal settlers

Records from Municipal Urban Development and Housing Office (MUDHO) show that the increase is not in Bambang alone, but in the whole Los Baños, Laguna. From 6,366 families in 2011, MUDHO has recorded an increase of 462 families in 2012. Bambang has the highest number of informal settlers among the municipality’s 14 barangays.

According to National Statistics Office (NSO), it has a total population of 109,210 in 2011, about 31% of which are informal settlers or squatters. Los Baños is located just 63 kilometers southeast of Manila, which also has its problems with informal settlers.

According to MUDHO Administrative Assistant Annie Dimaano, the increase was highest since the start of informal settling survey in 2002. She said that even if no relocation of informal settlers from Manila to Los Baños was taken, the increase was still incurred due to increased number of immigrants from different provinces such as Sorsogon, Bicol and Quezon.

Comprehensive inventory

In response to informal settling problems, MUDHO has started in August its first Comprehensive Inventory of Informal Settlers. The inventory involves demographic and economic profiling of informal settlers in the whole municipality, as well as other factors that would help MUDHO in establishing appropriate solutions.

Hindi tapal-tapal na solusyon ang gusto ng present administration, kundi permanent solutions. Kung walang inventory, kung ano lang makita, yun lang ang masosolusyunan [The present administration wants not selective but permanent solutions. If there’s no inventory, only those problems seen can be solved],” said Dimaano.

Dimaano added that the result of the inventory will be the “basis of MUDHO in establishing comprehensive, permanent and rational shelter plan” to address informal settling problems in the municipality.


MUDHO has also been relocating residents from Bambang, Lalakay and Tuntungin-Putho to relocation sites in Maahas and Lalakay.

The program called Core Shelter Assistance Project (CSAP) provides “typhoon resistant housing units” for families who were greatly affected by typhoons Milenyo and Reming. Each family-beneficiary will receive P70 000.00 cost of assistance and will build their housing units themselves. It was implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development of Region IV-A under the Administrative Order No. 76, Series 1998.

Dimaano said that through CSAP, they already have relocated a total of 124 families. She said that 100 more houses are being constructed for the CSAP housing project. She added that based from the partial result of the comprehensive inventory in August, they are now making an inventory of collected housing sites where they could establish community settlements that are “far from danger”.

Dimaano also admitted that the ongoing construction of housing sites is not enough to cater the needs of informal settlers in Los Baños. She said one of the major problems they face is to find an idle land where the informal settlers can be relocated.

Meanwhile, Lilibeth Pondivida, a former resident of Bambang, was one of the residents relocated to Maahas relocation site. She was living in upper Dampalit then and experienced numerous rock slides and flashfloods.

Ngayon maayos na tulog namin. Hindi tulad noong nasa taas, inisip mo lagi na baka may babagsak na bato. Kung bumaha man dito, hanggang talampakan lang at hindi pa malakas ang agos,” said Pondivida.

Employment woes

Pondivida, however, said that living is far difficult in relocation site than in upper Dampalit. She said that they could depend their living in resources available in upper Dampalit, such as various crops, drinking water and firewood; while not even a single crop can be planted in the relocation site. She added that people in the relocation site could hardly get stable jobs since most of them have not finished their education.

Kung bumabagyo, mas magandang tumira dito. Pero kung okay naman yung panahon, mas maganda dun kasi mas madali ang buhay sa taas [It’s better to live in relocation site if there are storms. But life is easier in upper Dampalit],” Pondivida said.

Matilde Erasga, livelihood officer of Gender and Development (GAD) Los Baños, said that GAD has been conducting livelihood trainings for women development. Dubbed as “One barangay, One product”, the program mobilizes 30 female residents in each barangay.

As the program title implies, women are trained on how to produce a particular product which they can sell for a living. Erasga added that the program provides capital for the participants so that they can be able to start a small business.

Erasga cleared that the program is not offered for informal settlers alone. But according to her, barangay officials, who determine the program beneficiaries, focus on mobilizing informal settlers because “they need it more than anyone else.”

Everyone’s task

Since the whole municipality is affected by the problems of informal settling, Dr. Esteban Godilano, a member of the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines,  said that everyone should get involved and participate in addressing them, like helping the local government in monitoring areas and prohibiting people who plan to build houses illegally. He said the government, on the other, should secure stable jobs for informal settlers, as well as lead and support everyone’s effort.

“If we would be able to tap issues on informal settling, informal settlers would contribute to the development of the municipality,” said Dr. Godilano.

He said that informal settlers could provide benefits to the municipality as most of them provide blue collar jobs such as construction workers, carpenters and laundresses. He said that, if mobilized, they could also help in cleaning, rehabilitating and restoring the environment.

Ang parte ng problema ay parte din ng solusyon [A part of a problem is a part of solution as well,” he added.

ALS in LB: Conquering Dreams Even Behind Bars

Gilbert Malinaw, one of the top notchers of the ALS Program, delivers his speech.

by Rose Jeanette L. Agustin and Kimberly M. Afundar

They once looked at him with judgment and scrutiny, but now they look up at him as if he was a different person.

It was all like a dream to Gilbert, a 21 year-old detainee in Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Los Baños, Laguna. But as he marched towards the stage during the commencement exercise of the Alternative Learning System-Literacy Reform Program (ALS-LRP) Los Baños last September 5, he knew that dreams do come true; and that hindrances, like being a 2-year detainee, won’t stop him in fulfilling his dreams.

Gilbert, from Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños is just one of the many learners of ALS. This program prioritizes Out-of-School Youths (OSYs) and adults, drop-outs, persons with disabilities and less fortunate people who live below poverty line coming from disadvantaged and underserved communities. Gilbert was one of those who got side tracked by his peers and by the false pleasure from vices. With that, he dropped out from high school and was accused for drug pushing.

Sinayang ko yung sustentong binibigay sa’kin ng mga nagpapaaral sa akin Akala nila nag-aaral ako pero nasa barkada [ko] lang ako. (I wasted all the money that was given to me. They thought I’m in school, but the truth is, I’m wit my peers),” he said.

The beginning of hope

Gilbert and his other inmates were informed about ALS-LRP which is a non-formal education program. This program offers its graduates a diploma that provides them opportunities to enroll college or other training programs and into better paying jobs. He thought that this would be a great opportunity for him to gain one of the most important things he had lost – education.

With the program, he then realized that there were still a lot of things he didn’t know. ALS-LRP helped him become more knowledgeable about mathematical problems and most of all, essay writing.

People who made him push through

The encouragement from his second family played a very important role for Gilbert. When Gilbert got jailed, his biological parents despised him and stopped recognizing him as their son. However, his aunts and uncles kept him and made the effort of getting him out. They paid his private lawyer and visited him regularly. The help given to him made him more determined to return the kindness of his second parents and win back the trust of his family.

More than his family, the people from ALS-LRP motivated him as well. Municipal Councilor Lourdes Principe, who established the program, encourages him and other inmates to continue as well. Councilor Principe admits that what she saw in the learners of ALS-LRP is somehow parallel with her own life.

As one of those who were less fortunate in life, Councilor Principe and her mom used to sell samalamig (juice drinks), bibingka and other kakanin (rice cakes) in the markets in order to support their family and continue her studies.

Kung meron kang dream sa buhay mo, you will achieve it. Basta determined ka sa education, walang imposible. (If have a dream in your life, you will achieve it. As long as you are determined to pursue your education, nothing is impossible),” Councilor Principe said.

According to her, the other goal of ALS-LRP – which is to accommodate not just smart students but even those who are drop-outs and “pasang-awa’s” – is also pretty much in line with her advocacies.

ALS-LRP’s Advocacies and activities

One of the advocacies of the program is to make education accessible to everyone no matter what status they have in life. The learners need not to be smart or knowledgeable. As long as they are basically literate, they are qualified to be part of the program.

In ALS-LRP, the learning session which is called Learning Support Delivery System (LSDS) focuses on essay writing and reading comprehension. Learners are also equipped with skills in English communication, problem solving and critical thinking. These are preparations for the Accreditation and Equivalency Test (A&E) since an ALS learner will only graduate if he will be able to pass the said exam.

The students will take their A&E test after 800 hours of LSDS. For Gilbert and 8 other inmates, their A&E exam happened on October 23, last year. After the exam, they had to wait for four months to know if they passed or not.

When the results came, Gilbert was pleasantly surprised on the results of his exam. He was one of the passers of the exam but more than that – he was actually one of the topnotchers nationwide.

“Natawa pa nga sa’kin yung mga kakosa ko kasi nagtatatalon ako sa tuwa. Sumasayaw-sayaw pa ako. Agad kong tinawagan yung pamilya ko. Na-feel ko na yun na yung simula ng pagbabago ng lahat. (My inmates even found me funny when I jumped and even danced for joy. I immediately called and my family to tell them the news. I had the feeling that it things would change from then on),” he said.

Los Baños’ Mayor Anthony Genuino congratulates Gilbert Malinaw for being one of the topnotchers in the Alternative Learning System program

The turning point

Gilbert is now one of the successful learners who graduated from ALS-LRP. Since the establishment of the program in Los Baños in January 2009, it was able to accommodate more than 200 learners. From 18 graduates in each year of 2010 and 2011, it had increased to 32 graduates this year. Today ALS-LRP has expanded, not only with the number of graduates but also with their learning centers. From a single center in Gabaldon, other centers were established Bayog, Lalakay and of course, in BJMP, with plans of further expanding in other areas in Los Baños.

During the commencement exercises of ALS-LRP, Gilbert and eight other inmates were given five hours of freedom to attend and celebrate it as well. Municipal officials, BJMP inspectors, ALS-LRP facilitators and of course, their respective families witnessed this important event in their life.

Being a topnotcher, Gilbert was given the privilege to speak in front to deliver a speech. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he proudly delivered his speech. He thanked everyone who helped him with his journey and gave his deepest gratitude to the program, ALS-LRP.

The diploma for Gilbert did not only provide him open doors, but it also restored broken relationships and made him win back the trust from his parents. He promised himself that he will take care of this blessing forever. The chapter in his life where he became a learner in ALS, graduated from it and received his diploma became a milestone in his seemingly hopeless situation.

“It was all thanks to ALS-LRP and all the people behind it,” he said.

A step for a future

ALS-LRP always wanted its graduates to use their diplomas for good. The program hopes that they will use it to enter college and pursue education to the fullest. However, given the graduates’ status in life, they rather get employed. This is why as much as possible the program wants to provide scholarship grants to its graduates. According to councilor Principe, negotiations are still underway

For Gilbert, he plans to take up a computer-based course with his diploma. He promised himself that he would work on it seriously so he’d be able to graduate and have a college degree. Because more than graduating, he would want to give back to his parents.

Gilbert now knows in the importance of education. He now believes that, education is the only key for the future.

“Kung wala ang susi na to, di ka makakapunta sa road to success. Hanggang pinto ka lang. (Without education, you will not be able to enter the door which will lead to the road of success.),” Gilbert said.

He had experienced the hardships brought about by slacking in his studies but more than that, he had seen the consequences brought by the lack of it. Gilbert proved that by being persistent and hardworking, one will truly achieve one’s ambitions in life.

Living a life behind bars, Gilbert may still be deprived of liberty but this would never be the case o his hopes for the future. His plans may also be on hold by bars in his prison cell, but there is one thing that he is sure of, that with his patience and perseverance, his dream and aspirations will be fulfilled soon.

Pension Tension: Social Pension Program in Los Baños

by Clinton C. Ronquillo and Paoloregel B. Samonte

At first glance, Lola Basyon would pass for a socialite grandma who seems to live her old life in lavishness; attending parties for the golden-aged elites at night, tending her rose garden in the morning, spending her afternoons in the sweetness of tango music in her ballroom dancing classes. With her pink nail polish, gold necklace, dangling pearl earrings and a lump of thin, brownish hair, her overall aura seemed to speak of a groovy grandma spending the remaining days of her life in the comforts of a luxurious home. Except she isn’t. Except we found her somewhere else.

Lola Basyon, or Mrs. Encarnacion Bonaceli, 81, was in the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Los Baños Chapter that Friday noon, asking for few pennies to ease her cough. She is definitely not the well-off grandma we mistook her for. However, she is also not begging for money in the office. Lola Basyon is just one of the few senior citizens in the town who are beneficiaries of the Social Pension Program (SPP) under the Pantawid Pamilya Program (PPP) of the DSWD.

Social Pension Program Defined

The Social Pension Program, which Lola Basyon is part of, is provided under the Republic Act (RA 9994) or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010. The said program aims to support the basic needs of poor Filipino senior citizens aged 77 or above who are “frail, sickly, disabled, without any regular source of income and/or support from any member of the family, and not receiving other pension benefits from government and private agencies.”

DSWD launched the program in 2011 by distributing 870 million pesos amount of social pension to about 145,000 senior citizens nationwide. In 2012, the budget for the SPP skyrocketed from 870 million to 1.23 billion, with the number of beneficiaries also increasing from an estimated 145,000 to 185,000, according to DSWD.

The beneficiaries across the country are selected through the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) of DSWD. Social workers in barangay levels conduct household surveys and submit them to the central office of DSWD for reassessment. Once the final list of beneficiaries is released, they then visit the fortunate beneficiaries and inform them about the results and pay-out scheme.

Luckily, Lola Basyon was one of the nearly 150,000 beneficiaries in 2011 who receive 1,500 pesos every three months.

Half-hearted Gratitude

Lola Basyon said that she is somehow thankful for the social pension program of the government.

Pagkatanggap ko ng pensyon, bumibili ako agad ng gatas, asukal, tatlong kilong bigas. Basta wanport ng wanport  (Upon receiving the pension money, I immediately go to the store and buy milk, sugar and three kilograms of rice. I always buy in quarters),” she said.

However, she admitted that the pension, in addition to what her sons contribute from their little income, has proven to be inadequate for them to meet their daily needs.

Furthermore, she said that the pension is handed to them irregularly. In these instances, Lola Basyon would charge her purchase in the sari-sari store to the long list of her debts.

Hindi naman puwedeng hindi kami kumain (We cannot afford not to eat)”, she added.

Neglected Medical Needs

Most of the beneficiaries of the pension are afflicted with several sicknesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and rheumatism; while others are already bedridden and paralyzed, according to Mrs. Luzviminda Alvarez, social worker from Municipal Welfare and Social Development Office (MSWDO).

In Lola Basyons’ case, the aim of the pension program to financially assist senior citizens in their health concerns is not adequately fulfilled. The sparse amount of money she receives is even insufficient for their daily food needs.

Of the 1,500 pesos Lola Basyon receives every three months, 1,200 pesos is allotted for purchasing food such as rice, canned goods, coffee and sugar. The remaining 300 pesos is used for paying debts in the sari-sari store and should there be anything still left from the pension, for buying cough medicine,

Basta ang importante na lang ay may makain tatlong beses sa isang araw. Basta may bigas lang (What is important is to have something to eat three times a day. As long as there is rice),” she said.

Every mother in a family thinks the same. This is true for Lola Basyon, who has to sacrifice buying maintenance drugs for her recurring dry cough and hyperacidity just so her family could eat. Most of the time, she visits the health center and the office of Municipal Social and Welfare Development (MSWD), hoping for someone to lend her money. Thanks to her being friendly and jolly, the social workers on duty sometimes give money for her medication.

But the social workers cannot always provide for her. In times of extreme need for treatment and medicines, Lola Basyon turns to free medical check-ups administered by the government.

“Kapag may libreng gamutan, eh punta naman ako kasi siyempre mamimigay sila ng libreng gamot (I go to medical missions whenever there is one because they give away free drugs),” Aling Basyon shared.

Lola Basyon is just one of the million other Filipinos who entirely depend on government programs for their medical needs. While social pension gives her the prerogative to spend the money on things she wants, she tends to discount her medical needs so that her family would eat thrice a day. This is a clear manifestation that the social pension that she receives is not enough to cover her basic needs, including her health necessity.

Widening Reach

SPP remains to be a ray of hope for Lola Basyon and other senior citizen-beneficiaries in the municipality of Los Banos. Mrs. Alvarez, who handles the program for almost two years now, can attest to this.

Kung magiging materialistic ka, mawawala agad yang pera pero sa kanilang mahihirap, malaking tulong ‘yun (If you are going to be materialistic, the money could be spent quickly.  But for the poor, it is a huge help),” she said.

Despite the gratitude of the beneficiaries, the SPP program implementers in Los Banos are still aiming for better sustenance and services. But unfortunately, the improvement of the quality of the program is not in their hands. The most they could do is to appeal for an increase in the number of beneficiaries, which they are working on to. According to Mrs. Alvarez, they requested more slots to be given to other senior citizens.

Marami kasing lumalapit sa aming mga senior citizens at nagtatanong kung pwede daw ba silang magpension din (There are many senior citizens who are coming to us and asking if they can get pension, too), Mrs. Alvarez said.

DSWD responded to this by allowing barangay officials to recommend needy senior citizens in their respective barangays as potential beneficiaries of the program. Then, MSWDO validated the recommendation by conducting household visits. They made a request July last year, which was approved four months after. From 22 beneficiaries, there are currently 48 Los Banos senior citizens who benefit from the social pension program. Mrs. Alvarez added that they have also waitlisted senior citizens who will be given the slots if ever a beneficiary dies. A slot which Lola Basyon, still living, clings on to.

Later Life Hopes

Lola Basyon, 81, is just one of the many faces of the SPP senior citizen-beneficiaries who still wish for better sustenance and more privileges from the government. And even with her pink nail polish, alluring golden necklace and dangling earrings, a lump of thin, brownish hair, gleaming white smile and an over-all aura of a fabulous grandma, she still cannot mask the weariness emanating from her deep black eyes; the misery brought about by poverty, by curable yet untreated sickness, by lack of food.

Lola Basyon with her son, the ‘Jose Rizal’ of Laguna.

Lola Basyon admits she may not get to live through a better life. But as the remaining years of her being makes its way to the end, her hopes for a better quality Social Pension Program for her and other future beneficiaries continues.

IRRI develops Super Bag

by Iana Mariene A. Silapan

The "Super Bag" developed by IRRI can reduce postharvest losses by prolonging germination time. Photo by irri.org

The "Super Bag" can also be used for other crops such as corn and coffee. It is now available at Pacifica Agrivet stores nationwide for PhP120. Photo by irri.org

Filipino farmers can now store their rice grains for a longer time with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Super Bag, also known as SuperGrainbag™.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has developed a ‘super bag’ that can extend the shelf life of rice but it can also be used for other dry crops such as corn, coffee and others. With the use of the IRRI Super Bag, the germination or the sprouting of rice grains can be extended from six months up to 12 months.

As stated in IRRI’s website, the use of the super bag can reduce postharvest losses up to 15 percent by maintaining grain quality for a longer period.  Relative to the normal storage system which involves the use of sacks, the super bag can control the infestation of rats and insects into the grain without the use of pesticides.

The science behind the Super Bag

According to Engr. Christopher Cabardo, assistant scientist at the Crop and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD), Postharvest Unit of IRRI, the Super Bag uses the hermetic storage system. This means that once the bag is sealed, the flow of water, moisture and oxygen into the grains can be controlled. When properly sealed, farmers can store their grains for up to 12 months without lessening the germination rate of the grains. 

Engr. Cabardo said that IRRI came up with the idea of creating the Super Bag in 2004. Originally, the hermetic storage system was for bulk storage from 5 tons up to 300 tons. But with the small farmers in mind, IRRI transformed the technology to fit their needs. IRRI’s postharvest experts collaborated with GrainPro Inc. in developing a super bag with a 50-kilogram capacity for small farmers. GrainPro Inc. is a company involved in agricultural technologies, especially in pre- and post-harvest technologies.

The IRRI Super Bag is made of multi-layer polyethylene plastic material. The bag is also incorporated with a gas barrier layer which controls oxygen and water vapor movement inside. “The sealing of the bag is critical,” said Engr. Cabardo. Retailers of the bag should teach the farmers and customers the proper way of sealing the super bag.

The future for the Super bag

In the Philippines, the IRRI Super Bag or SuperGrainbag™ is now available at Pacifica Agrivet stores nationwide and can be bought for 120 pesos.

Implementing the smoking ban in LB


by: Margie Calilap, Jan Amiel de Leon, Kaizzey Marjorie Javier, Ysabel Anne Lee, Nicole Lorraine Prieto, Mary Josene Uriel Villar Smoking not only affects the human body but also pollutes the environment. It is in recognition of this need to … Continue reading

Behind the handle bars

by: Nicole G. Amante, Alyssa Maryse G. Cruz, Raphael R. Dorado, Chrislee A. Javier, Jaia Gabrielle S. Labastilla, Maria Lourdes G. Lazaro, Caress L. Tolentino

Public transportation nowadays is mostly vehicles with gasoline-fueled engines, and we hardly notice that pedicabs exist.

This figure made from pieces of iron put together and complemented with seats and tires is dwarfed by the massive swell of jeepneys and buses. And people are not aware that behind the handle bars, and the accompanying side car, the pedicab drivers have stories to tell.

At Calamba City in Laguna, pedicab drivers maneuver their way in the middle of the busy road filled with countless automobiles. They try to keep up with the fast pace of cars, jeepneys and tricycles, using their strength as their capital. Back at the waiting station, whoever is left to wait for passengers hope that passers-by would need a ride, not mind the leisurely pace, and be generous enough to give the full fare and not make “tawad” since this amount, which many consider small, is essential for their survival.

This is how the typical day in the life of a pedicab driver goes. You think it’s easy? It’s not. Pedicab drivers trade the pleasure of sleep with waking up early in order to corner the market of early-risers who are mainly students. As early as five in the morning, the drivers are lined up in their station, ready to take their turns whenever a passenger drops or passes by.

Decades ago, pedicabs were boarded for entertainment and leisure purposes. They were usually seen in parks for foreign and local tourists to enjoy. But today, due to financial necessities, the poor and unskilled considered this an instant livelihood. This type of work is not new or novel or unique to Calamba City; almost every corner of the nation has its own version, especially in streets that are too narrow for buses and jeepneys. 

The stories they tell

In Barangay San Cristobal, Calamba City the pedicab is one of the more common sights aside from the tricycles. Here, they have an association for workers involved in the informal business of pedicab driving, which they call the San Cristobal Pedicab Operators and Drivers Association (SCPODA). With 750 members, composed of 400 drivers and 350 operators, the SCPODA is under the Kapisanan ng Pedicab Operators and Drivers Association, Inc. (KAPODA) which is the umbrella organization of all the unions of pedicab drivers and operators in Laguna.

The current SCPODA president, Joseph “Kuya Hapon” Banatin, 35, has been heading the association since 2009. He has been driving pedicabs since he was in elementary school, and he proudly narrates that this job even supported the expenses involved while taking up a vocational course. After graduating from the Dual Tech Training Center, he was able to get a job in an electronics company in Carmona, but eventually went back to pedicab driving when he started his own family. This he did not only to sustain his family and accompany his children to school, but also to return the favor that pedicab driving has given him.

Former SCPODA president, Juanito “Mang Junior” Salvador, 63, has been a pedicab driver for more than 30 years now. He used to be a plumber in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, but due to unstable income opportunities in the business, he lost his job and later became a pedicab driver. To this day, he still renders plumbing services to augment his income. At the current fare rate of seven pesos per head, he said he has a daily income of 300 pesos at the minimum. This means at least 42 passengers a day, which is surprising because he still manages to pedal his bike and service this number of people despite his age and slender body built.

Kuya Hapon and Mang Junior have some sort of education and skills which allow them to have other jobs given the opportunity. If they do not find pedaling for a living enough to sustain their family’s growing needs, they take on second jobs for earn extra income. But for many of their fellow pedicab drivers, this is not the case. Around 70-80% of the SCPODA members have low or no educational attainment at all, and they depend only on this job to sustain their needs.

Then there is the issue of boundary – the minimum amount the drivers have to remit to the pedicab owner. What little will be left is the only take-home income to budget for the family. With an average income of 150-300 pesos daily, drivers who do not own their pedicabs still need to give 50 pesos to the owner or operator. This they need to keep doing since buying a pedicab will cost them around P12,000-15,000.

Jon Haniola, 53, is lucky because he owns the pedicab he uses to earn a living. This means he doesn’t have to deal with the boundary requirement. Still, he maintains two jobs to put food on his family’s table and send his kids to school. HIs day starts at 4 o’clock in the morning, pedaling for a living for about 12 hours which gives him 300 to 350 pesos. But since he has two kids who are both studying in elementary this is not enough. He would then work as a carpenter and house painter in nearby project sites when there are available jobs, which means an additional 415 pesos. Although this second job is not as regular as the other, it makes Mang Jon happy. “It is really hard nowadays, even I earn 350 pesos a day with an additional 415 pesos sometimes, it’s not yet enough for food and other necessities of the family. I’m lucky enough that I have my own pedicab, I don’t have to pay for boundary,” says Mang Jon. (Mahirap na talaga panahon ngayon, kahit ba kumita ako ng 350 sa isang araw at paminsan minsan madadagdagan ng 415, minsan hindi pa din sapat yon pang kain at pambili ng mga kailangan ng pamilya ko. Swerte ko na nga lang at nakabili na ako ng pedicab ko at hindi ko na kailangan magbayad ng boundary.)

The bright and dark sides

While riding a bicycle is a form of exercise, it can be very tiring if done continuously, day in and day out. Just imagine having to drive two passengers at a time, with their luggage as additional weight. It would really stress out the muscles and joints of the legs. And what do pedicab drivers get in return? Very minimal income. While it is good for customers that the minimum pedicab fare is low, despite price hikes in consumer goods and services in the country, this spells a bit of hardship for the drivers because this means relatively low income for purchasing high-priced commodities.

Then, there also is the issue of health. Whole day exposure to the heat of the sun then getting drenched in rain may cause illness. Some drivers are also at risk of developing ulcers since they do not get to eat on time because they are either too busy with the service or trying to save some money, or both. The income of 150-300 pesos per day is hardly enough for the basic necessities of the day, taking into considerations the number of family members, so that they scrimp on some needs to stretch the money. Some consider it a lucky day if they get to take home that much. There are those who patiently wait all throughout the day and exert more effort pedaling more people to their destinations, and they get bigger income. Others, however, are not as patient, or maybe just don’t have the strength or endurance. Rainy days are more likely to invite more customers, giving them more opportunities for greater income.

Aside from the basic necessities of the day that the drivers try to provide with their earnings, they also save some a small amount for the Association’s projects and activities. One such project is the “Bigasan ng Kooperatiba” which all pedicab drivers are expected to support by way of contributions since this is a group business. Members also have to set aside five pesos as minimum monthly deposit, which the Association pools to prepare for health and other financial needs. If not used, this earns interest — the total deposit will be multiplied by ten and that would be the depositor’s money by the end of the year.  Pedicab drivers are thereby encouraged to increase their deposits for higher income by the end of year.

But while the concept is good, there are some who just want to continuously benefit without exerting effort. In the Bigasan project, for instance, some members keep buying on credit such that they Association misses some income opportunity. And while it is bad enough that they buy on credit, others keep postponing payments and forget to pay in the long run.

Pedicab drivers do not just worry about income; they also deal with bullies in their ranks. In their waiting station, pedicab drivers follow a certain sequence on who gets to drive costumers as they arrive. Some drivers complain that there are those who ignore the sequence and keep on getting passengers whenever they are back at the station, leaving the others to just watch and complain among themselves. The others, who are too weak or just not interested to pick a fight, do not react. These “sulakab” drivers, as how Kuya Hapon calls them, are the usual problems. That is why  the Association sends officers to check on the station and maintain order.

In times of illnesses when a pedicab driver cannot go out and earn for the day, there is no income, and this means no food on the table. The usual tactic is to borrow money. This is the reason why some parents encourage their children to drive pedicabs as well — to gain extra income. It is in recognition of this necessity that the Association has allowed 15-year-olds to drive pedicabs, the only basic requirement being knowledge in biking.

Given the limited income, other family members contribute time and energy in order to make ends meet. They may engage in the pedicab driving task, or look for other opportunities.

Anthony Cuello, 16, is the son of pedicab driver Celso Cuello. He said that although many people take pedicab drivers for granted, he still looks up to his father for his determination to maintain a decent living and lifestyle for both of them. He thus try to help in whatever way he can, especially after school hours. He studies at the nearby national high school and in the afternoon, he ventures out to seek income opportunities in hopes of helping out his father in making out their living.

“[I sell] anything that can be sold, as long as I can help,” (Kung ano matinda, basta makatulong lang) Anthony, who used to work as peanut vendor, said. He is also firm that while other people belittle his father’s job, he sees in it something large — a potential and a life in itself full of experience-based lessons that his father had taught him.

Celso can thus say that despite being just a pedicab driver did not hold him back from bringing up a good child.

Women in action

In the past, pedicabs were driven only by males, but now, even females have taken interest in this job. Two of them are Nelia de Juan, 54, and Jocelyn Belga, 48, who at their age, should be doing relatively lighter jobs or maybe staying at home but they are out in the streets instead, pedaling for income.

Neila and her husband have three children, Aiza, 21, Jason, 20, and Roy, 14. Her husband is an occasional construction worker earning 300 pesos per day. Given the instability of her husband’s job, Nelia offers pedicab rides services to elementary students. She has been in this job for three years now and through this kind of arrangement, she and her husband were able to send all their children to high school.

On the other hand, Jocelyn got into pedicab driving because her husband passed away in 2008, leaving her as the sole breadwinner of the family. She had to start finding a different way to earn money so that she could find a way to put food on the table, pay their bills and pay for her children’s education.

And they endure. Because they have to.

The pedicab driver is always present and ever steady, though many belittle their profession. They are actually one of the handiest people there is in our present society. Skilled with maneuvering the pedicab, they provide easy transport to those who are in need of it. For so long, pedicab drivers have experienced hardships, and these hardships are not easily handled without the help and support they get from their families and well-meaning workmates.

Pedicab drivers care not only for themselves, but for their passengers as well. They know the responsibility given to them whenever a passenger boards their pedicabs.“Your passenger is like your own child. You should take care of your passenger… I service elementary students. I always send them to school and vice versa. When it rains I carry them off my pedicab so that they won’t get wet and dirty. And I always make sure they are protected,” (Kasi yung pasahero eh parang anak mo na rin yan eh. Kaya ikaw ang may karapatang mag-alaga dyan kapag sumakay na yan sa iyo… Ako nagseservice ako ng mga bata. Hatid-sundo ko pa yan, pag nga naulan ay binubuhat ko pa, wag lang silang mabasa tsaka madumihan… Yung mga service ko eh talagang prinoprotektahan ko.) says Mang Junior.  He believes that good service to the customers establishes trust.

Kuya Hapon has this to say about his job and other people engaged in this activity for a living: “Not because we are pedicab drivers, we are low-class people. We are working decently; we do not beg for mercy, we do not steal.” (Hindi naman porket pedicab driver lang kami eh mababa na agad ang tingin sa’min. Kung baga ay marangal din naman ung trabaho namin kasi hindi naman kami nagmamakaawa na sumakay sa’min tsaka dito hindi kami nagnanakaw.)