Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rizal Park is home for the city’s homeless

The night was getting cold. Mang Tino slapped the mosquito that landed on his arm as he looked up at the clock on the tower above him; 11 o’clock, it says.
He was growing sleepy and yet there was no sign of any of his sons who were supposed to fetch him, thankful to stand up after sitting for so long. He picked up his tin can and jiggled the remaining coins. Only three one-peso coins were left after his younger son got the twenty pesos earlier to buy rice for supper. Three pesos. Not even enough to buy one sorry-looking dried fish. Wearily, he got up, every muscle of his 83-year old body protesting.
Mang Tino is a widowed beggar who works at the Rizal Park every night. He starts at 5 in the afternoon and goes home at 11 p.m. Home is a small shanty in Artiaga Street he shares with his two teen-age sons. Jonas, 17, and Jun, 14, occasionally drives a trisikad to earn money to help Mang Tino buy food. The boys had to earn money for themselves because he had nothing to give them. He couldn’t even afford to send them to school.
At his age, Mang Tino should have grandsons already but he married late and was widowed after just a few years. Mang Tino has been begging in his favorite spot under the city clock tower for three years already. During the Marcos regime, he had been a garbage collector in the city but lost that job when Cory Aquino took over the presidency.
Oftentimes, he falls asleep while sitting down as he waits for generous people to drop coins in his can. Sometimes he collects 40 pesos or more but on rainy nights, he often goes home empty-handed because he would have to take shelter from the rain and people would be too busy seeking shelter to pay attention to an old man’s stretched arm. Christmas is his peak season because people are more generous then.
Mang Tino is forced to stay home on some nights when his kidney ailment and rheumatism attack. Still hoping one of his sons will fetch him, he look around the park, letting his weary eyes roam. His regular “classmates” at the part are still there.
fifty-one year old Badong was still in his place selling balut and penoy. Mang Badong has been selling balut and penoy at Rizal park for 13 years now. He sells from 100-200 pieces nightly. This increases to 300 when there are affairs at the plaza that would gather more people. He starts at 6 p.m. and goes home at 1 in the morning.
Badong has five children, plus two nephews who stays at their house in Washington Stree. Badong pays a nightly municipal ticket of two pesos.
Mang Tino would sometimes envy Badong. How many times he found himself wishing he had the capital too so he can sell something instead of beg, but that remains a wish. Money in his memory is limited to coins. It had been centuries ago since he last touched a wad of bills.
Mang Tino saw his younger classmate Felix of Barangay Busna also preparing to go home. His display of fried peanuts and siopao are almost gone. Felix is the sole income-earner of their family. His wife stays at home and minds their three kids. When people feel like spending more, Felix sells from 00 to 200 pieces of siopao and on nights when there will be affairs in the plaza, he sells 300 and even more. He disposes from three to 10 kilos of peanuts every night. Felix had been in this business for about a year. Like Badong, he also pays a two-peso ticket nightly.
Lynlyn, of SIR Sandawa in New Matina is trying to call customers to have a cup of coffee. She has a painitan where she serves customers. She also sells snacks like softdrinks, puto, puto maya, noodles, bingka, and other delicacies. Lynlyn has three children and is the breadwinner of the family. She opens her painitan at 8 in the evening and she goes home at 8 in the morning- a full 12 hours work without rest. Lynlyn earns a meager income ofP200-300 every night, barely enough to make ends meet.
Mang Tino slowly walked to ask Lynlyn for a glass of water before going home. He saw the stage of the park was almost full. The regular nightly lodgers had settled in for the night, the unfortunates who have no place to call home. Nana Ising, another beggar is already off to dreamland, her feet wrapped in a cellophane to ward off mosquitoes. Her grandson lay curled up beside her hugging a worn-out teddy bear he picked up from the garbage can earlier. The frail old man with deep-set eyes lay curled in one corner of the stage. No one knew his name, but according to Badong, the man had already been there long before he started his balut/penoy business.
Inday, the corn seller had gone home a couple of hours earlier. Business had been brisk for her. It was cold and the nilung-ag nga mais (broiled corn) she sold was hot. She had to go home to feed her two young daughters who were left in the care of a neighbor. She was able to dispose 125 ears of corn tonight. She needed money very badly to buy medicine for the cough of her youngest daughter.
Mario and Dada, the mango-vendor couple had also gone home to Times Beach. Their shanty was due for demolition and they needed money badly, too. They were only able to dispose 120 mangoes for four hours. They had to stop by Dada’s mother in Bankerohan to fetch their three children before going home.
Mang Tino slowly picked up his cane and started the tiresome walk towards his home. He was not so hungry tonight because a kind looking man gave him some left-overs of a packed meal. That would have to do for supper, he decided. His tired body screamed for rest. He would have loved to stretch out and sleep beside several other regular boarders on the stage, but no, he’d developed a trauma already. He had been a bedspacer of the stage before but after his worn wallet containing his night’s meager earnings was picked by some heartless fellow, he would rather walk all the way home, as he does every night save for those nights when by some kind of miracle one of his sons would fetch him on a trisikad.
He couldn’t afford to waste four pesos for fare when his feet could still walk for him. His two sons disapprove of his job but there’s nothing they could do. Mang Tino would not go out begging during daytime because his frail body couldn’t stand the heat, and besides he heard that the city government is out to shoo the sidewalk vendors away from their places. He’d rather beg at night because he believes government officials won’t bother their restful sleep just to shoo them away.
Mang Tino, Mario, Dada, Inday, Nana Ising, Felix, Lynlyn are not just names. They are real people living real lives at Rizal park and their number is growing. Some, like Mang Tino have shanties to go home to, others have found shelter in the stage park. Whether working or resting at Rizal Park, their presence speaks of a multitude of problems that the city is facing, or maybe refuses to face, for the sight can only be witnessed when most of us are comfortably sleeping.

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