Childhood is only experienced once, and every child is expected to enjoy it. But life is harsh, given the circumstances of a poor country where indigenous peoples suffer not only from poverty but also from discrimination and oppression making them lose out in the very few opportunities available for a better life. This is a story of four Badjao children whose only desire is to survive another day and dreams of earning enough to be able to study and marry to be able to escape poverty.
BY HANNAH FAITH S. DORMIDO AND JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Vol. VIII, No. 14, May 11-17, 2008
Childhood is only experienced once, and every child is expected to enjoy it. But life is harsh, given the circumstances of a poor, backward country where indigenous peoples suffer not only from poverty but also from discrimination and oppression making them lose out in the very few opportunities available for a better life Because poverty is an everyday reality for indigenous peoples (IP), some IP children spend their childhood roaming the streets and begging for food. Over the years, a growing population of Badjaos has started to fill the streets of Balayan, Batangas hoping to escape the war and poverty in Mindanao, in search of a secure place to live in.
Badjaos are popularly known as the “Sea Gypsies” of the Sulu and Celebes seas. The name Badjao is a Malay-Bornean word that means “man of the seas.” Living in house on stilts in Mindanao and in other parts of the country, the Badjaos are among the poorest peoples in the country.
In the heart of the municipality, the terminal of vans to and from Manila, has served as the “playground” for four Badjao girls. All four girls wore skirts that touched their ankles, slippers that were too big, and their hair were burnt brown and red, manifestations of living by the sea.
They try to get the attention of passersby by tugging on their clothes or blocking their way, and then ask for any amount the person may offer. The usual reactions of the common people were either to ignore them, or give them sharp looks. Some good-hearted individuals would bother to search their pockets for coins and hand them over to the girls. Every peso given to them painted a smile on the girls’ faces, but every sharp look and indifference made them walk away with heavy hearts.
Rosalinda is the tallest among the four girls and probably the oldest. She does not know how old she is nor the date of her birth. In crooked Tagalog, she told Bulatlat that she is responsible for equally dividing among the four of them the amount they collected for the day. They normally bring home around P20 to P50 ($0.47 to $1.17 at an exchange rate of $1=P42.48) a day. The biggest amount she has ever had was P100 ($2.35) but it only sufficed for buying their food.
Other than begging for money from church goers and terminal passengers, Rosalinda said market vendors sometimes give them food. “Kung meron salamat, kung wala, salamat rin,” (If they give us something, we say thanks. If they don’t, we still thank them.) she added.
Rosalinda could not identify the exact place where she came from or where she grew up. She didn’t also know her family name. When asked where her parents were, she sadly told Bulatlat that she didn’t know their location, nor was she interested to find them. She didn’t want to elaborate on where she lives, how and when they arrived in Balayan, and who her companion is.
She shared that she wants to study but “Hindi ako marunong dahil Badjao ako. Pero kapag malaki na ako, gusto ko.” (I don’t know how because I’m a Badjao but when I grow up, I would like to study.)
Salma, around 9-11 years old, was more eager in answering questions than Rosalinda. She said she lived with her mother near the shoreline while her older brother and sister are already in Manila. She claims that her father was gunned down by the Abu Sayaff while fishing in the seas of Basilan. After her father’s death, her mother decided that they find another place to live in.