Three Women: Struggling to Survive while Fighting for Change

They do not have their own meter. Households in their area with sub-meters are being overcharged. Every kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed is charged P15 ($0.309). Including taxes and other erroneous charges, an ordinary lifeline user pays an average of P6.94 ($0.14) per kilowatt hour.

Safe drinking water is not readily available. They buy drinking water for P25 ($0.515) per container. They also buy water for other purposes. Corazon spends P300 ($6.185) per month for water.

Corazon said,“Ang mga bata, nakakakain naman. Ang matatanda, dieta.” (The young ones could still eat. The older ones have to eat less.)

Still, Corazon’s income is not enough.“Minsan, nangungutang sa 5-6. Hinuhulugan araw-araw ang utang.” (Sometimes I borrow from the local money lender who charges 20 percent interest. I pay the loan in installments every day.)

Just last week, Roberto suffered a stroke. They spent P2,500 ($51.546) for medical treatment. They also spend for his maintenance drugs.

Besides her day-to-day struggle to survive, Corazon also worries about their home. Like most households in the area, they face the threat of eviction.

The NHA told Corazon that they have to pay P90,000 ($1,855) in unpaid amortizations. She said they have to pay an amortization of P1,000 ($20.61) per month.

Corazon said that they paid P8, 500 ($175) and another P3,500 ($72.16) when they started occupying the unit. They were also able to pay their amortization for two months.

She insisted that the residents were the ones who developed the place. “Basura ito noon, tinabunan lang namin. Dingding ang bahay, pinaayos lang para maging pader.” (This area was full of garbage before; we just covered the garbage with soil. We had plywood for walls; we replaced it with concrete.)

Selling consumer goods and newspapers

Like Corazon, Marilyn Dicierto, 61, gets up early to earn a living.

Marilyn owns a small sari-sari (variety) store. Her sister, also a widow like her, lives with her.

Marilyn related, “Utang sa 5-6 ang puhunan sa paninda. Maliit lang ang tubo. Minsan, lugi pa..” (I borrowed money at 20 percent interest from local money lenders as starting capital for the store. The profit margin is too small. There are times that we don’t even earn.)

To augment her income, Marilyn sells newspapers early in the morning.

Even as her two sons already have families of their own and her youngest is the only one studying, Marilyn finds it hard to make both ends meet.

Marilyn and her sister usually skip breakfast. They consume one kilo of rice per day. For viand, they usually have fish. A kilo of rice costs P38 ($0.78). Subsidized rice from the National Food Authority (NFA) is not available in their place.

Marilyn spends P150 ($3.09) per month for water, P800 to P1,100 ($16.49 to $22.68) for electricity. Like Corazon, she uses a sub-meter.

Marilyn also sends P1,000 ($20.61) a month to her second son who does not have a stable income.

Like most of the dwellers in Vitas, Marilyn came from the province. She used to work on a hectare of agricultural land in Cotabato. Her husband, she said, was irresponsible. Even then, she was the one who would bring food to the table. Her husband died in 1994.

In 1997, Marilyn went to Vitas, Tondo. Like Corazon, Marilyn spent thousands of pesos to develop the unit. “Tubig ito at basura. Ako nagpagawa, nagpalinis. Dati, hindi magamit ang CR.” (This area used to be filled with water and garbage. I had it cleaned and fixed. Before, even the toilet is busted.)

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