Three Women: Struggling to Survive while Fighting for Change

Marilyn said that the NHA threatened to evict them. She said that some residents received notice that they must pay P300,000 ($6,185) for the housing unit. “Wala pang P100,000 ang halaga ng bahay rito. Lumaki dahil sa penalty at interes. Karamihan sa amin dito, walang permanenteng trabaho.” (The value of houses here are even less than P100,000 or $2,061. The amount we owed increased because of the penalties and interest being charged. Most of the people here do not have permanent jobs.)

Marilyn said the NHA has always intended to evict them. “Gabriela ang tumulong sa amin dito.” (It is the women’s group Gabriela that helped us.)


Unlike Marilyn and Corazon, Risa Gamilla, 34, does not occupy a unit at the tenement. Her house is located near the creek, below the bridge along North Harbor.

Risa has six children. She is pregnant with her seventh. Her eldest, 13 years old, stays at the Girl’s Town (Facility for female juvenile delinquents). Four of her children go to school. Her five-year old son is not yet in school.

Risa and her husband earn a living from collecting garbage. They earn P100 ($2.06) a day.

Due to their meager income, they only eat twice a day. Risa said they consume a kilo of rice per day which costs P31 ($0.639). Risa said that the P28 ($0.577) per kilo subsidized rice from the NFA could not be eaten, “Matigas at may amoy.” (It is hard and smelly.)

They buy tuyo (dried fish) or instant noodles for viand. “Mahal na rin ang noodles ngayon, P7.50 isa,” (Instant noodles are expensive nowadays; it costs $0.15) she lamented.

For electricity, Risa spends P500 ($10.309) per month. She spends more than P20 ($0.41) per day for water.

Risa tried to sell daing (another variant of dried fish) to augment their income but she eventually stopped.

Risa said she did not plan to get pregnant again. She stopped taking contraceptive pills due to goiter. “Wala namang libre [contraceptives] sa [health] center.” (There are no free contraceptives at the health center.)

The poorest live in shanties under the bridge in Vitas, Tondo, Manila. (Photo by R. Olea)

When her children get sick, Risa said she would buy medicines for fever or cough. If their conditions do not get any better, she would bring them to a semi-private clinic in Balut, Tondo. She pays P50 ($1.03) for medical consultation.

Like Corazon and Marilyn, Risa faces the threat of demolition. “By 2010, wala na raw kami dapat dito. Ewan ko kung saan kami pupulutin.” (We were told that we should not be here anymore by 2010. I do not know where we would go.)

Risa said there should be a relocation site for them. She said that if they should pay for the relocation, the amount should be affordable.


The three women in Vitas, Tondo, Manila are poor but never without hope.

Corazon, Marilyn and Risa are active members of progressive women’s group Gabriela.

All of them said that Gabriela helped them to assert their right to stay in their community amid threats of eviction and demolition.

“Sumasama ako sa rali. Nagtitinda rin doon ng tubig, sigarilyo para may kita,” Corazon said. (I join rallies. Whenever I do, I sell mineral water and cigarettes to earn.)

Marilyn said, “Patuloy kaming kumikilos. Mga batas ni GMA, walang maganda para sa mahihirap.” (We are active in the women’s movement. The laws and policies of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are not for the poor.)

She said that the expanded value-added tax (E-VAT) and corruption burden the poor even more. “Hirap na hirap na ang mga kababaihang mag-budget ng konting kita.” (Women find it increasingly difficult to budget the family’s meager income.)

Marilyn said that Arroyo won the 2004 elections through corruption. “Alam ng mga tao ‘yan. Nagpamudmod siya ng pera para manalo.” (The people know that she won in the elections by pay-offs and buying votes.)

“Napakakapal ng mukha niyan. Dapat nang patalsikin,” (She has no scruples. She should be removed from office.) said Marilyn.

All of them, in their own little way, strive to make real change happen.(

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