Contemplating Poverty

Smokey Mountain: still the face of poverty

A Philippine Daily Inquirer article published two years ago declared that Smokey Mountain is no longer the face of poverty since the inception of a “material recovery facility” in a nearby barangay (village). The project, a recycling area for garbage, was supposed to provide people with sustainable livelihood and earnings sufficient for their daily needs.

Yet, Smokey Mountain still brings forth daunting images of urban wretchedness. Presently, about 27 families have their abodes of scrap materials built atop and around these hills of decomposed garbage. They live out of digging the soil for buried metal, iron, galvanized metal sheet and tin cans which they collect and sell per kilo to junkshops.

Living and making a living in the Smokey Mountain are all the more perilous. Edmar Esperanza, 41, once had his hand profusely bleeding after being cut by a rust-filled metal sheet while working in the “hills”. The noontime’s scorching heat and the methane gas being emitted by the decomposing garbage are harmful to his body, especially his already weakened lungs. But Edmar says he has no other choice but to live in such places and circumstances.

Like all the occupants of the hills, he struggles to survive with P150 ($3 at the current exchange rate of $1=P48.565) or less a day to support his family of five. Without water supply and electricity, he and his family reluctantly live an almost primitive life up the hills.


Sacks of metal, iron and tin cans that have been collected by the scavengers are ready to be sold to junkshops . (Photo by Anthony Stabile)

He dreams of traveling back to his own hometown in Tagbiliran, Leyte, where he was once a fisherman. Most of the Smokey Mountain settlers hailed from far-off provinces. Tondo was one of the places in Manila where folks from the countrysides, mostly peasants driven out from their farmlands, settled from 1940s onward.

Roaming around the hills are dust-smeared children, tired men with their tools, women harvesting crops in the already effete field, all against the background of the hopeless image of smoldering garbage heap. Edmar looks at them and relates that they can not be sure of anything in places like this, especially now that they are being ordered to vacate their homes.


Children manage to playfully pose for a shot despite the dismal condition in the Smokey Mountain . (Photo by Anthony Stabile)

“Gusto ko din namang makapahinga mula sa kahirapan,” Edmar sighs. (I also want to have a break from this hardship.)

Smokey Mountain, the former dumpsite which hosted two million tons worth of the NCR’s garbage, had once been the home of some thousands of urban poor whose abodes were demolished in 1995. Some of those who were evicted that year managed to come back and rebuilt their houses around the place, exhausting every means to survive.

Share This Post