Trying to Survive Each Day


MANILA — Mary Alvares, 44, her husband and five children live in a makeshift house in Sitio Veterans, a few meters away from the Sandiganbayan and the House of Representatives in Quezon City.

Mary is a house wife who belongs to the 22.39 percent of women who have no source of income. Her husband Ricardo, 39, is a garbage truck driver who earns P900 to P1,500 ($19.78 to $32.967 at the exchange rate of $1=P45.50) a week.

Mary’s five children are all boys, the eldest is 20 years old and the youngest is three.

All of her five children did not have the opportunity to even step one foot in school. “We really can’t afford it,” Mary said of school expenses.

Mary is a native of Palawan who came from a family of farmers. She finished Grade III only. Her first husband is a farmer from Leyte with whom she bore three sons. Her husband went to Manila to find a job because he does not want to till the land for the rest of his life and eventually, they separated.

To giver her children the opportunity to study, she left her two sons Rommel and Romnick at Senden Home Foundation Inc., an orphanage owned by American priest Fr. Francis Senden located in Sta. Ana, Manila. Rommel was only nine then and Romnick was seven but her two sons left the orphanage and came back to her after two years.

“They could have been literate because that orphanage will send them to school even up to college,” she said. Now, Rommel is already 20 years old and works as a scavenger in Payatas, while Romnick left home. “Maybe he’s with his father or maybe he got a wife already. I don’t know,” Mary said.

(Photos by Anne Marxze D. Umil /

Rommel earns at least P100 ($2.197) per day from scavenging. She said that with Rommel’s daily income, they are able to get through the day. With the P100 ($2.197) Rommel earns, they buy one kilo of NFA rice worth of P20.00 ($0.439), a sachet of Milo for her three-year old son JM, canned goods and noodles, and the rest, if any, goes to unpaid loans.

“It’s a cycle every week,” she said. Her husband’s income is spent on rent amounting to P500 ($10.989), utilities another P500.00 and the rest for unpaid loans. She said that she could no longer allot money from her husband’s income for food because the house rent is a priority. “We have no choice, we don’t want to live on the streets. We just endure hearing invectives from the owner of the variety store every time we acquire credits.”

(Photos by Anne Marxze D. Umil /

Sometimes, if luck is on their side, her son Rommel would bring leftover food or what they call pagpag (literal translation – dust off, referring to the act of picking up leftover food and dusting off the dirt before cooking it again) from the garbage site. During Bulatlat’s visit to Mary’s home, the fried chicken and adobong manok that they ate for lunch was from the site. “This chicken was as hard as rock, it came from the freezer,” she said showing their viand. She said that it’s okay for as long as they have food to eat. Sometimes they would have diarrhea but whenever there is nothing else to eat, they would eat what is served.

When there is nothing left to eat, Mary would just pour water on their rice and put some salt, “It’s like dog’s vomit, but what can I do? Our stomach is empty and I have to feed my sons. I can let myself starve but not them. It breaks my heart.” She would just sit in one corner and cry because of their dire situation. She even thought of ending her life but thoughts of what would happen to her young sons, Richard who is nine and JM prevented her from doing so. She also could not leave JM and Richard to find a job.

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