Whatever happened to the ‘Bangkang Papel’ boys?

By Maria Althea Teves, abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Jul 22 2009 09:38 PM | Updated as of Jul 23 2009 08:34 PM

Fifth in a series on GMA's 9th State of the Nation Address

MANILA - Sometime in 2001, three young boys from Payatas launched paper boats into the murky waters of Pasig River. The boats, where they wrote their dreams, were supposedly directed at Malacañang Palace, where newly installed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is holding office.

The three boys were Jason Vann Banogan, Jomar Pabalan and Erwin Dolera, victims of the Payatas tragedy on July 10, 2000 that left 300 families homeless when the mountain of garbage collapsed and buried some 1000 people living off the trash.

They had simple and clear dreams, said Arroyo in her first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2001.

Jomar, then 10 years old, wanted a permanent job for his father. Jason, also 10 years old at the time, wanted to be able to go to college. Then-8-year-old Erwin wanted the Payatas dumpsite closed and asked that his family be given their own land.

In front of the entire nation, the president promised that their dreams — as well as the dreams of every poor Filipino — would sail, not sink.

Thus, the Bangkang Papel boys became the Arroyo administration’s poster boys: symbols of the government’s promise to deliver the Filipino masses from poverty.

Lesson from Mang Pandoy
They were not the first government poster boys for anti-poverty campaigns.

In the early 1990s, there was Felipe Natanio, more popularly known as Mang Pandoy. He was the Ramos administration’s poster boy. The vegetable vendor became the “face of poverty” and shot to fame when he was first mentioned during Ramos’ first SONA in 1992.

Becoming a poster boy has its benefits. During the Ramos administration, Mang Pandoy was given his own weekly television program on People’s Television 4 (now National Broadcasting Network 4) called “Ang Pandayan ni Mang Pandoy,” where he earned P2,000 per episode. But the show was cancelled after three years as people lost interest in him.

Mang Pandoy later became a consultant of then House Speaker Jose De Venecia. He also also received various dole-outs from the Quezon City government and De Venecia but failed to make the money grow. He was also given his own house, which he later sold.

Having only finished third grade, however, no one wanted to employ him after Ramos administration. Left jobless, with 8 children to provide for, he returned to selling vegetables and gardening.

The poster boy for hopes and dreams of the poor died a pauper on August 28, 2008 due to tuberculosis. His family did not even have P14,500 pesos to bury him. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had to give his family P12,500 as burial assistance.

The Ramos administration’s poster boy thus became the symbol of government failure to alleviate poverty in the country.

Fulfilling dreams
The Arroyo administration is trying its best not to let what happened to Mang Pandoy happen to the Bangkang Papel boys.

The boys are being closely looked after by the social welfare department, according to Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who belied earlier reports that said one of the boys is no longer attending school due to trauma from the Payatas tragedy.

She told abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak, however, that the boys no longer want to be interviewed or exposed in the media.

Still, documents provided by the DSWD showed that the department spent P50,000 in 2001 to give the 3 boys’ families livelihood assistance.

With assistance from the DSWD, the families of Jomar and Jason now have their own small businesses. Jomar’s father has a gas stove repair business while Jason’s family put up an automotive and supplies welding shop.

Jason asked for educational assistance until he graduates from college. The three boys were granted scholarships by the government, which spent a total of P581,499.84 for their schooling from 2001 to 2009.

Jason is already a second year college student taking up Computer Engineering and Jomar is a freshman in the same course, both at the AMA Computer College. Erwin is currently a Mass Communication sophomore at Trinity College.

“We are very proud of the boys. They are all doing well,” said Linda Orobia, operations officer of DSWD in Metro Manila. Orobia said their scholarships will continue even after the end of the Arroyo administration.

Aside from tuition assistance the boys have also received medical, transportation and burial assistance (for a relative) amounting to P93,843 since 2001 from the DSWD. Orobia said that Jason’s and Erwin’s families are doing fine while Salinas said that Jomar’s family has been relocated to a community of Payatas landslide victims in Rodriguez, Rizal.

It seems that the boys are indeed on their way to meeting their dreams. The question, however, is whether their good fortune mirrors the plight of the vast majority of the poor that they are supposed to represent.