MANILA (UPDATED) - Just less than an hour of travel from Quezon City lies the community of Waste pickers in the dusty part of Barangay San Isidro in Rodriguez, Rizal.
Barangay San Isidro chairperson Karen Mae Hernandez, estimates the number of families in the community at around 1,800. All of them source their livelihood from the Rizal Provincial Sanitary Landfill that receives Metro Manila's waste.
A typical 10 to 12 hour-daily work as a “mangangalahig” - sifting through trash for bottles, metals and reusable scraps at the sanitary landfill that they can sell - fetch them at least P400 a day, according to 43-year old Jose Juan.
But in the middle of March, the start of the Luzon lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, their only source of livelihood was suddenly cut off.
That month, they received food aid from their village officials twice. Nothing came after that.
For a time, scavengers living around the Rodriguez Sanitary Landfill scoured for food in trees and other vegetables around their area to feed their family.
Their children, meanwhile, braved trekking the steep ravine to get water supply from a well.
Families here also locked themselves in their shanties, as instructed by the government.
But as days progressed, the already hard life of residents was becoming more and more difficult due to the lack of food to eat.
Every morning, 33-year-old Jasmine Non is confronted by the cries of her three children aged 11, 4 and 1, because they have no milk to drink for breakfast.
Ken, her middle child, cannot be forced to eat sardines that a relative shares with them whenever they receive help, Jasmine said.
“'Pag walang gatas, iiyak talaga siya. 'Pag nakalimutan niya titigil siya. 'Pag naalala niya uli, iiyak siya uli,” Jasmine shared.
These days, Jasmine is having difficulties breastfeeding his youngest child because of her own nutritional problems.
“Nagwawala rin siya sa gabi...isinasayaw na lang, tulog din naman siya eh… minsan po pakiramdam ko lagi akong nakasakay sa barko siguro nahihilo. Siguro dahil sa puyat dahil sa pagbabantay namin sa panganay namin…hindi ko siya puwedeng tulugan nang matagal dahil baka bigla siyang ma-choke. Puwedeng hindi na siya makahinga,” she said
Asked how difficult it is for her to hear her children cry because of hunger, Jasmine said: “Siyempre mahirap, kasi bilang isang ina, ayaw naming makikita silang umiiyak. Lalo na 'yung panganay namin, hindi namin maibigay. Masakit po 'yun."
Jasmine's eldest son Justin has pneumonia. But they cannot bring him to the health center because of the lockdown and lack of public transportation.
“Kailangan niyang nagpapausok three times a day kasi hirap siyang huminga palagi, pero wala tiis lang. Kasama na po 'yan simula nang siya ay kinumbulsyon, ganiyan na po talaga siya, hirap siyang huminga palagi. Kaya kailangan niya ng pausok, nebulizer. Madalas naming siyang tinatakbo sa clinic pagka nagkakasakit sya. Madalas siyang nilalagnat,” Jasmine said.
“Ngayon po nilalagnat, pagka po nararamdaman kong matamlay siya. Ang kaniyang mata matamlay. Pinupunasan ko na siya nang pinupunasan para hindi na siya uminit pa nang uminit pa,” she added.
Justin became paralyzed after experiencing high fever and can only sleep while being carried by his parents due to too much phlegm.
“Hindi po siya nadadala sa health center. Kasi pagka siya po sinusumpong ng pneumonia niya, sa ospital po talaga siya. Kailangan po talaga siyang i-admit. Sa ano po siya naa-admit madalas sa Quirino Labor (hospital in Quezon City). Wala kaming sasakyan, maglalakad kami papunta doon,” Jasmine said.
Justin, she said, needs daily milk and medicine supply.
Seeing her children suffer, all she could tell them is "pasensiya na lang," an emotional Jasmine shared.
“Minsan umiiyak na lang ako ng hindi ko pinapakita sa kanila para hindi nila isipin na mahina kami,” she added.
There were many times when Jasmine and her partner Jose would just watch their children eat whatever they have for the day. During lucky days, they eat sardines from relief packs.
From what used to be three meals a day, they do everything to see their children have whatever is possible for breakfast and dinner.
“Kami tiis, mahalaga sa amin sila kumakain eh...basta makatawid lang maghapon,” she said.
Despite all these, Jasmine said she would continue following the enhanced community quarantine order to also help government arrest the effects of COVID-19.
Residents living near the landfill in Barangay San Isidro, Rodriguez, Rizal fetch water near a ravine. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
For a time, scavengers living around the Rodriguez Sanitary Landfill scoured for food in trees and other vegetables around their area to feed their family. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Barangay San Isidro chairperson Karen Mae Hernandez, estimates the number of families in the community at around 1,800 who all find livelihood from the Rizal Provincial Sanitary Landfill that receives Metro Manila's waste. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
The lockdown has cut off the residents from their only source of livelihood. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Families lock themselves in their shanties, as instructed by the government. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Piles of garbage remain outside the landfill. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Barangay workers from San Isidro, Rodriguez, Rizal give out rice porridge to residents near the landfill area. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
A resident says it’s difficult to complain these days as many like them are suffering due to the pandemic. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
She said it’s difficult to complain these days as many like them are suffering due to the pandemic.
She keeps on praying for COVID-19 to disappear so that her husband could already resume his work as a scavenger, Jasmine said.
“Sana matanggal na 'yung sakit na 'yan para makabalik na sa dating buhay. Wala nang umiiyak kada umaga, nanghihingi ng gatas. Siyempre masakit sa amin 'yun eh. Kasi 'yun nga magkasakit 'yung panganay namin mahirap tanggapin,” Jasmine said.
“Sana lang kung dadating na tulong sa amin, 'yung sapat. Dahil hindi po tayo makapaghanap-buhay,” she said.
According to Jasmine, what they need most is cash assistance as food aid that reached them were also insufficient.
Just beside Jasmine's shanty is her sister Jenny Lyn who has seven children, including triplets.
According to Jenny Lyn, their main concern is also feeding their children now that her husband Ronnilo cannot work as a scavenger.
While thankful for the food aid they received in March, she said 4 kilos of rice and 4 canned goods cannot last for one week.
The rice that they received they turned into porridge to ensure that they have something to eat for the next few days.
For countless times, they came to the point of almost asking for alms just to feed their children.
“Talagang kung kani-kanino na lang kami lumalapit, magkaroon lang. lalo na dito sa tatlo (triplets). Hindi talaga puwedeng wala kaming mapakain,” Jenny Lyn shared.
“Minsan hindi na ako makakilos. Nandiyan na lang ako sa upuan, nag-iisip kung anong gagawin. Kahit ano namang isip, wala ring magagawa. Naghihintay na lang,” she added.
While on lockdown, Ronilo volunteers to guard their barangay or participate in the village’s repacking center, hoping that he could bring home some food like noodles or instant coffee.
An extension of the lockdown, Jenny Lyn said, would be a “big blow” to poor families like them. The enhanced community quarantine in Luzon is set to lapse on April 30, but the President is expected to announce Thursday evening whether this would be lifted by that date.
If the President declares another extension of the lockdown, Jenny Lyn said they would still abide.
“Handa kaming magtiyaga kahit na hirap. Kasi 'yun lang din naman ang magagawa namin. Ang sumunod... hindi kami nawawalan ng pag-asa, matatapos din 'yun,” she said.
Ronilo, for his part, said what’s more difficult for him is seeing his family suffer amid the lockdown.
“Sa mahal nating presidente, hihingi po sana ako sa inyo ng tulong para po sa aking mga anak. Lalo na po at mahaba pa ang lockdown, wala na po akong maipakain sa kanila. Nagbo-volunteer po akong makatulong... kung sino po ang may bukal na puso, naiintindihan po ang gaming kalagayan… kapos din po ako sa pinag-aralan… sana matulungan po kami,” an emotional Ronilo appealed.
“Hindi po kami lalabas ng aming bahay tulad po ng kaniyang sinabi," he added.
What they need most, he said, is food.
There are times where all he could feed his children these days is 3-in-1 instant coffee, without rice.
“'Pagka nagbo-volunteer ako, sasabihin sa akin ng kasama ko ‘pare marami kang anak, dalhin mo tong great taste white’. 'Yun lang po ang pinapainom namin 'pag naubos na 'yung gatas… kasi iyak nang iyak wala naman kaming pambili ng gatas, dahil bawal mangalahig,” he said.
The landfill area in Barangay San Isidro remains free from coronavirus, Hernandez said. It has been a challenge, however, to support the needs of an estimated 118,000 residents in the barangay, where 60 to 70 percent are indigent families.
Barangay San Isidro has the second biggest population in Rodriguez, Rizal, and majority of them are the so-called relocatees, or families relocated from another area.
But the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will only be covering 13,586 families under the social amelioration program subsidy, barangay officials said. Under the program, poor families may get P5,000 to P8,000 in cash aid for two months.
According to Hernandez, the barangay chairman, she has been informed that the fund was already downloaded by the DSWD to the Rodriguez local government. But the local social welfare department has decided to prioritize distributing the funds to smaller villages first before the share of the two largest barangays in the municipality, specifically San Jose and San Isidro.She feared an extension of the lockdown would bring graver effects to their communities.
“Talaga pong hindi madali, napakahirap po ng sitwasyon ngayon sa COVID," Hernandez said.
She also said she would continue to appeal to their local officials and the DSWD to consider covering all their communities who are all in need of assistance.
Her appeal to the national government: support poor families in her barangay steadily so they would survive the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Hindi naman po sapat ang pagbibigay ng bigas, ng canned goods lalo na sa malalaking pamilya… Kung ano po ang puwede pang maitulong after ng COVID, kasi 'yun po ang pinakamahirap sa lahat... ano po puwede nilang pagkakitaan,” she said.