Ex-Davao cop turns illegal food vendor to survive in Dubai
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Judy dela Cruz* was a tough law enforcer back home but now, she’s a familiar face along the sidewalk of a Dubai church where thousands of devout Filipino Catholics gather on weekends.
Aided by a flashlight, she clandestinely sells pre-cooked and packed chicken and pork BBQ, kwek-kwek (battered boiled eggs), pancit palabok, biko (rice cakes), lumpia, and other homeland favorites that the estimated close to half a million Filipinos in the global mega city pine for.
“Okay na ‘tong trabahong ‘to, at least may kita araw-araw. May pang-ulam pa kami (This job would do. At least I have daily earnings. And we also get free meals from the unsold food),” said Dela Cruz, who worked as a rookie policewoman in Davao City for a year before moving to Dubai in 2011.
A personal loan that reduced her monthly take home pay to just P5,000 ($104.80) compelled Dela Cruz to consider going to Dubai. With help from her sister who works in the city, she managed to land a job as a security guard.
But the pay wasn’t that good and the shift wasn’t so favorable so she opted to avail herself of a work visa which she pays in monthly installments of Dh1,500 (about P19,500).
She then went solo as an underground food vendor, supplying budget meals to hundreds of Filipinos working in retail outlets at various malls. On weekends, she sells food at a church frequented by Filipinos.
“This job is not for the faint-hearted. You have to have guts to survive,” said the 30-year-old Dela Cruz who now has hundreds of suki or regular buyers.
“I can earn Dh1,500 for my monthly visa pay in one day if sales are good. In the Philippines, that’s about how much people would earn in a month with lots of deductions. There are so many opportunities in Dubai if we only open our eyes and work hard,” she said in Filipino.
While the pay is good, there are also hassles in being an illegal food vendor. You have to get up early to buy all the ingredients and prepare the food. It’s back-breaking work for somebody who is not used to the kitchen, she said.
And then, of course, there are the occasional encounters with the Dubai police who are always on the lookout for illegal food vendors like her.
“One time, nahuli ako sa may simbahan. Hinawakan ako. Pumiglas ako, sabay takbo. Nung wala na yung mga police, bumalik ako. Kinuha ko yung mga paninda ko uli. Lakasan lang talaga ng loob,” she recalled, adding that her police training comes in handy in such situations.
(One time, I was nabbed near the church. They held me, but I broke free, then ran. When the police were gone, I returned. I got my wares. You just have to be strong-willed.)
Apart from her sister in Dubai, she has another sister working in Canada. But since they have their own families to support, she provides for her parents and other siblings left back home.
“May mga pinapaaral akong mga pamangkin. Isang architect. Isang med-tech. Wala naman akong anak so okay lang na tumulong. Gusto ko lang maalala nila ako kapag okay na sila,” she said.
(I'm sending some nieces and nephews to school. One is studying to be an architect; another, a med-tech. I have no children so it's fine for me to help out. I just want them to remember me when they're doing well already.)
For now, not even the possible victory of her presidential bet, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte – who pledged to raise the salary of policemen, if elected – can convince Dela Cruz to leave Dubai, which she described as the “new land of opportunities for OFWs.” – Rappler.com
*Name changed to protect the identity of the worker.
US$1 = P47.70