MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Immersed in his book, he’s oblivious to everyone – the crowd of harried commuters, the cranky motorists on EDSA, the chatter of shoppers walking in and out of the mall.
Every day, 9-year-old boy Michael (not his real name) sits on the walkway connecting Trinoma and SM North EDSA in Quezon City, where he sells sampaguita flowers – neatly displayed in 2 rows – and reads his books and notebooks at the same time.
Netizens who read the November 17 Facebook post by photographer Kenneth Panlilio said that they always saw the boy in his usual area. Some recalled chatting with him or giving him money.
Michael said that after school, he would take the bus from Muñoz to North EDSA – not to enjoy the malls but to sell sampaguitas. As much as he yearned for it, he had no time for dinner, even if he usually went home at midnight.
After he selling his sampaguitas, he would either go to his mother or his older brother, Mario, would fetch him.
2 brothers, one dream
Also a sampaguita vendor, 11-year old Mario (not his real name) said that part of his earnings would go to his school allowance.
Their father is in jail. They said they have to help their mother make both ends meet for the family.
Settled at another footbridge connecting SM North Edsa and Concentrix that was not well-lit, Mario was also clad in his blue school uniform when we interviewed him.
Asked why he and his brother would risk selling sampaguita until midnight, he responded, “Para pambaon at pambili ng pagkain (For allowance and food).”
The 2 boys said they worked hard to earn as much as they can; otherwise, they would get a smaller school allowance.
With a school bag by his side and some food donations from passersby, Mario said, “Gusto ko po makapagtapos, love ko po ang pag-aaral (I want to graduate, I love studying).” His younger brother echoed this sentiment. They teachers at the San Antonio Elementary School also observed the two brothers’ enthusiasm in class.
What teachers say
Teachers Jinjem Nomong and Lilibeth Colot attested to the determination of the brothers to finish their studies.
Nomong, a grade 5 teacher, said of her student: “Actually, si Mario madalas naman siya [sa klase]. May mga time na absent siya pero pumapasok naman siya (Mario frequently attends his classes. There are times that he is absent but he goes to school).”
Colot, Michael’s grade 3 teacher, said of her student, “Masipag talaga siya sa school at pagpasok (He is diligent when it comes to studying and going to school).”
She said she was surprised by the news of his after-school duties, saying she was not aware that he was a sampaguita vendor. Colot added that Michael’s mother should be the one responsible of providing for his needs. Instead of being out late at night, he should stay at home more to avoid accidents.
“Gamitin niya ang oras para mag-aral ng mabuti (He should use the time to study well),” Colot said.
The brothers admitted that balancing school and selling sampaguitas is “hard.”
Protection for street children
Yet, they said they get by and they’re fine.
“Hindi po ako napapagod, kasi gusto ko po talagang makatulong kay nanay para mayroon po kaming perang pangkain (I am not tired because I do this to make sure that we have enough money for food).”
They also work on weekends, said Michael. When asked if they are being forced to sell, he replied, “Ginugusto ko po ito para makatulong lang po (I do this on my own because I want to help).”
Under Philippine child labor laws, it is illegal for people below 18 years old to work for a living.
There are also a number of city ordinances that address the safety of street children. Under Ordinance No. SP 2180 S-2012 or the “Ordinance enacting the Quezon City Children’s Code of 2012,” the city government should take immediate action regarding issues of child labor among other forms of abuse.
It also states that street children should be provided street protection. – Rappler.com
Ateneo de Manila University students Denise Nacnac and Michael Valera are Rappler interns.