‘Uutang muna’: For a hair braider, life goes on after Boracay closure

Aika Rey
‘Uutang muna’: For a hair braider, life goes on after Boracay closure
'Tiyaga-tiyaga pa rin talaga,' says Michelle, one of the 36,000 workers affected by President Rodrigo Duterte's order to close Boracay for 6 months

AKLAN, Philippines – Prior to the closure of Boracay, a hair braider like her earned more than P1,000 ($19) a day. Now, she has to sell ice candy to earn a living.

Michelle, 37, used to braid hair along the white sand beach of Boracay in Malay town, Aklan. Life was good and she could pay for her bills, said the hair braider, who declined to give us her surname. 

“Noon, kumikita kami ng P800 ($15) o kaya mga P1,000 ($19) kasi nakakapag-hair braid pa. Minsan umaabot ng P2,000 ($38). Ngayon wala na. Stop na wala nang customer,” Michelle told Rappler.

(Before, I earned P800 to around P1,000 a day because I could still braid hair. Sometimes, I earned as much as P2,000. But now, I no longer do. I had to stop because there are no longer customers.)

Boracay was officially closed to tourists on April 26. What used to be an island teeming with tourists is now almost empty, with demolitions happening left and right. (WATCH: What Boracay looks like after it was closed down)

To make ends meet, Michelle sells homemade ice candy for P10 ($0.19), earning roughly P300 ($5) a day which is only enough for her daily expenses. But to pay for her bills, she said she would have to borrow money.

“Ngayon, P300 na lang kinikita ko. Kasya na lang pambili ng bigas, ulam, at pamasahe. ‘Yung ibang bilihin hindi. Uutang na lang muna ako,” she said, as she sold another mango ice candy to a customer.

(Now, I only earn P300 per day. It can only buy rice, a viand, and pay for transportation. I can’t buy other things. I will borrow money to get by.)

Life goes on

Come May, Michelle said she will go Batangas where she has relatives to look for another job.

She said she did not apply for government aid as the lines are too long, and they ask a lot of requirements from them. She said she could not afford to spend an entire day earning nothing if she will only be rejected.

“Tiyaga-tiyaga pa rin talaga. Hindi na ako humingi ng tulong doon. Ang sikip at ang haba ng pila,” she said. (You really have to persevere. I didn’t ask help from them. It’s always packed and the lines are long.)

ICE CANDY. Once a hair braider in Boracay, Michelle now sells ice candies to pay for her daily expenses. Photo by Aika Rey/Rappler

As an informal sector worker in the island, a problem she faces when asking for the help of the government is that her valid IDs do not have an address in Boracay. (READ: ‘Gov’t assistance during Boracay closure not enough’ – residents)

She said her live birth certificate was registered in Caticlan despite being born in the island as that was the system in the 1980s. On top of that, her voter’s ID is registered in Nabas town in Aklan where she inherited a piece of land from her parents.

Dito ako sa may Puka Beach nakatira. Tapusin ko lang ‘yung buwan tapos uutang muna ko. Pupunta ng Batangas muna. May dalawang taon akong anak eh,” she said. (I live in Puka Beach. I will wait for the month to end then I will borrow money. I will go to Batangas first. I have a two-year-old child.)

Save money

The next months will be tough, Michelle said. But she has to endure for her child.

“Tipid muna talaga. Malaki na ang ginagastos pampadede ng bata pero kailangan mag-ipon sana. Habang lumalaki, lumalaki rin ang gastos,” she said.

(I just hope that Boracay opens earlier than scheduled. I really have to save money. I pay a lot for my child’s milk but I still have to save some money. As my child grows older, the expenses become higher.)

Michelle is among the 36,000 workers affected by the closure of the island. The labor department offers cleaning jobs to displaced workers for P323 ($6) per day for 30 days. But the catch is that workers can’t reapply.

For many workers in the island, they would rather not apply for the jobs offered by the government as they have better skill set other than sweeping Boracay’s roads. But for others, they would rather settle for the meager pay than earn nothing.

Boracay will be closed for at least 6 months, with the President owing it to the island’s environmental problems. The once pristine destination, President Rodrigo Duterte said, has become a “cesspool.”

“Hindi naman kami against sa paglinis ng Boracay eh. Sana lang talaga mas mapaaga mabuksan. (We are not against cleaning up Boracay. But I really hope it opens earlier),” Michelle said, as she walked away to sell more of her ice candies.– Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.