From guns to roses: Lives abloom at Dangwa market

Jansen Romero
From guns to roses: Lives abloom at Dangwa market
Two sellers at Manila's busiest flower market share their inspiring stories

MANILA, Philippines—It’s not only in cemeteries where people flock this time of year. 

Named after a bus station, the Dangwa Flower Market in Sampaloc, Manila, started as a supplier to a popular florist of Malacañang Palace during the time of the Marcoses. Dangwa boomed in the mid-1990s, catering to most of Metro Manila florists.

During that time, Edgar Bernardo retired from the police service. Feeling that his government pension was not enough to support his daily sustenance, Bernardo ventured into the flower business.

Ayaw ko kasi na maging pabigat sa mga anak ko. May mga sarili na silang mga buhay at pamilya, kaya naisipan ko ang negosyong ito na maski papaano ang nagtutustos ng pangkape ko,” Bernardo said.

(I didn’t want to a burden to my children, who had their own lives and families, so I thought of a business that would at least sustain my basic needs.)

Bernardo believes his hands weren’t only made to handle guns and solve crimes  but also delicate floral arrangements.

Sales at the 3-block flower market are not always brisk but sellers make a killing during the Christmas holidays, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and All Saints’ Day. When demand soars, prices of flowers go up as much as 6 times higher than the regular price. 

According to the former police, business was not easy at the beginning, since he had to do everything by himself – from buying to arranging flowers.   

Dati ako ang nagtratrabaho ng lahat – ako ang bibili ng mga bulaklak tapos ako din ang mga a-arrange hanggang sa delivery. Ngayon pinapasma na ako, hindi na kaya ng katawan ko kaya kumukuha na lang ako ng mga flower arrangers.”

(In the past, I would do everything – from buying the flowers, arranging them, and deliveries. Now I’m spasmodic, my body’s not as strong, so I got some flower arrangers.)

With the help of some Benguet natives, Bernardo is now supplying floral arrangements to several funeral homes in the country.

A rosy life

About 25 years ago, Rosalinda “Osang” Aguilar was a sampaguita vendor in the vicinity of Quiapo Church.  Changes in the local government’s leadership also changed her life – Aguilar lost her stall.

FLOWER ARRANGER. The resilient Osang inside Bernardo's flower shop.

From Quiapo, Aguilar moved to Dangwa, outside Edgar Bernardo’s shop. She shifted from to roses. Socializing with fellow vendors and shop owners, Aguilar learned how to arrange flowers and calligraphy.

Today, Aguilar, known as “Osang” in the area, is one of the popular flower arrangers and calligraphers in Dangwa. Most of the time, she renders her service inside Bernardo’s flower shop.  With her perseverance, she was able to send her two children to school and purchase a house in Bulacan that becomes her home only during weekends.  

“Malaki ang naitulong sa akin ng mga bulaklak pero siyempre, kailangan mo din talaga ng sipag, tiyaga at sakripisyo para kumita (These flowers helped me a lot but of course, you need to be industrious, patience and persevering to make money), Aguilar said.

Aguilar has come a long way. As a teenager she was befriended by an American serviceman who got her pregnant, and then abandoned her when he had to leave the country.  

Aguilar said”  “Kung hindi sa anak ko hindi din ako magpupursigi. Bukod  sa pagiging katuwang, nagiging inspirasyon ko din siya sa hanapbuhay ko na ito (If not for my child, I would not strive to succeed. Aside from being my counterpart, my child is also my inspiration in my business).”

Aside from flowers, lives have also bloomed in Dangwa.

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