MANILA, Philippines – The streets of Metro Manila will be a stage shared by many today, as throngs of Filipinos welcome Pope Francis.
Families, friends, parishes, and various groups gather early on Wednesday, January 15, in front of the Villamor Airbase.
The Pope will not arrive until late afternoon, at around 5:45pm, but the crowd is early.
Who are the early birds? Perhaps leading the nest of early birds are the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) street sweepers.
Area Supervisor Florencia Oril and her all-woman team of MMDA aides reported to work as early as 7:00 am.
Her team is deployed in front of the Villamor Airbase from 12nn to 8pm.
MMDA street sweepers are scattered across different designated areas across the papal motorcade route. Each team is tasked to clean after the crowd leaves.
“Magsimula kami maglinis pagnakalagpas na si Pope sa area namin, at ‘pag nakaalis na rin mga tao,” said Oril. “Kasi ayaw rin namin maistorbo mga tao.”
(We start cleaning once the pope passes our area, and after the crowd leaves. Because we don’t want to disturb people.)
Oril’s team of 12 are getting ready for what could be one of their longest days. They sit beside other early birds as they eat lunch.
“Pagkatapos namin kumain, heto may bag agad kami tapunan ng basura,” one of the women said. (After eating, here, we already have a bag for trash.)
She encourages other spectators to do the same.
The MMDA sweepers stand by on the street across Gate 5 of the Villamor Airbase. The crowd is slowly growing, with almost each person carrying a bagful of food and other knicknacks.
It is the calm before the storm.
Oril and her team hope that the streets will remain clean, a holy man will cross it, after all. How can someone so holy leave a dirty trail?
The team had their “practice” during the Feast of the Black Nazareno. “Kasunod kami ng prosisyon,” said Orli. (We were at the tail of the procession.)
Two popes, two decades
Before supervising her own team, Oril first worked as a street sweeper herself.
The hardworking mother of 3 has been sweeping the Metro’s streets since 1980, and during all her years in service, she can say that she has met two popes – the second one later today.
In 1995, she was deployed along EDSA, it was the day she met her first pope – Pope John Paul II.
“Kitang-kita ko si Pope John Paul II, ilang hakbang lang ako,” Orli shared. “Isa pa, mas disciplined mga tao noon.”
(I can really see Pope John Paul, I was only a few steps away.)
“Noon, pag sinita mo ang tao, susunod. ‘Di magkakalat,” she added. But now, Orlie observed that Filipinos get angry instead. “Wala na rin masyado naninita ngayon.”
She said that trash was not much of a problem during Pope John Paul II’s visit. She is hoping that the same can be said today and in the coming days.
Two decades later, at 58, Oril is now a supervisor. However, her heart is still with her first job.”Gusto ko talaga makita kami ni pope, malaman niya na maraming Filipino ang nagsusumikap kahit mahirap.” (I want the pope to see us and know that many Filipinos work hard despite our poverty.)
Oril and her team hope that the government can raise the salary of street sweepers. One aide shared that she earns P300 per day, this is smaller compared to Oril’s P450/day pay paired with a P2,000 monthly allowance.
“Kahit anong oras, nagtatrabaho sila,” Oril said. “Noong dry run sa pope visit, 7pm to 1am shift nila.” (Any time, they work. During the dry run for the pope visit, their shift was 7pm to 1am.)
Oril admits that it is a physically exhausting job, but it is worth it, she said. “Dapat sa sarili nila bilang mamamayanan, matuto sila pahalagahan kalinisan ng kapaligiran.” (Everyone should learn the value of clean surroundings.)
The crowd seems to double hour after hour; this means more snacks and plastic bags, potentially more trash.
It will be a tiring day, especially if the crowd refuses to cooperate. “Pero ‘di na namin iniinsa pagod, makita lang si pope,” Oril said. (We don’t think of how tired we are, just as long as we can see the pope.)
“Swerte na rin kami kasi dito kami na-assign sa tapat ng Villamor, unang sulyap agad kay pope.” (We’re lucky we’re assigned here at Villamor Airbase, we get to be among the first to see him.) – Rappler.com
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