Quiapo and Makati: Tale of two cities

Aug. 11, 2008

By Germelina Lacorte
Davao Today

Along the dirty side street, a walk away from Quiapo church, three teenage boys huddled over a cart of pomelo, cigarette in their hands.

“Sweet pomelos,” the youngest one, Allan, shouted, putting the cigarette into his mouth.

“How much?” a woman with an umbrella asked, eyeing the fruits.

“Only P50 per piece, Ma’m.”

“How about P35?”

“No, Ma’m. They’re very sweet pomelos. They’re fresh from Davao.”

As the woman drew out her wallet, Allan started peeling the fruit, only half of it, to show the translucent reddish pulp.

Allan quit high school in Pangasinan, 250 kilometers north on Manila, to sell pomelos in Quiapo. He said his parents could no longer afford to send him to school.

The 18-year old is among the thousands of hawkers ekeing out a living in Quiapo market. On better days, like Fridays, Allan can sell as many as 1,000 fruits but because he had to pay the usurer what his family had borrowed, he usually gets to take home only P300.

This boy says he has to quit school to sell fruits in Quiapo. (davaotoday.com photo by Germelina Lacorte)

Quiapo is an old city in the heart of Manila, where at the turn of the century Manilas richest used to live. Today, Quiapo is known for its cheap goods: mostly fruits, flowers, pirated DVDs and cameras.

On Fridays, the market is flooded by devotees of the Black Nazarene – a dark life-sized wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ – housed inside the Quiapo Church. Devotees believe the statue to have miraculous powers.

It is 10:30 am when we arrive in Quiapo. Yuri, an editor from Antara news agency in Jakarta, and I made our way through the throng of sweating humanity. Just a few steps from Allan, people are cleaning up generator machines, lined up on the streets for display.

Women sell candles and good luck charms. Smell of rotten vegetables mingle with the scent of candles and incense.

We come across a stall selling herbs, roots and wood. The woman claims they are medicinal. A bottle promises to induce bleeding if a woman, who had missed her menstruation, takes it in three consecutive days.

Abortifacient? someone asked.

No! the woman shakes her head. Thats not for abortion, Mam. Abortion is illegal.

Years back, a newspaper reported one could actually buy smuggled abortion pills in Quiapo. Theyre sold just a couple of steps away from the church.

People say you can also buy hope in Quiapo. And, if youre desperate, you can also sell your soul here.

Women vendors stand behind a stall full of colourful candles in bundles – each color representing a prayer. This is for love, money, health, says a vendor, holding out a bundle of different colors. Everything you can wish for the entire family.

You mean, the colors mean something?

Yes, the woman nods as someone fingers the bundle of green candles. The greens are for increased income, Mam. Your business will thrive. Youll never run out of money.

Up ahead, in a store selling statues of saints, a man in kamisa de chino badger onlookers with questions, desperate to sell anything.

Quiapo is also known for its plaza, which used to hold mammoth political rallies during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Its not strange to hear hymns streaming from Quiapo Church overlapping with the calls of women hawking their medicinal herbs, and protests demanding for President Arroyo to resign.

On our way back, a throng of angry student activists marched towards the church square, waving banners, calling for a rollback in the prices of gasoline and demanding for the President to resign.

Ang maghimagsik ay makatarungan (To revolt is just), their leaflet reads, kung sa kabila ng pagkukundisyon sa isipan ng publiko na ramdam ang kaunlaran ay hindi makaila ang malawakang kahirapan at pambubusabos ng gobyerno (if amidst the conditioning of the public mind about the supposed economic progress, people feel the widespread poverty and the glaring government abuses in their midst).

Oil prices have increased 20 times only in a span of several weeks, the students protested, but government had refused to take steps even as gasoline reaches P70 per litre.

JUST 90 minutes bus ride away from Quiapo is a city of steel, glass and concrete skyscrapers. The streets of Makati, in contrast to the chaos of Quiapo, are clean, secured and look like theyve just been paved.

No sweating crowd here nor street vendors. No haggling of prices. You pay by the price tag – P25,000 for a designer bag by Prada with matching blouse and shoes.

At 5 pm to 6 pm, a throng come rushing out the bridgeway connecting Greenbelt and Glorietta. Just outside The Coffee Bean, near the glass window displaying the life sized photograph of Gilbert Arenas in an Adidas outfit, young executives in their 20s do a contemplative, leisurely walk, slinging along their jackets, thumbing their cell-phones with cigarette in hand.

Others lounge in The Coffee Bean, sipping a cup of coffee, which costs as much as two meals in Quiapo.

Eight of the top ten commercial banks in the country are headquartered in Makati, where 46 of the 56 foreign embassies are also located.

Makati only became a city in February 1995, a year after it posted the countrys highest income figures. It has the biggest concentration of the countrys leading business firms, multinational offices, professional services, commercial malls and lately ICT and business processing outsourcing firms.

According to the Makati business permit office, 23 per cent of the business firms here are into retail. But its not the usual retail store you can find in Quiapo.

Nowhere can you find Allans pomelo, with its natural, more creative packaging: ready to eat pomelos you can easily pick up on the street and open. In Makati supermarkets, they put those pomelos inside vacuum-packed containers and sell for two or three times the price in Quiapo.

The National Statistical Coordinating Board (NSCB) shows that 33 out of 100 Filipinos were poor in 2006 compared to 30 in 2003. A family of five in the Philippines need to earn P6,274 a month to stay out of poverty.

Indeed, just a bus ride away from each other, Quiapo and Makati live in different realities. (davaotoday.com)

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