October 4, 2021
Tzu Chi brings relief to Antipolo landfill community
By Joy Rojas
Tzu Chi Foundation volunteers organized the first of three relief distributions for Antipolo City’s scavengers on October 2 at the multi-purpose covered court of Pantay Elementary School in Barangay San Jose, Antipolo City. Sacks of 20-kg Taiwan rice, various foodstuff, and other essential goods were claimed by 219 beneficiaries after volunteers gave them a short background of the Tzu Chi Foundation.
Together with fellow volunteers, Margie Gorospe was already at the venue hours before the 8 am call time. “That’s what Tzu Chi volunteers do, when there’s a distribution of aid, we have to be among the first at the site,” says the 48-year-old from Nangka, Markina, and a volunteer for 11 years. “Nobody gets tired and we’re always excited when we volunteer. The aid may not have come from us, but we were instrumental in bringing the aid to people. We give thanks to Master Cheng Yen, because if it weren’t for her we wouldn’t be here.”
“We are thankful for this activity, it is a big help because this sector is the most marginalized sector that needs to be helped and given aid,” adds Violeta S. Faiyaz, department head of Antipolo City’s Environment and Waste Management Office.
Antipolo’s scavenger sector is an organized one, complete with an association registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and scheduled days and times for waste picking in a sanitary landfill. But the growth of the community from 35 authorized scavengers in 2000 to 300 today has seen earnings slide from as much as P1,500 a day to P200-P300 daily. Alternative forms of livelihood have been presented to them in the past: from charcoal briquette making and mat making to windrow composting, or the production of compost by piling organic matter or biodegradable waste, such as animal manure and crop residues, in long rows or windrows.”
“But they prefer to scavenge because when they get lucky, they can earn big,” says Faiyaz.
Henry de la Cruz, 19, operated a grinder in a plastics factory in Valenzuela, but moved to Antipolo, because his wife wanted to live close to her parents. “Sometimes the price of garbage goes down, sometimes it goes up. Especially during the pandemic, it’s gone down,” he says. “We don’t make enough as scavengers, especially now because of the pandemic, so we just have to persevere.”
His stepfather, 60-year-old Ovaldo Gelanga Jr., was one of the original scavengers, leaving his job as a siopao (meat bun) maker in Manila to work in a junk shop in Antipolo in 2002 after the death of his brother. Though his biggest paycheck as a scavenger was P3,000, courtesy of a gold ring he found in the dumpsite, the windfall would only happen once.
Making an average of P200 a day, Gelanga would spend P25 for two kilos of rice and some dried fish. “Before the pandemic, we’d eat pagpag (leftover food picked from the trash), which we washed with hot water then fried,” he says. “But not anymore.”
Cataracts forced Gelanga to give up scavenging eight years ago and rely on the kindness of neighbors. “They look after me. I’m good to them,” he says. “When they have leftover food and rice they share it with me so I can eat when I don’t have rice.”
Of the rice and relief goods he received from Tzu Chi, Gelanga is moved by the generosity and plans to serve the spaghetti on the birthday of his daughter Lovely Rose, who turns 12 in a few weeks. “Thank you very much,” he says. “What you gave me today is a very big help. I’ll never forget this blessing for as long as I live.”
The next distribution of relief for Antipolo scavengers is set tentatively for November 6.