first met Mang Minyong sometime in 1999. It was after hearing
the 7 o’clock mass at San Beda church when I spotted him
right there, standing on his frail small frame at the front of
the church’s gate clad with yellow Ninoy T-shirt and faded
goers began to flock on his panindas.
Leading newspapers, tabloids, magazines, pre-packed suman,
steaming peanuts, candies, cigarettes and sampaguitas are
displayed on his makeshift plastic carpet laying on the
sidewalks. People started to pick newspapers of their choice;
some would ask for garlands of sampaguitas, others request for
scoops of peanuts, and still others asked for a pack or few
sticks of cigarettes. His place, almost barren just a moment
ago is now swarmed with people. His head turns left and right
trying to entertain every face asking his attention. His lips
and his hands worked double time on their own. Reaching
payments from one side while answering somebody on the other
side. I keep a distance from the crowd for the moment. This
sudden rush of people coming almost simultaneously towards
this man is enough for him to handle, I thought.
Some appeared impatient, as he could not swiftly attend
to their urgent demands. But Mang Minyong, as often as he can
just throw back his big smile, and ask sorry.
moved when the crowd started their unhurried steps away.
“Inquirer nga po”, I opened up as I stretch a ten-peso
bill to him.
ha.”, he softly replied as he drops the change on my palm
while handing me the folded newspaper.
you often sell here? I mean, here in front of San Beda?”
no, this is actually my first time here. But previously,
I’ve been selling the same panindas in front of
Quiapo church but..”
what made you transfer here?”, I uttered back as I cut him
short, eager to hear his reasons.
he continued scratching a bit
his graying hair as if dissatisfied to himself.
“It’s because I could not sell much there. As you may
know, sellers there have made their stalls almost side by side
and I could barely compete with them. I only make small
profits despite the long hours I stand there. Not like here,
even though church goers are not that many compared in Quiapo
church, I could see no other stalls beside, do you?”
realized myself nodding at him most of the time as he
continued to tell his selling experiences on the streets. He
started when he was 21 a couple of decades ago. The year he
considered the prime of his youth where his dreams are bold
and his muscles are strong. He recalled his ambition to be an
engineer someday. But given the limited budget his father
earns to support the family of four children with his two
other elder sisters going to college, he realized his early
role in life. His parents convinced him to wait for his turn,
and being the only son in the family, he assumed the
supporting role to his father who was about to retire in
public office in about a year during that time. He walked down
the streets of Baclaran, Recto, Binondo and Divisoria, selling
assorted items that are cheap and easy to sell. He made
friends with older sellers and from them learned by practice
the basic business of selling on the streets. As years go by,
he slowly made profits which most of the time were instantly
converted to his sisters’ schools fees.
quite happy the way my selling was going during that time. I
can make things happen and more importantly I can help. My
parents and the family relied on me then. As the demands on
the streets consumed more of my time and focus, my goal was
somewhat sidelined out of my mind. Somehow, it was placed on
the least priority list. But I don’t mind. On the year my
two elder sisters earned their respective degrees, my selling
business was at its peak. I was proud of it. And I’m happy
for them. Then I thought of my goal, but I felt quite bad
leaving the streets. Somehow, I still need to support my
younger sibling to finish her college too and the family as
well. Sayang eh.”
how come you were not able to get your dream?” I mean, your
two elder sisters maybe reaping their own profits then
but things had changed. From then on, after I was invited to
pose for a picture remembrance during their graduation, both
of them have left for good in the States. Settled there, and
started their own families. Since then, only once have they
returned. And after my youngest sister earned her degree, I
realized I was 31 then going on 32. My selling business still
made decent profits, but I feel I’m old for a degree.”
I meekly said, keenly looking at him as if trying to find any
mark of emotion on his face. But he busied his eyes on his
panindas. Mang Minyong never said a word and I felt ashamed to
myself to have said that. “Sige ho.”, the only word I
managed to say.
iho.”, he replied, looking at me while raising his hand for
love Sunday morning masses at San Beda. The church is often
silent and cool and on most occasions, there are just few
churchgoers. Every celebration starts with the burning of
incense whose smoke goes up to the dome-shaped ceilings that
were painstakingly painted with several scenes from the Bible.
In a matter of few minutes, its smell would fill up the air
and can even reach the seldom-occupied pulpits at the back.
Young seminarians and elder priests all in white uniforms are
gathered around the altar. And they resemble the choir for the
celebration. Their songs complement the atmosphere of silence
inside, and in some way enthralls my nerve.