text and photos by Maria Krystelle C. Jimenez
With its dazzling lights and more nite clubs that you can count, it’s not hard to imagine why Barangay Malabañas in Angeles, Pampanga is called the “Land of Entertainment.” Entrepreneurs and tourists embrace the scene nightly, and take home the spoils of clubs and the strip.
But at the end of each ‘bright and joyous’ night at Malabañas, the land slowly unclothes itself of its many masks designed to attract patrons looking for action. One by one, the night laborers and sex workers call it a day and leave for home. Outside of Fields Avenue, they head toward cheap apartments and bed spaces that dot Balibago. Others ride white jeeps that lead to the old bridge at Hensonville Riverside. The tiny spaces under the bridge have become their cradle.
From the Barangay Hall in Malabañas, it only takes five minutes to reach the foot of the Abacan Bridge, which is a main entry point for the community underneath. Angeles City’s modest skyline soon faded as we descended, and the horizon switches to the network of shanties that make up this sprawling community. We gingerly descended the stairs made up of rocks, split hollow blocks, and concrete. Much of what we saw still belonged to the emergency dike built in the nineties.
The houses here are patched together from corrugated metal, old tarpaulins from commercial establishments, corkboards, steel wires, old telephone lines, and rotting wood that they say were taken from esteros around the city. Some were predominantly made of wood, while others were partially concrete. Despite the ‘progress’ if you would call it that, it seems that time has stood still in this section of Angeles City.
We observed the system of compact, makeshift homes. There wasn’t a single electric or water meter serving the residents. Their electricity came to them through a series of extension cords, tenuously wrapped around a few posts, serving only a fraction of the houses. According to Aling Mercy, a resident of Riverside, it wasn’t possible for them to obtain electrical or water services as they did not own the land. The electric meters that provided them with power belonged to ‘businessmen’ or people who resold electricity to them by applying for electric meters that were installed elsewhere. Mang Ponciano said that they paid 1,250 pesos on average for resold electricity. Riverside’s residents aren’t even entitled to official receipts of their power consumption. “Because we don’t really pay Meralco directly,” he added. I watched his eyes dim slightly after saying this.
Homes that could not afford the resold electricity made do with darkness, and small candles. And if the ‘free light’ from street lights and passing vehicles on the bridge weren’t enough, they had the stars and the moon left at night.
While my partner was conducting his interviews, Aling Lucing, a sari-sari store owner, offered me a glass of cola. I politely declined, asking instead for a glass of water. She immediately stuttered and apologized, “Soft drinks is really better here. We don’t have cold water.” It was only then that I realized that residents here relied heavily on questionable artesian wells, and that the land was surrounded by putrefied water from the city.
Looking closely at the houses from Mang Ponciano’s home, cut bottles are tied to downspouts of roofs. These improvised systems collected rainwater into buckets and basins for the residents, providing infrequent relief to their daily, drought-like conditions.
As we proceeded more deeply into the purok, you will begin to see ramshackle homes with neither doors nor closable windows. The bareness of the homes is striking. Some families are lucky to have chairs made from warped wood, or old television sets acquired from junk shop work. At the far end of the community, the color of the earth began to change drastically. Everything was gray: a sure sign that sand now mixed with a larger percentage of lahar. The air became heavier and more painful to breathe in. It was here that we discovered that some Riverside residents survived by manufacturing charcoal.
Residents here earned minimally. On average, an adult laborer at Riverside will earn a hundred to two hundred pesos per day from infrequent work. This amount is barely sufficient for a home with four or more individuals, especially if there is an infant in tow. The amount dips even further as opportunities like making charcoal is only seasonal, and it’s not every day that you can sell all your wares. Because of this, some women resort to what they deem is the final frontier—becoming sex workers in the notorious Fields Avenue of Angeles City.
We left Riverside with heavy hearts, bringing with us the haunting images of eyes that sought for help. They all had an entreaty—that despite Malabañas’ never-ending stream of tourists and entrepreneurs is the truth that they are the backbone of the city’s market—and they are the people being exploited by this industry, every single time.