An honest government that can roll back gas prices to P40 per liter and reduce the high costs of goods, are all in the wish list of Dieselle Matias, a 41-year-old rider for the online GrabFood delivery service who dreams of better days while living with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“After the elections, I wished — more than a hundred percent — that life will be better because another Marcos won as president,” she said, recalling the recent election campaign that erroneously claimed the first Marcos government (1965-1986) made rice and sugar abundant that there was no need to import.

But now, she doubted it. “Every time a new president is elected, commodities become unaffordable. Why is that?” she asked. In the few weeks that the namesake son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos took office after the May 9, 2022 elections, a liter of gasoline went up to a price range of from P76 to P96. “Life is the same; costs are even higher now,” she said.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. ascended the presidency in June 2022, in a comeback that critics say is reminiscent of his dictator father’s authoritarian rule marred by abuses and corruption and supported the rich and political elite.

“I wished that under another Marcos, prices are lower and there is no poverty, no hunger and no corruption; but sadly, there is always corruption in government,” said Dieselle. She considers herself lucky along with other women who were able to pull though the difficulties of Covid-19 restrictions. Her job became in demand in Metro Manila during the lockdown as people relied more on food deliveries.

Working more, working extra

Prior to her Grab delivery job, Dieselle worked as a former mall parking cashier and another delivery service company. Currently, she works for a required “boundary” or quota of daily earnings amounting to P600 in order to get incentives. She can earn more but only if she works extra, which she does almost daily from 10 am to 11 pm.

GrabFood delivery rider Dieselle Matias

She brings her own food and snacks such as a sandwich or rice meal, which she eats in between deliveries. When she earns a little more in a day, she buys the same takeout food that her clients order, such as friend chicken, burgers or ramen that she and her daughter can enjoy.

Poignant moments like these are possible only if she works till nearly midnight but she doesn’t mind. The single mom’s efforts are also for another dream — for her 20-year-old daughter to finish her midwifery course, have a good job, and live a life far better than hers.

Persisting amid broken dreams

As it is, life has also not changed for Tess Macagba, a 51-year-old street sweeper, who recalled walking with her colleagues from their residence in Quezon City to EDSA to flag down kind-hearted motorists willing to drop them off to their office in Payatas to get their monthly salaries, as there were no means of public transport during the lockdown.

Tess doing her early morning sweeping

Tess receives P5,200 a month for a five-hour daily work cleaning the streets in the areas of Timog and Tomas Morato Avenues in Quezon City, starting at 5 am. A mother of seven children – the oldest is 32; youngest is 11 — half of them already grown-ups, said she voted for the lone woman presidential candidate not only because they hail from the same region in Bicol.

“I chose the candidate who understood the situation of poor women like me but sadly, she lost,” she said. “I felt that this was the best chance for us who barely have enough to see some progress in life under a decent government.”

With her children still in school and many grandchildren, Tess is determined to continue working to add to her husband’s income as a barangay tanod (village law enforcement officer). She is already planning to have her own business until the mandatory retirement age of 60. “I don’t think of retirement because that idea makes me feel weak,” she said.

“With the way things are today – the new government that doesn’t promise better things — we only have ourselves to depend on,” she continued. “I thought we elect people because we want change. But it’s not happening.”

Wishing for the elusive change

For Emily Rosales, being blindsided by the lockdown was not a reason to discontinue selling cigarettes, noodles, cookies and face masks under a waiting shed on Kamias Road near EDSA,
Quezon City.

“In the first few weeks, I stocked up on more noodles and cookies because people looked for food,” she said. When the lockdown eased, with jeepney drivers and delivery riders back on the road, her cigarette sales increased.

Emily selling cigarettes to a jeepney driver

The lockdown made her realize that she should consider going back to her home province to see if life would be better. There, she wouldn’t be paying any rent and she can source food anywhere even if she’s on a budget.

A mother of two little children with a husband who divides his time driving a tricycle and vending, Emily dreamed of a combined income that can make family life more comfortable. “But it never came true and I’m always mad when I think about it,” she sighed. “Life has not been kind.”

Going back to the province would mean she can choose between her hometown in Quezon and her husband’s province in Cavite outside the capital’s suburbs. “If you don’t see me here next time, it means I have already left Metro Manila,” she said during an interview in mid-2021. Emily said she believes that for women who are only on subsistence livelihood just like her, the government must step in and help.

During a chat after the elections, she said she was indeed leaving the city. “Someday, I want to feel how a government that I helped get elected provide for even just for the smallest things that I need,” she said. “I’m still wishing and waiting for that.”

The street vendor said Filipinos like her are trying their best to uplift their lives despite the reality that “we are poor and nowhere to go, that is why we are wishing that those governing us will help us.”

Raising voices

Ivy Rose Ycup of the Community Organizers (CO) Multiversity, a capability building institution, said women informal settlers in urban areas were the most affected under the pandemic. “They lost whatever meager income they had; no cash, food, milk, medicines and even their needs in feminine hygiene. This went on for at least three to four months.”

The 30-year-old community organizer was part of the Covid-19 response of Oxfam Philippines, a global organization that responds to emergencies, that partnered with CO Multiversity in providing cash to hundreds of poor residents in four barangays in Tondo, Manila and two barangays in Quezon City, where Ivy led in the distribution and coordination. Thousands more Metro Manila poor residents were also identified and provided relief in the response.

Ivy said the pandemic’s prolonged brunt on women informal settlers is such that today, even if some of them are back in their livelihood such as hawking, doing laundry, working as house helpers, sales ladies and manicurists, they are still hard-up in buying food, milk and medicines because costs have gone up.

“They said it’s like they woke up one day with their basic needs already more expensive than a few months before,” she said. “Increased jeepney and bus fares also added up. What happened?”

“Women are able to recover as things have normalized but many of them still don’t have jobs,” she said. Having worked for eight years listening to women express their difficulties, Ivy said the women feel helpless with not being able to recover fully. Many single mothers have not paid rent for over a year; many also need better assistance and protection that only the government can offer.

The strange thing about all these, she said, is that no one is complaining to the new government about the sad state of marginalized persons. “Why is no one raising their voices?”