By Erik De Castro
Taking photos of poor people is nothing unusual for me, as the poor comprise more than a fourth of the Philippine population of nearly 97 million. They are also the most vulnerable during disasters such as typhoons, landslides and fires that frequently dominate the headlines in the country.
Late last month, the Secretary General of the state agency National Statistical Coordination Board wrote in an article that the gap between the country’s rich and poor is widening, with the country’s strong growth, the fastest in Asia so far this year, benefiting high-income earners more than those from the middle- and low-income classes. The article said the rich were enjoying significantly faster growth in incomes compared with people from lower income classes.
That helped me build the idea to juxtapose the lifestyles of the rich and poor in the country through images. I thought in the beginning that it was easy to document the rich and poor divide, but I found out as I was doing my picture story that it was a complex matter. I spent more than three weeks doing a picture story concentrating on two families with similar age brackets but from different income classes. I followed each of the two families as they went about doing their daily activities, spending lots of time with them even during ungodly hours of the day.
I first observed the family of Arnold Bolata, a 38-year-old father of four who works as a driver of a motorcycle taxi or tricycle and his 33-year-old wife Nancy, a street food vendor and a part-time cook at a small soft drinks company. They own a two-bedroom shanty at a squatter colony in suburban Quezon city, north of the capital Manila. Arnold and Nancy met in the same neighborhood 11 years ago. All their four children study at a public school, where they pay only 100 pesos ($2.3) for each child annually as a required school contribution. Arnold works 16 hours a day with only Sunday as his rest day, and plies the streets even during rainy days. Nancy sells sweet banana snack which she herself cooks. They earn a combined income of about 20,000 pesos a month ($462), just enough to put food on the table three times a day and pay for their household expenses.
I immediately noticed upon entering the house of the Bolato family that at least more than a dozen school achievement medals of their children were prominently displayed on their plywood walls. “We live a hand-to-mouth existence daily,” Arnold said, “I only pray my wife and I don’t get sick.” Arnold said he is looking forward to finally paying off the loan he got for the motorcycle he is using, as that would lift a big burden on his family’s finances. “That is progress for us,” he said. “We are still not losing hope.”