Papa, what will I eat?

CHAPTER 3

“Saan ako makakahanap ng pagkain para sa mga bata (Where will I find food for the kids)?” guardians of all the left-behind children ask. After the death of their fathers, most of the children are left to be supported by only one sole provider, and some are left under the care of their grandmothers. Whether it be because the mother had been dead, taken to prison, had left because of grief, or is in an unstable condition to support the children, these children are left to the grandmothers who, because of their old age, should no longer be working, let alone support an entire family. In each of their interviews with social workers, these elderly people, ages 60-90, shared how they are forced to take care of several children alone, doing laundry the first week then selling vegetables under the heated sun the next just to earn money to feed all of the children. Their situation gets even more difficult whenever someone in the family gets sick.

According to a report by Amnesty International, most of the victims of drug-related killings already belong to the poorest urban neighborhoods in the country. Now that the breadwinner of the family is gone, the children’s state of living have sunk deeper into poverty.

Nang buhay pa siya, wala talaga kaming problema (When he was still alive, we really didn’t have any problems),” Lola Kyla, the grandmother of Henry and Joyce whose parents’ wedding never happened, said. Ronald, Henry and Joyce’s father, was responsible for providing money and food for the family, and with his absence, the weight of such responsibility are now placed on the shoulders of a 69-year-old who can barely even stand upright—what more with the weight of her grandchildren’s futures riding on her?

Out of the 45 children included in the study, 18 of them were left under the care of their grandmothers, and these grandmothers can only do so much to stay above the water. They are only able to give the children five pesos worth of allowance, and even that is hard to come by these days. Their meals consist of rice and soy sauce, sometimes, rice and garlic. Grandmothers are forced to work their backs off and earn at least PHP400 a day, PHP400 that needs to be divided among eight to nine people. Some are left under the care of the mother alone, but they themselves cannot work full time because they have to stay at home to take care of their infants.

Bilin sa akin ni Romy (Romy told me),” Lola Rowena said of her son who was killed in his own home on the day of his child’s birthday, “huwag magugutom ‘yung mga bata (to make sure that the children won’t go hungry).” Filling their stomachs has been one of the goals of the fathers that have departed, and it becomes a hardship to accomplish as months pass by without the breadwinner there to support them.

Each day enters into their lives as another struggle to go through. “Gumagapang na lang talaga (We really are just crawling our way through),” Nanay Raissa, a widow of another victim, said as she described her life with her six children to the social worker.

“Kapag dumarating ‘yung umaga, ang tanong ko na lang ay paano sila makakakain sa araw na iyon, kung may malalaba ba ako (Every morning that comes by, I wonder how I’m going to feed them, where I can find some laundry to do for money),” Lola Rowena said in her interview with Project SOW social workers.

Mothers and grandmothers’ hearts break every single time the children come home from their classes and ask if they had lunch to eat, and the guardians could only answer that there was nothing in the house for them to eat at all. The kids would cry at times when they would happen to eat, because food suddenly became a reminder of who they lost as their fathers were the ones who would always bring them meals at the end of the day.

The entire family is unable to even fund properly the burial of the deceased, much less to file a case for the justice of the death of the father. The children, in the face of this, cling to the hope of education that they may be able to finish and build a better life for themselves. However, this in itself is becoming harder and harder as money becomes scarcer to find with only one provider to support several members of the family. Yana, a daughter of another victim and a top student in her class, wept in front of the social worker as she tried to think about where on earth she will get the supplies she needs for school next year now that her father is gone. The children can only hope for scholarships or any form of allowance that could alleviate their struggles in maintaining their educational paths.

Food and education are not the only things that bring anxiety to these family members. Because of their old age, the grandmothers fear the day that their bodies will give out and the children will lose yet another person to support them. The kids are still so young and they could only pray that they would be given enough strength to take care of their grandchildren until they are old enough to take care of themselves. Lola Olivia, who is 62 years old and has three grandchildren under her belt, asked herself most of the time, “Sino maggagabay sakanila pang habangbuhay (Who will continue to guide them through their lives)?”