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Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan: How kindness, compassion brought hope to food vendors’ lives

Life may not be as sweet or as colorful because of the challenges and problems that are thrown upon us, but it becomes meaningful as we choose to be strong in overcoming those hardships with the presence of people around us who offer genuine help without asking for something in return.

Reuniting with children

Celina Dela Cruz, who sells banana cue at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, is a mother and a wife whose existence was never as sweet as the street snack food she sells. She grew up in Pampanga with her 17 siblings. However, 12 of them died. She only finished elementary and by the age of 14, she would always come with his dad who by that time would sell puto in UP. It’s because Celina also wanted to work so she could help her family. Later on as she grew older, she met and fell in love with Luisito, a worker at the puto factory, and they got married. They went back to Pampanga and there they built their family. However, as they family started to grow, they faced difficult, continuous ordeals. Celina gave birth to twins however one of them died just minutes after she delivered the baby. After that terrible tragedy, her mother also passed away. Then, just when she thought she had experienced life’s worst, a terrible setback came. Luisito had been involved in a devastating tricycle accident that led to debilitating, and eventually fatal injuries. After her husband’s death, Celina decided to move to Manila to find a means of livelihood, while leaving the care of her children to a relative in Pampanga. She would discover and take advantage of the sweet trade of cooking and selling banana cue in the streets of the UP Diliman campus, and this helped her survive. She said she would work hard and save enough money for her children so she could be with them again. 

As she went by selling banana cue one day, Celina met someone who make life extra sweet for her.  He was Roberto Pelo, or simply “Bert,” an ice cream vendor also selling in the campus. After months of getting to know each other, Bert would soon court her and eventually win her heart. They would soon live together. Bert is a widower with five children, whom he had since introduced Celina to as their new mother. Showing how much he loved Celina, Bert knew he would make Celina very happy by finding a way for her to reunite with her children. Bert decided to help Celina take her children back from her relatives and they would take care of them as one happy family. That became Celina’s happiest moment in her life—being with her children at all times. For giving her the value of family and the love he continuously shows, Celina gave Bert a bell or “kalembang” which he can use in selling ice cream.

Immense help

Bert also experienced difficulties in life in his hometown Samar when he was still young. He was forced to fly to Manila after an agency recruited him to work in the city. He first worked in a bakery where his employers maltreated him and left him without work. It became harder for him when he didn’t have a choice but to rob people of their money in Divisoria just to survive. Eventually, while he was selling newspapers on the street, he saw his brother who was also victimized by the illegal recruiter who brought him to Manila. Later on, Bert saw his sister who was a suman vendor that time. His brother taught him how to make and sell ice cream which he learned eventually until he became the one who sells dirty ice cream on the streets. 

Bert met his first wife Evelyn in the factory of the ice cream that he sells. However, at first Evelyn’s sibling did not like him, so Roberto decided to follow her in Masbate where he asked the blessings of her parents. They got married and had five children. Unfortunately, Bert’s role as a father became more challenging when Evelyn died because of myoma. All he knew that time was he had to provide the needs of his children through his job as an ice cream vendor. Until he met Mang Larry, the owner of the famous isawan in the UP campus. Bert received financial help from Mang Larry when Evelyn was hospitalized. Mang Larry was the one who also helped him get a permit so he could freely sell ice cream inside the campus. Because of the immense help that Bert received, he doesn’t only get to provide for his children but he also got to help his siblings and his parents. He gave Mang Larry his own made ice cream as a symbol of appreciation for all the help he has given him and his family.

Famous isawan

If you studied or worked in UP Diliman, you know for sure Lauro Condencido, Jr., or Mang Larry, the owner of the famous isawan on campus. He also experienced difficulties with his family when he was still young. He shared that sometimes, they wouldn’t eat complete three meals a day. Thus, they would just eat whatever is served to them. He went to Pampanga when he was 15 and there he worked as a piggery boy, poultry boy, and helper. But he was only paid 30 pesos a month, that's why he wasn’t content with his work there. After one year in Pampanga, he went to Manila to study and finish a technical vocational program while working as a houseboy and a dishwasher. He also worked as a janitor in a film production company. However, his earnings during that time weren’t enough for him to provide education for his children. Until he thought of starting up a business which was selling isaw. He was actually inspired by the street food he would always see on his way to work during that time. And he saw that a lot of people loved it. 

With a starting capital of 40 pesos, Mang Larry was able to have a permanent place in UP. And what people loved with the isaw he sold was its sauces and the assured cleanliness of the food. Mang Larry’s isawan became a success and the rest is history. However, not all people felt happy for his success. Mang Larry had a misunderstanding with the members of the organization he was part of. They told Mang Larry that he didn’t belong in UP anymore because he’s successful enough. But he was still blessed to have been supported and helped by the university’s Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Professor Nestor Castro. Dr. Nestor said that he gives importance to the cultural heritage especially of the university and Mang Larry, he said, is already part of its legacy. To give thanks and appreciation, Mang Larry gave Prof. Nestor a planner that he can use in documenting happy experiences whenever he travels again.

Cultural heritage

Prof. Nestor teaches anthropology in UP. His parents fought the Japanese colonizers back then - his dad was a guerilla and his mother was a first lieutenant nurse. That’s why it’s not surprising anymore why he also has a strong personality. He even became an activist during his undergraduate years in UP. However, authorities became more familiar with him when he went to Baguio to fight against the displacement of the Filipino IPs or Indigenous People. He was charged with subversion, possession of subversive materials, and use of fictitious name. Prof. Nestor said that he didn’t reveal his real name when he got arrested. And when he was imprisoned, he tried to get out of the jail. However, the police officers tortured him physically during his stay in the prison cell. What encouraged him to remain strong was the support from his family, especially his mom. But he didn’t expect that he would get help from an unexpected person, Rolando Benito, an Igorot military soldier. Prof. Nestor shared that Rolando was the soldier who sometimes watches over him and he actually liked to play guitar. Prof. Nestor shared Rolando would sometimes even go inside his cell just to teach him how to play guitar. After almost a year of being imprisoned, he was finally bailed out. After finally recovering from that traumatic experience, Prof. Nestor became an anthropologist, professor, and now the Vice Chancellor for community affairs inside the university.

Prof. Nestor’s appreciation for cultural heritage as an anthropology professor and a University Vice Chancellor made him recognize the importance of Mang Larry, a simple yet significant street food vendor, who has brought sumptuous diversion for those plying the UP Diliman campus with his famous isaw. He would then pass on the kindness given to him by the university by helping another vendor Bert overcome his personal challenges and succeed in his own trade of selling ice cream. This heartwarming gesture made Bert more understanding and loving of the people around him, making him change the life and bring immense happiness to Celina, by bringing her family back together under one roof.

It’s an overwhelming expression of compassion and kindness we all celebrate each week on Paano Kita Mapasasalamatan, hosted by Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo, Saturdays at 6:15pm on the Kapamilya Channel and Kapamilya Online Live.