Juggling homework and sampaguitas: 2 brothers’ nightly routine at an overpass

By Anjo Bagaoisan

Boy Sampaguita vendor Marlon Mendoza sits at a walkway in Quezon City studying while selling (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

For Marlon Mendoza, a walkway over one of Quezon City’s busiest roads is as good a place to study as a table at home.

After his Grade 5 classes at a school in Brgy. San Antonio, the 11-year-old commutes south with his younger brother Melvin, aged 9, and their mother to the area of two big malls in the Q.C. north triangle.

Their “mama” Rochelle, 37, brings a lunch-box-sized cooler. In it are roughly a hundred mini-garlands (up to P2,000 worth) of sampaguita flowers commonly worn on Catholic saints and hung on rearview mirrors.

The three divide the flowers among themselves and part ways. Rochelle usually sits on a sidewalk in North Avenue. The boys–still in their blue school uniforms and wearing plastic rosaries on their necks–climb up different walkways.

Sampaguita vendor family Rochelle and her sons Marlon and Melvin prepare to sell their flowers at an overpass (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)


Once Marlon sits on the floor of an overpass along EDSA connecting a mall and a call center, he lays out his share of sampaguitas in front of him, opens his bag and brings out one of his books, a notebook and a pen.

Passers-by never fail to glance at the boy finishing his homework while selling his mother’s sampaguitas for his daily allowance.

Sampaguita vendor Marlon Mendoza at an overpass in Quezon City (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

“Sobrang halaga sa akin ‘yon para makapagtapos ako (It’s really important for me so that I can finish my studies),” Marlon says of both elements of his nightly routine.

He has gained admirers far more than the number of people who pass him by each night, many of whom are rushing to catch their rides home. Few know their names, only as the boys hunched over a book on an overpass whose images have inspired thousands on social media.

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A little bookshop by the train

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Outer view of Juleric Bookshop selling used books in Guadalupe Commercial Building in Makati

(Shot by Chito Concepcion)

Palengkes and open spaces are hardly the place to look for books. Nowadays, they are found in big-name bookstores or second-hand shops inside malls. But just off the MRT Guadalupe Station in Makati is a house of used books that’s out of place yet not out of patrons.

The shop is nestled between closed stalls at a commercial building facing EDSA. Nearby stands sell packed snacks, fruit, rice, and household essentials. Unlike them, this shop has no name, but the stacks of magazines and paperbacks out front make it stand out to any passersby.

Inside, a small lady in her 40’s browses the rows of thin romance novels that sell for 10 bucks apiece. A teenage boy picks out a book in front and starts reading. Outside, a man sits on a plastic mono-block leafing through a hardbound Bible. Other people just mosey in, scan the titles, and zoom in on a few for a closer look.

At the seller’s station, a bespectacled man with ruffled salt-and-pepper hair  wraps books and tapes torn covers and pages. Behind him a three-foot pile of unsorted books awaits a fix or a place in the packed shelves.

His mouth is busy as much as his hands. He’s struck a conversation with a male customer who asked about a book in the shelf of 65-peso titles above the pile. Later, the topic moves to Hukbalahaps and Philippine communists.

The seller interrupts the chat by calling out to curious drop-ins.

“That row of books is 40 pesos each. But you can get three for P100.” He doesn’t mind saying it, even if handwritten signs scream it all around the shop.

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Pinoy PWDs say ‘Never give up’ with Nick Vujicic

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Inspirational speaker Nick Vujicic speaking to an audience at the SM Mall of Asia in Manila (Shot courtesy of Nick Vujicic, May 20, 2013)

(Shot courtesy of Nick Vujicic)

In between his sold-out appearances at the Christ’s Commission Fellowship in Pasig and at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Nick Vujicic (pronounced Voo-yee-cheech) stopped by the SM Mall of Asia for a quick meet and greet.

The free-entrance event lasted only 20 minutes, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime for those with whom the limbless preacher’s life story and message would resonate the most: Filipino Persons With Disability (PWDs).

The mall managed to get the Serbian-Austalian inspirational speaker for the benefit of several local PWD organizations, whose members made up over a fourth of the 200-plus attendees at the mall’s Music Hall.

Persons in wheelchairs strolled to their places at the front fringes of the laid-out seats. Children and their parents walked in, wearing green shirts that said “Autism Angel”. Many who arrived approached and greeted old friends.

Among them were a dozen members of the Las Piñas City PWD Federation. Some carpooled to the mall in their barangay service vans. Others rode private cars. Family members or personal assistants accompanied them.

Mixed audience of abled and disabled persons at limbless preacher Nick Vujicic's meet and greet in Manila. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan, May 20, 2013)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

They, like many who first saw Nick live in Manila over the weekend, found him through the Internet. On Facebook or YouTube, they saw how he overcame his disability to personally inspire millions.

Surely capping it all would be a personal encounter with a man who, even without his extremities, has gone surfing, swimming, skydiving and has started a family.

“I heard they bring (Nick) near the exit so that people can talk to him or touch him as they leave, ” Al, a visually-impaired man in his thirties told fellow Las Piñas PWDs on the way to the mall. “I hope they also do that here.”

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Fish talk over late-night cocoa

(Shot from Ulap at Alapaap blog)

“I think we should widen our prospects, you know, to those beyond our group.”

The after-dinner conversation had sped and spun through a year or more of catch-up between friends. At a café whose specialty was chocolate pastries and drinks, five college mates talked old times and timely issues.

They were two girls and three boys, 22 or 23, currently single, all barely out of college.

The kids ate dinner elsewhere, but wanted to keep talking, and so landed here. Other friends with other engagements or schedules to keep already bid good night.

The girl who just spoke was appending the current train of thought. Someone had asked the girls earlier what they looked for in a future beau.

From their answers, it seemed no one in their university org or no one their age would fit the bill.

No one remembered talk of boyfriends and girlfriends spoken about so candidly before.

One boy was nursing a dark cocoa shake he found too rich to finish.

“There are other fish in the sea. But you gotta swim,” he said.

The other boys cheered and gave him high-fives, thrilled to stumble upon an interesting extension to the usual advice offered to the love-spurned or the heart-broken.

“Hey, this is worth a blog post. Not just a tweet!” said Boy A to his seat mate, who wore glasses like him. Boy B smiled and kept shaking his head at the lengths the metaphor began to stretch.

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5 years after St. Bernard: It could happen again

New Guinsaugon elementary school, St. Bernard Southern Leyte

(Shot by Joseph Jacob, our systems engineer)

ST. BERNARD, SOUTHERN LEYTE–The sky darkens, rain pours, and in a few minutes, it is dry again.

Possibly another day without a story for Manila, but it is good news for the temporary residents of this elementary school-turned-evacuation center.

This is the town of St. Bernard in mid-January, when floods and landslides since the beginning of 2011 led to at least 3 deaths and displaced hundreds.

But we already reached none of the rains that sent us here 650 kilometers from Manila and 5 hours south of Tacloban City.

Heads turn each time a downpour seems imminent, and return to business when it soon fizzles. With no breaking story, our local reporter Sharon Evite sought out how the evacuees were coping.

“Ganyan na ganyan din ang panahon noon.”

(Shot by Jayson Pabua, ABS-CBN Tacloban)

Locals tell us this was almost the same atmosphere 5 years ago on February 17, an event they are now taking pains to prevent. Late morning that day, a portion of Mt. Can-abag bordering St. Bernard broke off and buried the entire barangay of Guinsaugon.

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Boodle fight

Live from Maguindanao, Day 4
11 days before Halalan 2010

KORONADAL, SOUTH COTABATO– Gastronomical adventures come with any visit to the far away. But that does not always sound appealing when you talk about a month-long need for sustenance.

On my first trip to Mindanao, I think we have had enough of meat. Pork is not a staple here, but from where we’ve eaten so far, beef seems to be.

Heard of the Arabic-sounding balbakwa? They call this soup the local relative of bulalo. Anything, as long as it’s from the cow, goes. One version we ate stocked on the flesh, skin, and hair. Others include innards. All overbear in sour beef-ness.

If not, it has been goat, chicken, the rare pork lechon, and more beef.

Resident Isko Lance Catedral says fruits and veggies are cheap here that they are actually frequent fare–but mostly at homes.

Watermelons sold along national highway outside Koronadal, South CotabatoMel Estallo halving watermelons

And the outside heat.

One nearby caf now seems to end our search for more than meat. “Food Harbor” is a canteen heavily patronized for its 35-plus choices of viands (yes, someone counted) and doubles as a pub come nightfall.

So along with carnivorous entrées such as roasts (inihaw) and bitter stews (papaitan), we’re again eating familiar greens like chopsuey and lumpia.

La Paz Batchoy in KoronadalRoasted catfish in Tacurong

In other restos, more variety.

Eating in Maguindanao, meanwhile, is a different story.

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Hope abides here

When a TV production team was planning a soap opera in late 2008, they looked for a church fit to set its religiously-themed story. A live feature on morning show Umagang Kay Ganda ended their search.

More than a year after, the series became the country’s most watched and the church one of the most familiar in popular culture.

San Guillermo church in Bacolor, Pampanga, used as the setting of the ABS-CBN teleserye "May Bukas Pa." With the ABS-CBN News ENG van in the foreground.

This sanctuary in sleepy Bacolor, Pampanga is now more known as the “Simbahan ni Bro”–the center stage of events in a fictional town and its miracle boy, Santino.

But before it served as the backdrop of sleeper hit “May Bukas Pa”, the San Guillermo Parish Church already told a silent story of its own.

It’s a story that perhaps explains why this temple of stone became the face of a Philippine microcosm aptly named Bagong Pag-asa.

The 430-year-old church was the only visible remnant of Bacolor more than a decade ago after lahar from Mt. Pinatubo buried the town.

Seeing Santino and his “fathers” walk around a plain-floored, one-story sanctuary, you would not easily count San Guillermo among those grand Spanish-era churches.

The ash flow claimed all in the church’s lower ground–the altar, cemetery and monastery. Only the choir loft and bell tower remained above.

Shot of an old photo of San Guillermo church's interior before it was submerged in lahar.Bacolor Pampanga's San Guillermo church after the lahar flood.

Mere shots offer glimpses of its past glory.

After Pinatubo, Bacolor’s citizens salvaged the sunken altar, retablo and the statues it contained. They restored the images and raised the retablo to fit under the single-level dome.

They opened new entrances to the other rooms and blocked off the half-buried ones. They laid out new pews, markers for the Stations of the Cross, and started anew.

With its curious appearance and story of recovery, the church was picked to play the part of humble town parish. San Guillermo’s rise from the ash flow soon extended to Bacolor.

Inner room at San Guillermo church used as monastery in "May Bukas Pa."r and retablo of San Guillermo church in Bacolor used in "May Bukas Pa."Statue of "Bro" in San Guillermo church of "May Bukas Pa."Well, garden, and half-submerged dome of Bacolor's San Guillermo church from "May Bukas Pa."

It started with the constant presence of the actors and crew from “May Bukas Pa.” Every part of the church and the town was put to good use–with rent paid.

Then the tourists came. From buses of students on field trips to groups of overseas Pinoys on vacation, all came to see the church of Santino. Local vendors were soon earning from the visits.

When the show ended on February 5, residents would miss its characters and the uplift it brought the town.

“May Bukas Pa” became Philippine TV’s symbol of hope in 2009. But for Bacolor, it literally became its “Bagong Pag-asa.”

All with the help of this church that kept hope alive amid the flood.

See other pictures of San Guillermo church in this pinoyjourn Multiply album.