Manila Bulletin

Shop with fortitude


ON a dare, on a national holiday, me and my girls, we ventured into forbidden territory on the last day of November, eve of the month of Christmas shopping, into the heart of Divisoria. Our optimism was hugely disproport­ionate to the reality. All Manila was in 168, Tutuban Mall, 99, Lucky Chinatown, no wonder the crowds were thin at People Power Monument and Mendiola, more so at Bonifacio Monument, center of rites honoring the national hero.

There would be no holiday on the roads leading to Divisoria – “Trapik!” Policemen waved away cars waiting in a long tortuous line to turn from Recto into Masangkay, as if there would be relief ahead. Of course there wasn’t any, because what was ahead was more of the same, more malls. (There ought to be a law in Metro Manila banning all further constructi­on of malls of a certain size.)

Caught in the sticky jam, I had time to observe the other side of Divisoria, those who live off the streets vending, begging, pushing carts and carrying bundles on their heads as they dart from corner to corner, unmindful of vehicles, other pedestrian­s, permanent and moving obstructio­ns (such as cops). The most worrisome sight was that of a determined corps of young men and women, each carrying a grimy, sickly looking baby in their arms, boarding jeepneys to beg for alms from paying passengers. Armed with the baby and a white envelope (!) with which to solicit money, they were nimble and quick on their feet, leaping onto and off the jeepneys with nary a care nor a scare. As traffic moved one inch every 10 minutes, I counted six baby-carrying adults who were likely members of a syndicate – a syndicate of baby snatchers and profession­al beggars? Could the cops not see what else was going on? And social workers, are they even aware of this “petty” crime against infants?

Once inside 168 Mall, my girls and I were greeted by another kind of traffic – a crush of dedicated shoppers behaving like tomorrow was the last of their glory days of looking, comparing prices, haggling, and paying with a sense of accomplish­ment. Unlike other malls, Divisoria’s are open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Shop with fortitude, folks!

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