Mal­abon’s se­nior pa­trollers: Tough on drivers, gen­tle on kids

More than 300 res­i­dents in their 60s and 70s hold sway on the streets un­der a city gov­ern­ment pro­gram

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - NEWS FEATURES - By Mariejo S. Ramos @MariejoRamosINQ

Myrna Vi­dal, 65, starts her day while the rest of the com­mu­nity is still asleep.

At 4 a.m., she puts on a bright yel­low-green vest, kisses her young grand­daugh­ter good­bye and sets off to her shift as se­nior pedes­trian pa­troller at San­ti­ago Syjuco El­e­men­tary School in Barangay Ibaba, Mal­abon.

When her hus­band died in Oc­to­ber last year, Vi­dal had to strug­gle to raise by her lone­some an 11-year-old grand­child who’s still in Grade 5.

“Now I have a good rea­son to wake up each morn­ing, and cope with my hus­band’s loss,” the widow said of her task.

Like Vi­dal, at least 336 se­nior cit­i­zens aged 60 to 70 years old have found new roles in the neigh­bor­hood un­der a pro­gram im­ple­mented by the of­fice of Mal­abon Mayor An­tolin Oreta III.

In two-day weekly shifts that last for two hours a day, these grand­par­ents break the usual monotony of se­nior life and turn into road safety ad­vo­cates for their ex­tended grand­chil­dren across the city, whose mostly nar­row streets have seen an in­crease in ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic in re­cent years.

“There was a re­cent ac­ci­dent where a group of stu­dents run­ning out­side school was hit by a speed­ing car,” re­called Danilo Be­len Marasi­gan, a pa­troller at 61.

Air of au­thor­ity

Ac­ci­dents like these are pre­ventable if young stu­dents are taught how to be­have on busy streets or as­sisted when cross­ing, added Reynaldo Tiangco, 66.

The an­swer might just be the city’s se­nior ci­ti­zen pro­gram where lo­los and lo­las— as long as they are deemed phys­i­cally fit for the job—are drafted to help man­age the flow of mo­torists and pedes­tri­ans in front of 28 el­e­men­tary schools in the city’s 21 barangays. They are busiest when schools open and dur­ing dis­missals: 5 to 7 a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 5 to 7 p.m.

With their bright yel­low- green vest and an air of grand­parental au­thor­ity, they keep a close watch es­pe­cially on tri­cy­cle and pedi­cab drivers block­ing pedes­trian lanes.

For jeep­ney drivers, they have a con­stant re­minder: “Al­ways keep an eye on the road.”

For truck­ers just pass­ing through Mal­abon, a sterner di­rec­tive: “We would ask them to slow down or iden­tify them­selves un­til we feel it’s safe for the stu­dents and the com­mu­nity to let them pass,” said Elenita Estem­ber, 61.

Traf­fic man­age­ment may be the fo­cus but not the only as­pect of their job.

Ex­tra eyes, ears

Shirley An­to­nio, 65, said that by post­ing them­selves at cam­pus gates, they could help teach­ers and school of­fi­cials en­sure that stu­dents don’t cut classes and just loi­ter around. They also serve as ex­tra eyes and ears for par­ents wait­ing for their chil­dren come dis­missal time.

And with the gen­tlest touch only grandma or grandpa can give, they spare a minute or two for in­com­ing pupils whose skewed col­lars or lousily worn uni­forms need some fix­ing, telling them to “study hard” be­fore let­ting them go.

At San­ti­ago Syjuco El­e­men­tary School, Vi­dal and Estem­ber al­ter­nate shifts with 10 oth­ers un­der a buddy sys­tem that has been in place since the pro­gram was launched in July 2018.

Mem­bers of the pi­o­neer­ing batch of se­nior pa­trollers are un­der a five-month con­tract with City Hall, which gives them a monthly hon­o­rar­ium of P2,000 each.

Com­mu­nity val­ues

Ce­cil Gue­varra, head of the city’s Of­fice of Se­nior Cit­i­zens Af­fairs, said the pro­gram sought to pro­mote Filipino com­mu­nity val­ues, par­tic­u­larly re­spect for the el­derly.

“We give much weight to the words of our lolo and lola; we obey them. That’s the ad­van­tage of hav­ing se­nior pa­trollers. Even hot-headed pedi­cab drivers find it hard to ig­nore their or­ders. We have this deeply in­grained re­spect for the el­derly whom we treat like our own par­ents,” Gue­varra said.

The pro­gram is heaven-sent to the city’s more than 16,000 reg­is­tered se­nior cit­i­zens, who make up al­most 5 per­cent of Mal­abon’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion, giv­ing them a chance to work and earn. The monthly hon­o­rar­ium means ex­tra cash, ei­ther for their fam­ily’s daily needs or their own main­te­nance medicines and vi­ta­min sup­ple­ments.

And be­sides, “stay­ing idle at home only makes you weaker and has­ten your ag­ing,” one pa­troller said.

Thanks to the pro­gram, “we don’t have to ask money from our chil­dren,” said An­to­nio, who also runs a small store selling toys bought in bulk from Divi­so­ria.

The city gov­ern­ment plans to ex­pand the pro­gram’s cov­er­age by post­ing se­nior pa­trollers also at day-care cen­ters and high schools, Gue­varra said.

—MARIEJO S. RAMOS

SE­NIOR­ITY RULE On the streets of Mal­abon, the el­derly pa­trol ar­eas near pub­lic and pri­vate schools to make sure pedes­tri­ans and mo­torists fol­low traf­fic rules to keep school­child­ren safe. Mal­abon has dep­u­tized phys­i­cally fit se­niors as street pa­trollers to pre­vent road ac­ci­dents, while break­ing prej­u­dices about the el­derly and keep­ing them busy and em­ployed.

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