It was summer. The Baguio City market was slowly getting high foot traffic of tourists who are looking for fresh vegetables and strawberries. As vendors and patrons flock, porters also secure a spot in the venue by walking around to offer their service.
Three of them were Joseph, Daryl, and Mark (not their real names). Barely had breakfast, they approach one customer to another hoping that someone will finally allow them to help in exchange of some coins.
Then, they spotted my group.
“Ate, kami na magdala nyan (Miss, let me carry your shopping bag),” one of them told me. “Wag na, magaan lang ‘to (never mind, it is not heavy after all),” I answered.
One of my friends asked “Uy, boy, bakit ba kasi ang aga-aga nandito kayo? (Hey, why are you here so early to do that?)”
The boys were amazed. Perhaps only a few like us would bother asking why they are offering their service to us. They are usually shrugged off as they insist.
In my curiosity, I continued the conversation. “Bakit nga kayo nandito? Di ba dapat nag-aaral kayo? Nasan magulang nyo? (Why are you here? You’re suppose to be in school. Where are your parents?)”
“Wala na po kaming klase. Bakasyon na. Tumutulong po kasi kami sa magulang namin, mahina kasi kita sa bukid. (It’s already our vacation. We are working to help our parents since the profit for farming does not suffice us.),” one of them answered.
I paused. I did not like the idea. It is not a good setting for them. Is it still considered child labor if the kid is willing to work? Yes.
“Paano kayo napunta dito? (How were you able to get here?)”
The kids openly talked about this yearly ‘tradition’ of being recruited by a family acquaintance so they can work as porters in the Baguio market. They hailed all the way from Pangasinan, roughly an hour of drive away from Baguio, where they live and study.
During their season of work, the recruiter (or shall we say syndicate) invite them together with other boys of their age, starting at eight years old, to work in the summer capital. They are housed somewhere in the outskirts of the city so they can easily arrive to the market everyday.
These kids are usually given coins or a twenty-peso bill, if lucky, by their ‘customers.’ Earnings are split between them and the recruiter. They go home on a weekly basis to remit their week’s profit to their parents.
“Okay lang po kami kasi nakakatulong kami sa magulang namin. (We are fine to do this since we are able to help them.),” one of them proudly said but his eyes looked tired and weary.
Out of pity, my friend availed of their service and gave them a decent amount so at least they can buy their breakfast.
They loaded the bags in the car as my mind played on the idea that this ‘tradition’ could have and might be passed on from one generation to another. Will they ever finish school so that their future kids no longer need to do the same thing?