Blind masseurs in Iligan City find alternative livelihood

By Divina Suson

September 20, 2020, 2:22 pm

<p>Jonathan Javier (left) and Jury Bagcat (right) are blind masseurs in Iligan City who lost their job when the massage spa they worked for almost a year was temporarily closed because of the pandemic. Even if it is difficult for them, they worked as coconut husk remover in the neighborhood to sustain their daily basic needs. (Photo by Divina M. Suson) </p>

Jonathan Javier (left) and Jury Bagcat (right) are blind masseurs in Iligan City who lost their job when the massage spa they worked for almost a year was temporarily closed because of the pandemic. Even if it is difficult for them, they worked as coconut husk remover in the neighborhood to sustain their daily basic needs. (Photo by Divina M. Suson) 

ILIGAN CITY - Blind masseurs are finding themselves another alternative livelihood after the Covid-19 pandemic cost them their jobs.

When the pandemic started in March, non-essential businesses, including massage clinics, were shutdown.

They lost their jobs when the massage clinic in a mall they worked for almost a year was closed because of the crisis.

Jonathan Javier, Jury Bagcat, Alex and his wife Leonica were among the 28 blind masseurs in this city who had to make ends meet at the start of the pandemic to continue living.

They were forced to look for another source of income even if it is hard for them because of their physical disability.

As masseurs, each of them used to earn PHP600 to PHP700 pesos a day.

The daily income before the pandemic was enough for Jonathan and Jury to buy their daily food supply, pay monthly rent and electric bills.

They still have enough for their daily fare because they live in Barangay Ditucalan, around 10 kilometers away from the city proper.

When the massage clinic they worked for was closed on March 18, they have nothing to do for a living but wait for barangay officials or their friends and relatives to give them food.

But because they are not used to dole outs, they had to look for ways to earn.

Panan-aw lang man ang nawala namo. Kumpleto paman ang among mga tiil ug kamot. So kinahanglan gyud mi motrabaho kay naa may ubang mga panginahanglanon sa kinabuhi gawas sa pagkaon (We only lost our eyesight. Our hands and our legs are still complete so we need to work because we have other needs in life other than foods,)” 27-year-old Jonathan said.

Mas maayo gyud nga nay panginabuhian kay naa kay makuhaan sa adlaw-adlaw nga panginahanglanon sama sa bayronon sa kuryente, tubig, mga gamit sa balay (It is better to have work or any livelihood so that we can have source for our daily needs like for electric bill, water and other needs in the house,)” Alex said.

He wanted to do home service but no one wants their service because of fear of the virus.

“It would have been great to do home service but they were afraid since many were being infected by Covid-19,” Alex added.

Alex and Leonica live with their senior citizen mother. They have an eight-month old baby.

Their cousins, who live a kilometer away, have to visit them three times a day to feed their baby.

Leonica, despite her physical disability, prepares and cooks their meals.

For six months of being jobless, they have to ask for their neighbors to give them a job just to continue having an income.

Back to previous work

Jonathan lost his eyesight when he was 15 years old because of getting overworked.

He was a Chavacano from Zamboanga City. At the age of six, his mother left him and his two siblings to her mother’s employer.

That was when he learned to remove coconuts husks. It was his job to sustain his daily needs like food. He was not able to go to school.

Pasmo mani akoa. Magtrabaho ko sa adlawan, mamunot og lubi, pagka gabii, mag-sikad ko. Naghinay-hinay ra og kawala akong panan-aw (I got blind because I was overworked. During day time, I work as coconut husk remover, then in the evening, I have to drive trisikad,)” Jonathan said.

He is the second child and has to work for his own, like his other siblings, because they were maltreated by the person to whom they were left by their parents.

He was not able to see his father because he was still a baby when he left them and went back to his real family.

Gibiyaan pud mi niya sa iyang amo wala nako kabalo asa na siya. Nagbulag bulag nami magsoon, iyahay pangitag paagi nga mabuhi (My mother left us to her employer and I do not know where she is now. My siblings and I were separated, looking for ways to live), Jonathan shared.

His eyesight, he said, slowly deteriorated until he was completely blind when he was 15 years old.

Because he could not see the things around him anymore, he stopped working in the farm as a coconut husk remover.

Nabag-ohan ko kay dose ka tuig ko katapusan nakapamunot, makakita pa ko ato. Karon, kabalo paman gihapon ko pero hinay-hinay kay dili naman makakita (It felt strange because it was 12 years ago when I last did this, I could still see that time. I still know how to do it but have to do it slowly because I cannot anymore see what I am doing.)” Jonathan said.

Jonathan and Jury, who live in the same boarding house, had to help each other.

They are paid PHP250 in every one thousand pieces of coconut they peeled off. For the two who has a disability in eyesight, they would spend two days doing it.

The amount they would earn in two days is far from their income when they were doing the massage before the pandemic.

Like Jonathan, Jury also does not have a family. The only family he considers is Jonathan, who became his friend more than a year ago.

Blind couple Alex and Leonica Barioga lost their job as masseurs when the massage spa they worked for two years closed because of the pandemic and because of the limited movements during the community quarantine, they only depended on the monthly food assistance from a group of private individuals, Dalangpanan. (Photo by Divina M. Suson)

Powerless, voiceless

Alex said the income they earned as coconut husk removers is better than doing nothing.

His wife, Leonica, said they tried calling a radio program sponsored by the local government unit to ask if they could be given food assistance but they only got promises and were told to do massage home service.

When the city was placed under enhanced community quarantine in March, Alex said they received rice from the local government unit (LGU) but when the city was placed under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from modified general community quarantine in Sept. 1, they have not yet received any food assistance.

“Sige raman sila (LGU) og saad-saad. Wala man gihapoy aksiyon. Wala man puy magpa-masahe kay mahadlok sa Covid (19). So tipid-tipid lang gyud. Maglugaw lang sa pamahaw ug sa paniudto, sa panihapon na mokaon og insakto (They kept making promises. There was no action. No one requested us for massage home service because they are afraid of Covid. To make our rice last, we cooked porridge for breakfast and lunch then we will eat proper meal in the evening),” Alex said.

In as much as Alex wanted to look for another job, he could not move easily because he could not find someone to guide him.

Like Jonathan and Jury, Alex would usually ask children in the neighborhood to guide them when they wanted to go out.

Those who are 21 years old and younger are not allowed to go out during MECQ.

Alex said he felt that a group of differently-abled persons like them are the least priority of the government.

“Wala man gud mi power, wala mi tingog nga makaadto gyud sa atong mga opisyal sa gobyerno para mangayo. Dili parehas sa uban nga grupo nga makasulat sila, makaduol dayun sila. Mao tingale nga kalimtan rami nila, ulahi mi permi (We are powerless, we are voiceless. We cannot go directly to the government officials to ask. Unlike other groups that they can write, they can approach. Maybe that is the reason they forget us, we are always the last,)” Alex said.

Good Samaritans to the rescue

It was a good thing, Alex said, when a group of private individuals called Dalangpanan saw them and extended help to them.

Dalangpanan (refuge in English) is a group of private individuals who pooled their resources to extend help to the group of Alex and Jonathan.

“Daku kaayo og gikatabang nila sa amoa kay kung wala pa sila, mas grabe ang kalisod nga among nasinati karon (They are big help to us. If not for them, life would be harder,)” Alex said.

Engineer Teod Gayo, founder of Dalangpanan, said he founded the group in April with the purpose of soliciting from friends who have extra resources to be shared with those who are in need during the pandemic.

He said they decided to organize because at that time, assistance from the government arrived very late.

“We discovered this group of blind people here in Ditucalan and our partners in mission decided to focus our help to them. We saw the need to establish the bayanihan system during this time,” Gayo said.

Donors are coming from overseas and others from business partners and clients.

“Before the pandemic, these blind people did not ask the government for help. They worked very hard. They did not depend for help from other people. But we saw them worked hard during the pandemic,” Gayo said.

“Our group, composed of fortunate individuals, wanted to connect and help the least, the lost and the last persons the government extended their help,” he said. (PNA)