Text by Marz Aglipay
Cultural workers across the country are met with different challenges while in quarantine. Some are more privileged to spend the quarantine at home and have some semblance of productivity while there are others who are displaced and compelled to make do with limited resources. During these times, it is essential to account for our cultural workers who make an honest living by preserving our heritage.
When Metro Manila was effectively placed in quarantine on the 15th March, sixteen (16) Escuela Taller graduates were in the midst of doing restoration work on the Holy Rosary Parish known to the locals as “Pisambang Maragul” (Big Church) or Santo Rosario Church in Angeles, Pampanga. The church is one of four major churches in Pampanga that sustained structural damage from the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that hit the province in April of 2019.
Santo Rosario church’s restoration efforts are overseen by Escuella Taller, who specializes in the restoration and rehabilitation of tangible heritage. They train and provide for out-of-school youth who come from economically challenged backgrounds.
Jessa Marie Marquez, one of the stranded graduates in the Pampanga worksite recalled the beginning of their plight. “As soon as the quarantine was announced, restoration work for the church was stopped,” she says in Filipino. In spite of this, they chose to remain on-site as commuter buses are hard to come by. “Kung uuwi rin naman po kami as Maynila wala rin naman uuwian.” (If we go home to Manila, there is no place to go home to,) she adds.
Marquez who comes from Bicol stays in Escuella Taller’s lodging in Intramuros where she and other graduates can easily be brought to project-sites. Going on-site is normal for the graduates given the nature of their work which involves structural restoration to heritages sites.
These graduates operate under a “no work, no pay” set-up which makes staying on-site a challenge for all 16 of them. When asked if transportation to Manila would be a practical solution, her concern echoed the sentiments of her colleagues that it would be better to stay, hoping that they could eventually continue their work once the quarantine restrictions are lifted. “Baka di rin po kami makabalik dito agad-agad kung magbukas na yung simbahan. Sa pagbalik namin as trabaho baka mahirapan kami [kung uuwi pa ng Maynila.]” (We might not be able to get back to the church once it opens. Coming back to work will be a challenge if we go back to Manila,) she says.
The church they work for has tried to help by rationing meals for them but soon they too will hit their capacity to provide. Escuela Taller has sent some financial aid to help them get through this period of uncertainty. For now, Marquez and her companions are doing their best to sustain their consumption in order to stay afloat even at the cost of skipping meals.
“Hindi rin kami pweding manghingi ng tulong as pamilya namin. Kaya kami nandito para magtrabaho, para masuportahan sila. Eh ngayon po pareparehas na po kaming nangangailangan” (We can’t ask help from our families. We are here to work, to be able to support them. However now, we are all in need,) Marquez says.
To extend the financial support of the Escuela Taller graduates, you may donate to: Escuela Taller de Filipinas, Inc. Metrobank Account No. 200 7 20052397 7 or via Gcash, no. 0945 133 99 20
Quotes have been edited for clarity or brevity.