It was a weird morning. As our bus entered La Laguna, the sun was all up and bright. The next minute, it rained so hard as if all heaven had poured out whatever Greg Martín “Gretchen” Diez had been hoarding up in his bladder for well over a month.
The unexpected downpour happened in an instant, at the exact moment that I was alighting from the bus on my way home. Tough luck. My wife and kids forgot to put the umbrella in my backpack.
So there I was, stuck in a narrow sidewalk with very minimal cover from the rain. Good thing I had my mobile phone with me, with a playlist to accompany me in my boredom.
When the rains gradually decreased to a drizzle, I saw them: the ever-familiar yellow truck with its pile of bagged filth and near-robotic collectors handling them, stuck in rain-drenched traffic, but still on the go, picking up garbage bags from stores along the busy national road. I just had to take their photos.
Even at this godforsaken weather, they are working, unmindful of the cold and rain. What made their situation worse was that they are soaked on top of a pile of muck, grime, dead cats crushed by vehicles, a little excrement here and there, and all the other disgusting things you can think of inside a garbage truck. But a job’s a job.
According to Salary Expert, “an entry level (sic) garbage collector (1-3 years of experience) earns an average salary of ₱131,256. On the other end, a senior level (sic) garbage collector (8+ years of experience) earns an average salary of ₱198,811.” That’s just less than ₱20,000 per month. If you think that kind of salary is barely enough for a single person, what more for a garbage collector with dependents. And since they belong to the lowest tier of capitalist society, we can easily imagine them raising a family of more than three (sickly) children. And because of the type of job that they have, it’s impossible not to think that they aren’t sickly themselves.
Out of that measly salary, they will have to set aside money for medications for various illnesses contracted from their filthy job — that is, of course, if they don’t ignore them (many of them do because medication is as expensive as food). In case they don’t, then that is an additional burden for them, considering that they had to buy meals for their families, pay for the schooling of their children (it is a myth that public school students need not shell out money to go through schoolhood), pay for rent, and many other expenses. If we middle-class income earners are continuously complaining about rising prices of commodities, oil price hikes, and other cost of living expenses, have you even stopped for a brief moment to think what kind of life these hapless people who collect your daily waste have? Most of them live in dilapidated areas, in shanties standing on land they don’t even own, or along polluted rivers that overflow during heavy rain. And they don’t have job security since many of them are only given “job order” designations by their respective LGU employers.
If you think eating out in Jollibee is already corny, for them feasting on Burger Machine on Christmas Day is an experience.
They have one of the most difficult jobs in the world — who would even want to pick up garbage collecting as a career? Not even them. But due to uncontrollable circumstances in their lives, they had no other choice. Yet our government treats them lowly. If they have the most difficult job in the world, why pay them minimum? In all seriousness, they had to be paid more than double their monthly wage. Or even higher than that. And with more benefits. Without them, our daily routine would be paralyzed.
Remember the Great Pacific garbage patch, the North Atlantic garbage patch, and many other humongous marine debris sprouting in many oceans in our planet? They have been in the news lately, and they would have been bigger and disgustingly plentiful if not for these unsung heroes who, rain or shine, regularly pick up your generally unsegregated waste. Yes, unsung heroes, because that’s what they really are. How many of you are even willing to dispose of your own waste just to keep your homes and your neighborhood spic and span?
(We may also add that that they are accidental unsung heroes, for they didn’t want to be garbage collectors in the first place).
That is why it is infuriating to note how our top government officials waste too much time on attention-seeking individuals like Mr. Diez when more sectors of society are in dire need of assistance. Garbage collection and disposal is fast becoming a world epidemic, a plague that is almost rarely discussed nor prioritized as evidenced by those aforementioned growing garbage patches across the seas.
It is high time we honor these unsung heroes and give them the due recognition that they deserve.
Come to think of it, when was the last time you heard that a garbage collector was awarded by their national government?