Most children would wake up every morning with food on their plates. They don’t have to worry about what’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks. They don’t even need to wake up early or stay late at night to have something to eat.
There are those, however, who are not fortunate. There are children who would have to wait for other people to finish eating. There are children who would pray for leftover food to have something to bring home to feed themselves and their family.
With added salt, a pinch of powdered pepper, and a clove of garlic, the leftover food are cooked anew into a dish known as “pagpag,” literally “to shake off the dust or dirt.” Aside from restaurants, “pagpag” are also scavenged from garbage sites and dumps.
Eating “pagpag” is a result of the challenges of hunger due to extreme poverty in many parts of the Philippines. In urban poor communities, selling “pagpag” has become a profitable business.
Children and young people from Happyland, a village in Manila’s Tondo district, would wake up early in the morning to visit fast-food chains in the city, especially the famous Jollibee, where they hope to fine a piece of “Chicken Joy” in the trash.
The leftover food, however, do not come free. The children would buy it for 20 pesos, enough for one “pagpag” meal for five hungry people.
One of the children, Papo, said he and his friends would cook the leftover food like any other dish, especially the Philippine “adobo.” Each group member would share a condiment — soy sauce or vinegar or whatever they have back home. Those who can afford it, would sauté what they collected with garlic and onions. They then would eat the hard-earned “pagpag” as a group.
“Mahirap lang kami (We are just poor),” said Papo when asked why they eat “pagpag.” He said he and his friends eat “pagpag” at least three times a week. There were times when they eat “pagpag” every night.
Papo said there are 10 of them in their circle of friends who eat “pagpag.” They cook “adobo” and share a meal “boodle fight” style.
Papo, 15, is the youngest among six siblings. Their mother is a vendor of “chicharon” (crispy pork rind). His father died when he was young. A brother died of drowning while a sister died due to an undetermined illness. They have different fathers. Their mother is now co-habiting with another man.
Papo and two of his siblings are staying in a two-bedroom shanty in Happyland along with their mother and stepfather. A 22-year-old sister stays in Isabela province with a family of her own.
They are among many in the Philippines who starve daily due to poverty. Their situation worsened during the pandemic when children, like Papo, are not allowed out in the streets.
Papo said that since the start of the pandemic he was only able to buy “pagpag” once.
A survey done in early 2021 revealed that 62.1% of households experienced having no food on their tables amid the global health crisis.
Hunger has also affected the children’s studies. Instead of attending classes, children prioritize their survival and their families.
Papo re-enrolled in the Alternative Learning System last school year after he found it difficult to cope with online classes in the regular school. Papo plans to enroll in Grade 7 in Tondo High School this coming school year.
He wanted to be a seafarer someday. His father was a seaman. Papo wanted to follow his father’s footsteps. He believes that doing so would help his family.
He is not staying away from friends who are considered bad influences so that he can do well in school and achieve his dreams.
He does everything to help his family, even if it means eating “pagpag” to save money. One day, when he becomes a seaman, he would bring a freshly cooked and clean Jollibee meal to his family, he said. Life is difficult, especially during the pandemic, but Papo has already set his goals and is determined to do everything to achieve it.