By Jonathan Miller
It’s approaching 5am on a Sunday morning before Christmas, and in the Santo Niño district of Pasay city, Metro Manila, Domingo Mañosca is already up and about. His heavily pregnant wife, Elizabeth, is still fast asleep. Sprawled beside her, in a tangle of little arms and legs, lie their three children: five-year-old Francis wedged up against their shanty’s plywood wall; their eldest, nine-year-old Juliebeth, small for her age, curled up round her 18-month-old sister, Erika, the baby who never stops smiling.
Their second-floor room is rough-hewn, windowless, pokey, nailed together in a patchwork of scavenged shards of planking and ply. All five sleep together on rattan mats, spread over a lino-covered wood platform; none has ever known creature comforts. Upstairs, Domingo’s brother, his wife, and their two children are crammed into another room just off the shared space where they all live and cook. His widowed mother, Maria, also sleeps there.
To make some kind of living, Domingo rents a sidecar, a bicycle-taxi designed for two passengers – but which usually carries more, whole families, sometimes, in addition to their bags and boxes stacked high. Often he doesn’t get back until late; sometimes he works through the night. The early mornings belong to him, though; Domingo slips out, descends three makeshift ladders into the darkness of the alleyway below, and wends his way to the stalls to buy a coffee. He has to be out on the bike by seven.