Lucero, Natividad

A Reflection on the Informal Sector

Living Along the Train Tracks of Paco, Manila

 by Sr. M. Natividad M. Lucero


The Informal Sector came about as a result of globalization, the process through which finance, investment, production and marketing are dominated by firms whose actions are not confined by national borders or national interests

The Informal Sector are made up of people who are not able to get jobs in the Formal Sector like banks, the school system or Transnational Corporations because of their low level of education and lack of skills.

Such people then work in the Informal Sector as vendors, peddlers, domestic laborers or small sari-sari store owners.  In the Informal Sector, they pay neither fees nor taxes.  Entry and exit in the Sector is free.

The government gives neither help nor social benefits to these people.  Yet people in the Informal Sector help the economy as well as themselves.  Their small businesses help them feed their families and send their children to the public goods.

Despite very long hours of work and difficult working conditions, the Informal Sector provides the poor opportunities to survive.

More than on hundred families squat crowded in shanties along the train tracks of Paco, Manila.  Some seventy percent (70%) of them according to the Barangay Chairperson came from Bicol Region.

The Bicol Region is a farming area.  Most families are small landowners.  Rice fields are destroyed by many strong typhoons even before the grains can be harvested.  So the people remain poor.  These people flock to Manila hoping to find better employment but they cannot get jobs because they lack the education and the skills needed in the Formal Sector.

Jobless, they seek acquaintances from Bicol with whom they can live with temporarily.  Many find fellow Bicolanos living along the train tracks of Paco.  And many of them settle there.

From there they enter the Informal Sector.  As a start the young women find employment as domestic helpers and laundry women.  Some men work as drivers, helpers in machine shops or construction workers.  There are some families who operate very small sari-sari stores in their shanties while others sell small portions of cooked food.

Their jobs and small businesses have kept their families alive and are sending their children to high school.

While the government gives them no help but they get their votes during election time, a non-government organization makes them aware of their rights.

Thus, some women living along the train tracks of Paco have organized themselves and in coordination with the NGO, went on several occasions to lobby for some of their rights and to protect them against some pending bills in Congress and in the Senate.

Every Sunday, some seventy of the men and women from this sector listen to different speakers provided by the NGO, and participate in educational discussions on topics affecting their lives – marriage, workshop, livelihood and the education of their children.

Reflecting on these people in the Informal Sector, I found them resilient, creative and persistent.  Their need to survive drives them to such.  They simply have to make do with what they have and make the best of the situation they are in.

Yet they still dream of better things to go through their children.  So they give their utmost to send their children to get as high an education as they can attain.

Despite their lack of education, they are receptive to learning, eager to undergo skills training, actively participate in group discussions and understand the political actions they are involved in.

They may be poor but they gladly contribute their “widow’s mite” to their church and give themselves time to pray.

Their life may be full of difficulties and deprivations but they know how to celebrate their fiestas – simple but joyfully festive nonetheless.

These people in the Informal Sector are poor, but are striving to better themselves.  The odds are stacked against them, but they are surviving through it all. The Formal Sector wants to stop them, but they are fighting – it is their lives that are at stake.

The Informal Sector is here to stay for as long as globalization continues to spawn them and for as long as the poor are determined to survive.