‘Tough guys’ in Payatas find hope in education

(This is an article I wrote for my advance writing class).

JEROME Espinosa, 20, is a tough kid who has lived in the slums in barangay Payatas B, Group 13, simply known as Payatas Trece or 13, in Quezon City.

The president of a youth group called “Siga,” (a Filipino term for “tough guy”), Espinosa is now leading an effort in his own barangay to encourage poor young people to become educated.

Sitting inside of what used to be a “bodega” or warehouse, Espinosa starts by telling how his group Siga, an acronym for “Serving in God’s Army,” literally built a youth center in October 2005 with the help of volunteer students from the Ateneo de Manila University.

Siga in Payatas Trece is an organization composed of kids ages 13 to 21. Currently, it has 70 members.

The Siga Youth Center is small but it is now the center of youth activity within Payatas Trece.

The Youth Center contains three computers (one is not working, however), books, magazines, an electric and acoustic guitar, and a wooden box percussion instrument called “Kahon.” The center also
displayed numerous medals and awards won by Espinosa’s members in sporting competitions and contests held in neighboring barangays.

According to Espinosa, his group has developed programs to help them develop skills and talents during workshops held every month.

“Most kids my age have stopped going to school. So they ended up hanging out in the streets, getting drunk, and gambling,” Espinosa explains, as he admitted that tough kids like him are often lured into criminality because they have nothing else to do.

Now a third year College student in the Philippine Maritime Institute, Espinosa dreams of working abroad as a seaman.


Espinosa lives in a poor community in Payatas where most people dwelled in makeshift houses usually made out of wood and scrap metal. In 2000, scores of families living in Payatas died under a rubble of garbage, which was sadly the source of daily living.

In 2001, a private sector-led program, dubbed Gawad Kalinga (Bestowing Care) came to Espinosa’s community. Volunteers from various sectors, including students of Ateneo de Manila University, started transforming Espinosa’s community, building concrete homes to replace makeshift houses.

Since 2001, close to 200 houses were built for 400 families. An elementary school, a health center, and a youth center were subsequently established within the community.

Payatas had been known as the garbage dumping site of Metro Manila. Thousands of poor people lived within the area. Scavengers and trash pickers built homes near a towering pile of garbage. Today, government has banned people from living within the dumping site following the
tragedy in 2000.

Hope in education

Jennifer Salundaguit, 15, says she visits the Siga Youth Center every day. Most of the time, she goes here to do her assignments. She is currently studying in the nearby Payatas High School. The young and petite girl wants to be a nurse someday. Her cousin Jennifer Tadeo, 17, is also a frequent visitor of the center.

Espinosa admits that the Siga Youth Center is now a place where kids hang out.

“Most want to find a place to spend time and do something. This place has somehow put most of the young kids here out of harms way,” he adds in the vernacular.

Peer pressure is forcing young poor kids to engage in harmful vices such as taking drugs and binging on alcohol. But since the establishment of the center, Espinosa says kids have become more
interested in sports, talent shows, and workshops his group organizes every month. Monthly workshops focus on different themes including education, productivity, “creatives,” and health.

Because of Siga Youth Center’s success in Payatas Trece, Espinosa says they have served as model to other poor communities that have become beneficiaries of Gawad Kalinga.

Espinosa is now proposing to bring more computers and Internet in the Youth Center. Currently, the computers in the youth center are used for typing and printing documents for students.

“With the Youth Center, we now have a place to study, to hang out, and interact with each other. We’re no longer wasting our time in the streets. I was once a tough guy who had vices. However, right now, I hope that our organization can help reduce the number of out-of-school youths in poor communities,” he says.

Published by

Erwin Oliva

Putting a dent on the universe one day at a time