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A haven for the underprivileged, a sanctuary for shady characters and criminals, a depress area – unfortunate as it may sound but as a Filipino, these are the thoughts that come to mind whenever I hear the name BASECO Compound.  So when Smokey Tours opened an opportunity for a group to have a first hand experience and witness life inside the compound, I said yes in a heartbeat.  

ABOUT BASECO

BASECO compound stands for Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Corporation.  The compound stand on one of the coasts of Manila Bay and has started as a small piece of solid ground that has expanded over time due to the garbage being dumped into the area.  The 56-hectare community is divided into smaller clusters that cradles more than a hundred thousand residents to date.  BASECO is also one of the properties sequestered from the Marcos family. 

OUR JOURNEY INSIDE BASECO

Ms. Joy was a former resident of Baseco Compound who now works with Smokey Tours and was our tour leader that day.  After a short briefing on the history of Slum Tours and basic safety precaution reminders, the group hailed a tricycle that took us to Baseco which was approximately 20 minutes away from our meeting point.

In a series of blocks lined with makeshift houses that are mostly made up with scrap wood, a small pathway perched on a concrete wall was our entrance to the compound.  What welcomed us was a view of a busy shipping dock in Manila Bay.  We were reminded once again to not veer away from the group and stay close at all times.  We were also not allowed to take photos of children or the residents without their consent.  The tour was something that they were aware of, but then again, it is also their home and they deserve privacy and respect as much as anybody did.

The walking tour took us further inside BASECO Compound through a narrow alley overlooking Manila Bay.  The area looked like a small flee market which had a line of food stalls that were selling cook and raw food.  The residents were generally welcoming and greeted us with a smile on their faces.  Some residents who were passing by noticed the group but chose not to interact with us in any way.  Our presence seemed ordinary and it looked like they were already used to seeing groups like this inside the area.

BASECO Compound had everything that a normal Filipino community needed.  A small concrete Catholic church, a common basketball court and recreation area, and a flee market.  But as we went deeper inside the community, we learned more about the challenges they go through like getting basic necessities including proper electricity connection and a potable source of water.

Water is scarce in this area.  Not everyone had the privilege to enjoy water that’s readily available.  Most of the people here need to buy water by the gallons.  The residents who have enough money to get a legal connection to a water supply basically becomes a supplier and would re-sell it to other residents who would need collect water from a hose and store it in plastic containers.  Each 5 gallon containers costs P6.00.

Majority of the residents, mostly housewives, earn a living from peeling garlic.  These are outsourced from business owners who pay individuals to peel garlic heads.  They earn P75.00 for every sack which approximately contains 15 kilos of garlic.  Men on the other hand are working mostly as construction workers on nearby buildings or as baggage carrier or porter in the nearby shipping dock.

BASECO IS A CHOICE

From the conversation we had with some residents, Baseco Compound was a practical choice for them.  It was a safer option compared to living on the streets of Manila.  Those who cannot afford to rent a home or a room have a possibility of finding one inside the compound with a cheaper price or sometimes, even for free.  

BASECO is a choice and as depressing as it may sound, it’s not that bad at all.  This is evident especially for some of the residents who are working with private groups such as Smokey Tours.    Some residents share their time and even their homes to support worthy community projects like having a public library for children.  

SMOKEY TOURS

Smokey Tours is a unique kind of tour that offers a special experience that shows the other side of Manila.  100% of its profit are invested in the Aplaya Community of BASECO Compound.  Its main objective is to inspire, educate and empower individuals from communities like BASECO.

The idea to provide a special tour like the Slum Tour was born in 2011.  It started as a Smokey Mountain Tour which eventually developed into other type of tours.  It currently offers 5 different tours namely the (1) Bicycle Tour (2) Slum Tour (3) Cemetery Tour (4) Market Tour (5) Family Tour.

Smokey Tours also works with Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) in developing sustainable livelihood projects for the residents of BASECO Compound.  During our visit, we witness how they create products such as bags, accessories, and slippers from raw materials like water lilies and garlic skin.  These come from the sacks of garlic peeled by majority of the residents in BASECO.  So nothing goes to waste because these are recycled into new products that they can sell.

For complete information about Smokey Tours, please visit their website at http://www.smokeytours.com

THOUGHTS AND REALISATION AFTER THE TOUR

BASECO is a slum and life in this community is not a walk in the park.  But it is also a striking demonstration of how resilient we Filipinos are.  That despite the circumstances, we  face it with a smile on our faces and that no matter how difficult things get, we don’t easily give up.  We always try and do our best.

To say that I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for whatever I have would be an understatement after the slum tour experience.  The tour gave me a whole new perspective especially on the individuals living inside communities like BASECO.  Life is not fair and sometimes, we are forced to deal with unfavorable circumstances that are beyond our control leaving us without a choice but to live the kind of life we are dealt with.  Because sometimes, it’s not a matter of liking it or not, it’s simply a matter of survival, because we have no choice but to live.

But regardless of the kind of life they have, these people are still individuals.  They are fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, and friends to someone.  They are human who deserve to keep their dignity regardless of what they have.  They deserve respect.  They deserve a chance. 

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Armela is a food and travel blogger from the Philippines. She has produced content for different local and overseas brands. Armela is also a self-taught photographer. She is an optimist by heart who loves to travel to discover new places, different cuisines and meet new people. She is a Digital Marketing Strategist and a Creative Designer by profession.

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