Picture UP Diliman and, aside from the Oblation, what comes to mind is its greenery—the lagoon park and acacia lanes. Many memories, often pleasant, have been formed under the trees, on the grass, at the tete-a-tete benches, and on the asphalted avenue, often rained over by small leaves and fruits of the raintrees or by yellow narra blooms. One would picture Zorro, the masked and caped sentinel giving joggers high-fives. Or perhaps, the SBs standing guard on the well maintained grounds.
Invisible and unheard of to many is Seven Gie Acuzar, a frail-looking man better known by his colleagues in UP as “Bay” because of his Visayan accent. He has been keeping the area clean for a long time.
“I started working in UP in August 2004,” he says in Filipino. “I was just 21, a high school graduate, and single. My brother, who was agency-hired to work here, convinced me to apply here.”
Maintaining the UP grounds was a far cry from welding and handling cereals and nuts in factories in the Camanava area, where he had been a contractual worker. It was not difficult to move to UP despite similar contractual terms, as UP was nearer his place in Bgy. Pansol.
A worker for the Campus Maintenance Office, he has covered the side of the lagoon south of the creek, AS Parking, and the one-kilometer stretch of Roxas Avenue from the main administration building to Vinzons Hall, where the tree-canopied road is most often photographed.
Using tongs and a broom, and pushing a kartilya along, it takes him more than a day to pick up litter and sweep Roxas avenue clean. “You need to first pick up plastic, paper and other kinds of litter thrown by people. These are the first to be noticed by the joggers. Then you begin sweeping. There used to be trash receptacles around the Oval, which I was also tasked to empty. You do these the whole day for one kilometer, moving from Administration to Vinzons, and then back. You won’t finish on the same day,” he continues.
At the lagoon, where he was assigned for more than 10 years, routine maintenance takes more than a week. “I was caretaker of the lagoon until I was assigned to only cover Roxas in 2015. My job covered the area bordered by the canal and Roces Avenue. Just picking up the puti [manmade garbage such as plastic and paper] took one day. The area required more than a week to clean.”
These areas Bay has been assigned to remain the cleanest on campus, attracting a regular crowd, including bird-watchers.
Asked about the beauty and significance of his workplace, he readily talks about wildlife. “Birds thrive here. They find food. Cranes, native doves, kingfishers, migratory birds coming here from October to March.”
He could relate to them. “They too find a living. If you deprive them of a home, they lose their right to live and flourish,” Bay says.
He is glad that UP affords wildlife a habitat. He is also happy about the trees reaching full growth, and once again, relates this to his life. “As the trees that abound in this place, we the workers too should grow and flourish. We should not be stunted, or dictated upon not to aspire to be higher.”
Relying on his wages from UP, Bay began his own family. He now has three children, the eldest of whom is a young boy of 11 years and the youngest just two years old. His wife stays at home taking care of them.
Bay’s greatest fear is not being able to provide for them, which is always a possibility given the insecurity of his contractual employment. His wage, barely above minimum, is just enough for their everyday needs. Without additional work-related benefits, he is not able to save money for his family’s future or to address emergencies. For several years, he operated under the “no work, no pay” principle, which kept him working through red-letter days and typhoons, exposed to wind, rain, and falling branches.
“The worst typhoons for the workers happened around 2009 and 2010. They came one after the other in October and November. Many trees fell. In UP, it meant extra work. Our director decided on pooling all the workforce and assigned us all to first clean up the Areas. We had to work in houses hit by the falling trees. Drenched by the rain, we worked non-stop, and were cold and hungry,” Bay says.
He does not readily recall witnessing any crime in the area. “I haven’t witnessed anything fearful.” But there were people who tested his patience. “At AS Parking, I would be sweeping the grounds and cars would be parked right where I was doing my job, like I’m invisible.”
Despite the downsides, Bay has remained loyal to UP. He repeats his gratefulness for working near home. He can just walk or ride his bike between his home and UP. He can forage vegetables growing wildly among the greens and bring them home. He can eat his lunch at home.
Bay has grown familiar with the UP people and could tell one from an outsider by how they handle their garbage.
“I notice that those who litter are outsiders,” he says. More often, there is more garbage found at the Sunken Garden and the lagoon, UP Diliman’s “tourist spots.”
UP constituents themselves are a family. Bay feels that they should be and look out for one another. “As workers of UP, we treat it as a parent, and we are its children, with different roles. UP would not be complete without us performing our role in ground maintenance. It would be a dump. We hope it realizes our worth, having worked here for very long,” Bay says.
Late last year, he went through a sad state in his UP family life. He had the chance to apply for a regular item of Administrative Aide to be assigned to the same position of ground maintenance, at Salary Grade 3. Bay was confident, given his 12 years of UP work experience, seminars and training, Outstanding performance ratings for consecutive contractual terms, and having taken a short TESDA course in 2013 on automotive and small engine servicing. All papers had long been prepared, kept orderly and neat in a clear-book of credentials for such opportunities in the administration.
“My mind was set on security of tenure, and the benefits that would cover my wife and children,” he recalls. It was the answer to every contractual’s prayer.
Bay cried when he was informed later that another man had beaten him to the item. He hopes the decision can be explained to him more clearly, echoing the plight of many others in his situation. (UP President Danilo L. Concepcion has pledged to address the problem of contractuals during his term.)
In recent years, Bay has involved himself with other contractual workers in the University for an alliance with UP’s workers and academic union in the work of collective action for the growth of UP personnel. He hopes to understand UP better. All throughout his life in UP, he has remained hopeful, looking at the day UP makes good at being one family, as it has been to him.