The warmth and wisdom of Nanay Mani

| Posted by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

At the side of the main entrance of UP Baguio, in a kiosk underneath one of the many pine trees that mark UP’s northernmost campus, is an institution perhaps as beloved among the members of the UP community as the Oblation itself: a peanut vendor famously known as Nanay Mani.

Nanay Mani, whose real name is Mrs. Lolita Lazaro, has been selling peanuts, biscuits, mangos and assorted fruits and snack foods to generations of UP students since 1968, when she was just in her mid-twenties. At that time, she and her husband, Juanito Lazaro, were newly married and had settled in Baguio City. He eventually found work in UP Baguio, and Nanay Mani, who has worked as a vendor since her childhood in Lingayen, Pangasinan, began selling peanuts and snack food in the schools and universities in Baguio City.

 

Nanay Mani chatting with a customer

 

“For decades now, and in all the schools here. There is no school that I haven’t gone into to sell my wares, even the Philippine Military Academy during graduation. I’ve been in all of them,” she recalls.

But out of all those schools, UP Baguio is the one she loves best and where she chose to stay. “UP is different, because here no matter what your station in life is—even if you are just a vendor—they treat you with respect. In UP, even the children of senators are my children. If they see me walking down the street, they give me rides in their cars, even today. It’s different here. In UP, even if I’m just a peanut vendor, the kids love me.”

For fifty years, she has showered love and concern upon generations of UP students, not just as a seller of salted peanuts, sliced mango and singkamas at the cost of P5 to P20, but also as counselor, mother-figure, message board, bag deposit counter, provider of food and shelter, and a reliable source of help to those in dire financial straits, even acting as guarantor for loans.

“Whatever it is they need—for instance, they don’t have enough allowance or money for rides—I would give it to them. When they return, they give it back. Or they would say, ‘Nay, I haven’t eaten lunch yet, my allowance hasn’t come. Please give me money to buy lunch.’ I would give it. When the money comes, it is done.”

 

Nanay Mani chatting with a customer

 

She has seen generations of students through their years of academic toiling, has watched them graduate and become successful alumni. Off the cuff, she mentions media personalities Angel Aquino and Joyce Bernal, and remembers UP Baguio Chancellor Raymundo Rovillos, former Chancellor Priscilla Supnet-Macansantos and Prof. Jessica Cariño from their teenage years. She recalls with a laugh, “Oh, they were good kids!”

From her kiosk where she stays from around 9 am to 6 pm, she has witnessed innumerable romantic relationships bloom on campus, and feels sad whenever a relationship ends. “I thought they would be together, then I find out that they’ve broken up. Of course I would be sad. ‘Manang, I get out of class at this hour. Have you seen him/her? Has he/she arrived?’ There were no cellphones back then, so I was their cellphone.”

Of course, the students confide their troubles to her, from their love lives to their academic lives. And when it comes to studies, she is quick to set them straight about their priorities. “Sometimes, there are students who can’t seem to finish college. I get angry. I get angry more often than their parents do. ‘What are you doing? How many more years will it take? Ten?’ I really scold them. ‘So, will you or will you not graduate?’ ‘Yes, Nay, we will.”

Fifty years of warm peanuts and even warmer affection and openhearted kindness have been reciprocated many times over. UP Baguio alumni here and abroad remember her fondly and shower her with gifts whenever they come home. She has been featured in TV programs such as ABS-CBN’s “Rated K,” thanks to alumni who want to give recognition to her. And in 2008, when the administration tried to enforce a rule that prohibited vending inside the campus, which would have kicked Nanay Mani out, the students themselves took action to protest the move.

 

Nanay Mani

 

“The students teased me once, saying, ‘Nay, what are you still doing here? They’re driving you out, but you’re still here?’ ‘Yes, but if they make me leave, I’ll leave,’ I told them. Then the next minute, there were these rallies and petition letters.” She adds with a smile, “The kids here love me.”

Nanay Mani, who has earned enough years for her to upgrade her title from “Manang” to “Nanay,” shares two of the most important life lessons she has learned: the importance of family, and the value of education. She and her husband have raised their children to become successful professionals, and they now have 27 grandchildren, one of whom is set to graduate from UP Manila. For her, family gives you a sense of purpose in life, and a reason to work hard and achieve your best.

“Of course, it’s important to be strong so you can make sure your family will lead good lives. That’s the number one priority for us: family. What good is your toiling and sacrificing if you don’t have family? For whom are you working hard and sacrificing? For whom are you living?”

And for her other children—the students of UP Baguio past, present and future—she counsels them to keep on learning, and to never take their privileged position as iskolar ng bayan for granted.

“I always tell the kids that while they have parents who support them, they must study for as long as they can. They are so lucky, I say. Because what else can their parents pass on to their children except education? It will never be lost. It will never be stolen. It is the gift of your mind.”