Amidst the hustle and the bustle of passing vehicles and market-goers at the busy corner of Malvar and Valencia Streets by the old public market, there is an old man in his 80’s, with his hair neatly combed and styled as if he just went to his coiffeur, sitting on a white monoblock chair with a box of cigarettes and candies, who surely marks a familiarity among residents of Puerto Princesa City.
85-year-old Roberto Dicen or “Jun” to his loyal customers, takes his chair there every day to peddle his goods to keep up with the obligation of supporting his family.
Roberto began his trade as a cigarette vendor in the year 2000 after his wife died because he said he needed a daily routine to keep him away from sadness.
His children wanted him to stop and just stay at home, but he refused, explaining it is what sent them to school, it is his exercise, and it makes him still worthy as a person.
“Pinahinto na ito ng anak ko pero ayaw ko talaga huminto kasi ito ang nagbigay ng buhay sa akin, bakit memorable sa buhay ko? Dito sila natapos ng pag-aaral at saka ito rin ‘yong pinaka-exercise para sa akin,” he told Palawan News, Sunday afternoon at his usual spot in front of Jollibee along Valencia Street.
In 1975, he worked at the Sta. Clara Lumber Company in Zamboanga del Sur, he said.
He only stopped in 1976 to transfer to Quezon and then to Narra in southern Palawan because the war had already started in Mindanao and he was scared for the safety of his family.
In these towns, they survived life with him working as a fisherman.
Selling cigarettes and candies along Valencia Street is not far from his street job when he was younger as a “takatak boy” in Manila. He would jump into jeepneys and buses every few minutes to sell to travelers and passengers.
Roberto has nine children, but three had already died. All of them had finished their studies but they have children that still need his help.
“Tamang makatulong sa mga apo ko para makabigay din ako para walang sino-sino, para di rin ako makapabigat sa kanila. Sobra rin P500 ang kita, kung minsan, mauupo ako, maraming naaawa at bumibili,” he said.
Part of the income he gets goes to his grandchildren, the oldest of whom is 17-years old and the youngest is seven.
“May apo na pinaaaral ko kaya nagsisikap ako na ayaw ko matulad sa akin. Kami noong panahon namin, nagtakbo kang mayor, nanalo ka, magpulis ka, okay. Pero ngayon mahirap na, high-tech na, mag-apply nga lang sa grocery, kung wala kang pinag-aralan hindi ka matatanggap,” he stressed.
Roberto starts his day at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. in Valencia Street and then at 6 p.m. he leaves the place to transfer to a frequented bar at Junction 1 and will stay there until 4:30 a.m. before he goes home to Dagomboy just a walking distance away.
He said he does not want to ride multicabs or tricycles because he wants to exercise.
The savings he gets from selling is saved in a coin bank. He initially advised his grandchildren to take care of his savings if he passed away.
“Manalangin lang sa Panginoon, may barya-barya rin ako, inaalkansya ko. Sinasabihan ko sila, ito alkansya ko alagaan niyo, kapag wala na ako. Kinabukasan nila ang hangad ko kahit hindi man yumaman… hindi sana sila makatulad sa akin na hanggang makabasa lang. Noon malapit lang makakahuli ka ng isda para may makain, ngayon malayo na. Sira na ang kalikasan,” he lamented.
He said that he is not selling to minors because he sees them as his own children and grandchildren.
Instead, he asks them to go home and not waste their time staying outside even if they are complaining about their parents always quarreling at their homes.
Roberto admitted that working on the streets to earn a living is hard as it also opens him to danger. But the key to avoiding trouble is “humility”.
At his age, Roberto is proud that he is healthy with no major disease or ailment.
Unlike other senior citizens, he has a clear sense of hearing and sight and has a keen memory without any vitamins or maintenance medicine.
“Puro herbal kasi kami noong unang panahon, mga lolo’t lola namin, ginagamit puro herbal. Iinom ako ng isang baso ng tubig, after five minutes papawisan na ako,” he said.
He does not avoid any food as long as his stomach can digest them, he added.
As a devoted Christian, he believes that his strength and good health is a blessing from God that must be taken care of.
He narrated that at his age, his only wish is for him to still be able to help his family, especially his grandchildren.
“Ang mensahe ko lang sa mga kabataan ay makinig, minsan pinagsasabihan ka lang talaga… makinig sa matatanda, lalo na sa mga magulang nila. ‘Yong bisyo na hindi maganda, walang kabuluhan ‘yan. Magbasa ka ng Bible, kahit anong religion isa lang naman ang Bible, malalaman mo ang katotohanan,” he stressed.