Tarsila Villarente in Rizal Park, her home since she was 10. (Photo by Cheryll D. Fiel)
Tarsila Villarente knows Rizal Park perhaps like no other people in Davao City. It has been her home for decades now. And shes not complaining. On beautiful, sunny days, she luxuriates in the shades, graciously offering cigarettes to customers. For her, it doesnt get any better than this. Davao Todays Cheryll D. Fiel takes a peek at Tarsilas life.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Tarsila Villarente as “Parsila.” We regret the error.

DAVAO CITY No other person in this city knows Rizal Park the way Tarsila Villarente does.

One afternoon, while waiting for rallyists to converge at the park in front of the City Hall, Tarsila is seen reclining on a bare cement floor, a sack full of clothes buttressing her head. No, she’s not a delusional park beggar luxuriating on a chaise lounge.

Beside her, a wooden box laden with cigarettes and candies sits for the passersby. She is open for business.

Nearby, a big sign says “Smoking Kills.” But Tarsila gives it no mind. She graciously offers her lighter to customers who come to her little store. Sure, smoking kills, she says. But she lives off it.

Tarsila survives by selling these stuff. And on afternoons like these, she says, she could hardly wait for rallyists to come. The more people gravitate toward the park, the better for her. On days like these, when hundreds of activists converge here, Tarsila could easily earn a little more 25 pesos more, on average.

Tarsila lives in the park. In the evening, she comes up the stage and lays down carton scraps on the cold concrete floor. The stage is a sanctuary for her weary limbs. Many of the citys homeless also find a home here.

When morning comes, she walks for a few meters, toward the end of Bolton Street, where she buys a pail of water for one peso, enough to freshen her up.

This part of the city is her kitchen. She buys puso (cooked rice wrapped in coconut fronds) and skewered barbecue in one of the stalls.

Tarsila is 74. She says she started doing this — living on the streets, spending nights at the park when she was 10. Another elderly woman sitting nearby asks her: “Why not live in a free shelter for the aged?” “What will I do there? Eat and sleep? Tarsila replies. I’d rather stay here. Im happy here.”

Tarsila says she has six children, all of them married — and living a hard life, too. Which is why, she says, she decided a long time ago not to be a burden to them.

These days, shes actually having a grand time, she says. Poor and tired and filthy, true, but her mind and her soul are bereft of the worries that usually bedevil the urban dweller.

On this day, Tarsila spends her afternoon in languor, unmindful of the jeepneys that rev up their engine through San Pedro, one of Davao’s busiest streets. The din, she says, has a way of sedating the place, even herself. (Cheryll D. Fiel/davaotoday.com)

comments powered by Disqus