Ulingan, the charcoal area of the former dumpsite, Sitio Damayan, used to be called Manila Heaven as a reference to the thick clouds of white smoke hanging over the area all day long. However it has no resemblance to the cloudy, bright place one might imagine heaven to look like. Most of all it resembles a burnt down village, still smouldering on the bank where the Pasig River meets the Manila Bay.
Since 1999 it has been the only place in Manila producing charcoal. After it’s harvested it is sold on the markets of Manila to be used for small stoves or in art classes.
In average an ‘ulingero’ makes 70 Pesos a day (1,70 $) compared to a worker making 400 Pesos a day (9 $) which is the mandated minimum wage.
The charcoal burners get extremely high daily doses of carbonmonoxides. Many of them also smoke. Because of the obvious health risks and the many people living around the area, they are only allowed to burn charcoal during the night. But it takes at least three days to make a decent batch of charcoal, the ‘ulingeros’ have to work through the day as well. This has resulted in several complaints from local inhabitants and made city hall consider closing down the area which would disrupt the lives of several hundred families.
Manila, Year 2012
All text and photographs © Martin Kurt Haglund