MANILA,  February 14, 2004 (STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores - ["Flowers often grow more beautifully on dung-hills than in gardens that look beautifully kept." – St Francis de Sales]

["To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wildflower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour"– William Blake ]

The real hope of the Philippine economy is not in political leaders or national elections, but in the flowering of thousands of small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs who work hard and continue to dream.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, over a hundred small flower entrepreneurs enjoy brisk business in the quiet, historic yet for decades neglected Sampaloc district of Manila, where the country’s famous and unique 24-hour tiangge for flowers is located – in the Dangwa-Dimasalang area.

While the telecom giants, five-star hotels, shopping malls, motels and restaurants woo lovers and romantics on Valentine’s Day to express love with greeting cards, love letters, text messages, chocolates and candlelit dinners, the Dangwa-Dimasalang area’s small flower entrepreneurs let their spirit of free enterprise bloom with pails, drums and boxes of roses, Gerbera daisies, tulips, bromeliads, Malaysian mums, anthuriums, gladiolas, statices, baby’s breath, asters, sampaguitas, ilang-ilang, casablancas, carnations, orchids and chrysanthemums at selling prices 50 to 100 percent cheaper than Metro Manila’s flower shops. These small entrepreneurs in their 24-hour open stalls believe in the power of flowers as the best expression of love and affection during this month of hearts.

The Dangwa-Dimasalang flower market has seemingly surpassed past flower markets like Quiapo and Baclaran in fame since the ‘80s and ‘90s. This area is surrounded mainly by middle-class neighborhoods with quaint and sometimes Rizaliana names, small stores and the classic architecture of Maceda Street’s Windsor Inn. Coincidentally, in a recent book by Benito Legarda titled The Hills of Sampaloc, the historian recounts that the rural enclave of Balic-Balic in Sampaloc – especially streets like Maceda – was the site of the first American artillery bombardment and ground assault of the Philippine-American War, which broke out in February 1899.

Today, the Dangwa-Dimasalang area – centered on Dos Castillas St. and extending to Laong-Laan St. – is the major wholesale and retail market for blooms of all kinds. Flowers of all varieties, colors and smells are delivered here every night from the flower-growing regions of the Philippines such as Benguet province, Tagaytay, Batangas, Laguna. There are also imports from Thailand and Holland, and even Ecuador. Due to its location, Windsor Inn in Maceda St. near Dangwa-Dimasalang is also probably the country’s only inn that sells beautiful fresh roses at lowest prices to customers, because employees can just run over to the 24-hour flower market for all kinds of fresh blooms! The owner plans to even give couples free rose stems on Valentine’s Day in support of his flower entrepreneur neighbors.

How Flower Decorators And Vendors Became Entrepreneurs

Yellow gold or Malaysian blooms grown in Cotabato sell for P120 pesos per dozen, according to veteran decorator Renato Santos, who claims that this market had its start in ‘76. Flower entrepreneur Edison Batina sells red roses for P100 pesos per dozen and anthuriums at P50 pesos per dozen, all freshly delivered from barangay Bahung in Benguet province.

Flower decorators turned small entrepreneurs, Gerry Agno and wife Maria sell red roses at P100 pesos per dozen, with assorted color roses such as red, pink, yellow, violet, pink and white selling for P150 pesos per dozen. They say that by Feb. 12, leading to Valentine’s Day, prices of flowers will rise, selling for P200 per dozen due to the huge demand.

Long-time Sampaloc resident Nora Moreto Capuloy’s family has been in the flower business for 20 years. She says that only five flower shops were older than their N’s Flower Shop when they started. Her grandfather owned a house along Dos Castillas Street but was not in business. Nora became an entrepreneur when the flower market grew due to the deliveries of fresh flowers from the Cordilleras by the nearby Dangwa bus station. She remembers that before flower entrepreneurs flourished in her area, there used to be a famous firm called Alip & Sons Book Publishing in the neighborhood.

Capuloy says that the years when Imelda Marcos was First Lady were "the golden years" of the Dangwa-Dimasalang market, because the traders supplied the big flower shops, which in turn delivered regularly to Malacañang Palace. Her advice to national leaders is that they should encourage and teach Filipino farmers to plant rice more, because she is saddened by the fact that we import so much of our rice and even sugar nowadays. Though she is in the flower business, she says, "Flowers are not a basic necessity like rice. I hope the government encourages better rice production in our rural farms."

Nene Agapita, VP of the Dangwa Flower Market Association, says she used to deliver asters to Baclaran Church in ‘80, asters which are used as fillers in bouquets. Today, she is a small entrepreneur with her own stall, and among her major clients are big flower shops like Esperanza, L. Carlos and Tecson. Her association has 70 flower entrepreneurs, but she adds that there are over 20 flower traders in the Dos Castillas St. and Don Quijote St. area who are not her members.

Agapita points to multi-colored Gerbera daisies which she sells for P180 pesos per dozen, but will rise to P300 pesos near Valentine’s Day. She says these flowers are sourced from growers in Tagaytay, Batangas and Cavite. She explains that the Dangwa-Dimasalang market’s 24-hour operations started in ‘94, when one hardworking flower arranger started it. Due to the brisk business all day and all night, the rest of the flower stalls soon decided to also operate for 24 hours, a testament to the hard work, grit and patience of the small entrepreneurs in this market.

The flower traders in Dangwa-Dimasalang market support numerous cutflower entrepreneurs and farmers in the economically neglected Cordilleras region. This flower-growing area is centered on Benguet province. Researcher Rosalie Bernardino of the University of Asia & the Pacific estimates that almost 1,600 hectares of lands are devoted to cutflower production in the country, most of which are produced in Benguet province. She says that in year 2000, 70 percent of roses produced in the Philippines came from Benguet. The Dangwa-Dimasalang place grew in popularity as a flower market due to the presence of Dangwa Tranco owned by a northern politician’s family and located at 1600 Dimasalang Street corner Dos Castillas Street, with buses from Benguet delivering fresh blooms and making the nearby areas as the bagsakan or dumping area.

The advent of modern and affordable technology – via the texting revolution – has helped entrepreneurs in both areas to communicate quickly, efficiently and at lower costs. Rose-grower and Alapang barangay councilor Vicente Segundo says that texting orders allow them to cut on losses, with Dangwa-Dimasalang traders telling them days ahead of expected high demand for flowers.

Via texting, Dangwa-Dimasalang traders advise flower growers in Benguet’s barangay Alapang and the rose-capital barangay Bahung of an expected surge in flower demand for Valentine’s Day, graduation, Mother’s Day or All Souls’ Day. The rose growers will then cut the flowers and store them in storage coolers big enough for 100 containers, each container with hundreds of roses. On the day of the expected high demand for blooms, large supplies of fresh cutflowers will then be delivered down to Manila’s Dangwa-Dimasalang bagsakan center for distribution.

Texting helps cut losses of flower growers. When Dangwa-Dimasalang traders communicate low demand or low prices for flowers, the planters just store already cut blooms in their coolers and wait for prices to rise a little. The entrepreneurial savvy of the Dangwa-Dimasalang traders has helped flower growers in the mountainous Cordillera region to discover this industry’s economic potentials, with former golden rice fields becoming cutflower greenhouses, nurseries and flower farms.

In other countries of Asia, such as Thailand, Singapore and China, their governments have actively supported and promoted the cutflower trade as major dollar-earning export industries. Up to this day, the Philippines continues to import a lot of cutflowers, despite the immense untapped potentials of our vast arable lands in the Cordilleras, Tagaytay, Mindanao and other regions.

What are the strategic long-term plans, policies and vision of the government, if any, regarding the Philippine flower industry, the farmers, the exporters and the local traders? Couldn’t the cutflower industry and agriculture be among the top priorities of government in strengthening Philippine economic competitiveness?

Behind every humble flower stall in Dangwa-Dimasalang are many inspiring stories of struggling small traders and independent entrepreneurs who were former flower decorators, arrangers, street vendors, office employees and even laid-off factory workers like 26-year-old Joan Sam-it and her business partner 23-year-old Nelly Ana-ao from Baguio City. These hardy small entrepreneurs who patiently work, creatively arrange and sell fresh blooms in the 24-hour Dangwa-Dimasalang flower market are the true hope of the Philippine economy, not the selfish politicians, with their false promises and their vicious wars.

Joan says that she has been in Dangwa-Dimasalang as small flower trader for three years, and that she was laid-off as a sewer in a garment factory in her native Baguio City. She used to have six-month labor contracts per factory job. Her business partner Nelly was also laid-off from a factory inside the Export Processing Zone in Baguio. They both decided to try their luck with the flower trade in Dangwa-Dimasalang where buses from their hometown regularly deliver fresh and beautiful cutflowers to Manila. Joan said that whatever crisis comes their way business can still be OK, as long as one perseveres with hard work, patience and faith.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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