Tour guide sets up fund drive for horses of iconic Intramuros 'kalesas'

As the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to disrupt businesses around the world, a tourist guide initiated a fund drive for some of the most affected tourist workers amid the crisis: the 'kutseros' (coachmen) of Intramuros, Manila. 

(Photo from Old Manila Walks)

Ivan Man Dy, founder of Old Walks Manila that gives walking tours around the city, recently launched a donation drive to buy food for the horses of around 20 kutseros.

In a Facebook post, Man Dy said the kutseros have not been able to operate since March 15 at the onset of the community quarantine, leaving them to scramble, not only to feed their families, but also their horses.

"With no income stream, the kutseros are having a difficult time to support themselves. Worse still, they're finding it harder to care for and simply feed their work horses," he said.

"We'd like to help the horses get through this pandemic alive and healthy," he added.

"By feeding the horses, we support a livelihood. By keeping the Kalesa, we save a part of Manila's cultural heritage.

The kalesa is a two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage that was used as a primary mode of transportation during the Spanish colonial period. It is now an icon of Philippine tourism.

The donations will be forwarded to the Intramuros Administration (IA) which will then buy the horse feeds, Man Dy told the Manila Bulletin in an interview.

The kutseros need at least P1,500 to feed each horse with soybeans, molasses, and pollard for a week, said Cyrill John Sunga, president of the Samahan ng mga Kutsero sa Intramuros (SAKSI) in an interview.

He also said they need up to P800 to maintain their horses' accessories, like their horseshoes that need to be changed every two weeks.

When asked why he set up the fundraiser despite himself being one of the tourist workers affected  by the pandemic, Man Dy's answer was simple: If he does not help them, they will lose their livelihoods. 

The long-time tourist guide said he is familiar with all the 20 kutseros in Intramuros because they frequently encountered each other while working. 

"They're in a worse position than me," he said. "'Pag tinulungan ko sila (mapakain) 'yung kabayo, at least, kahit papaano, gagaan 'yung gastusin nila... kahit isang buwan, makatulong ka man lang (If I help them feed the horses, at least, even for a bit, their expenses will lighten... even if it is just for a month, at least I could help)."

The SAKSI president thanked Man Dy for his help amid the crisis. 

"Maraming, maraming salamat dahil kahit papaano, hindi kami nakalimutan ni sir Ivan (We are very grateful because sir Ivan did not forget about us)," he said. 

He also appealed to the public to extend help to some 20 kutseros of Rizal Park who are not under the IA. 

"Naaawa rin ako (I pity them)," he said.

"Minsan inaabutan namin sila kahit hindi namin sila member (Sometimes, we give them a handout, even if they are not members of our group)." 

The kutseros' struggle

Sunga became a kutsero in 1998 after finding that he enjoyed taking care of horses.

He reminisced how he and his fellow kutseros were able to serve a lot of passengers from December 2019 to February 2020.

However, the amount of money they saved that time was all spent to keep them afloat during the five-month lockdown.

Some kutseros even resorted to selling their horses, their only source of livelihood, for as low as P12,000 just to keep food on the table—something that Man Dy described as a lose-lose situation. 

"Ultimo pisong naitatago, ilalabas mo, dahil talagang walang-wala (Even the final peso that you saved, you have to spend, because you really have nothing)," Sunga lamented.

"'Yung iba, wala na silang kabayo pagbalik ng turismo (The others do not have a horse to continue their livelihoods once tourism reopens)," he added. 

The SAKSI president said they received around P5,000 from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), but said this was not enough to feed their families and horses for the duration of the quarantine.

Visit the Old Manila Walks Facebook page to learn more about the fundraising drive.