Fictional characters are only seen in movies but do you ever think about what it would be like if these characters are walking in our streets? “Costume Play” or “Cosplay” is the act of dressing up to portray a character from fictional shows, stage plays or comics – or manga. This act is more known in the “geeky” sub-culture but has been slowly entering into mainstream media. It is a hit every Sunday along Session Road where cosplayers ply the 400 meter four lane road, Baguio’s most famous thoroughfare – sometime acting or even dancing.
“Ate, pa-picture po.”
A line from a stranger that turned the life around of 21-year-old nursing student Maricar Villanueva and opened doors of opportunity as she began venturing into cosplaying which unexpectedly became a means to earn. It was a usual Sunday for her as she flaunted her “spider woman” costume along the busy streets of Session Road when a crowd asked for photos. “Gustong gusto ko lang po talaga na mag-ikot ikot doon (Session Road), ang daming nagpa-picture, hindi ko po inexpect yon. Then, sabi po ng isang parent, saan iyong tip box mo? (I really love walking up and down there [Session Road] there are lot of people wanting to have photos [with me], I didn’t expect that. Then one parent asked where is my tip box)? ”
Maricar explained that she was there to try out cosplaying only, but the lady insisted and said, “dapat sa Sunday makita ka namin ulit with tip box (on Sunday we expect to see you with your own tip box).” That conversation was six months ago that propelled her on the cosplaying journey. Today, she is known as Darna, impersonating the famous Filipino superhero, wearing heavy makeup, a wig, and tight costume as she stands all day smiling as the camera flashes in exchange for cash. But behind all the smiles, the giggles and the poses she shares with the crowd lies a saddening truth that she’s currently experiencing.
When the pandemic struck, Maricar was one of the students forced to stop going to school due to insufficient resources. The girl from Bacnotan, La Union decided to move to Baguio City on her own and find a way to feed herself and her family. At 19, she was already financially independent from her parents. She first worked as a service crew, then a receptionist and this year, as a cosplayer saving up money to continue her studies and sustain her daily needs. After years of working, she met her current live-in partner, who provided shelter and supported financially her schooling – a first-year nursing student. Maricar also brought her younger siblings to Baguio and is sending them to school.
“Galing po sa cosplaying ‘yon, ako po nagsu-support sa kanila. Bale po sinu-supportahan ko lang din po ang parents ko kung may sobra o extra (It all came from cosplaying, I am the one supporting them [family]. I give support to my parents if I have spare [money].”
Her cosplaying on Sundays earn her a maximum of PhP5,000, standing all day under the sun from 10 am until 6 pm. She then budgets her money for the whole week – to pay for their daily needs, her siblings’ education, and provide for her parents. Maricar represents the working students who are going the extra mile to survive. Although the Department of Labor and Employment offers a Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES), the number of grantees is limited.The local government unit also provides a program called Baguio College Education Financial Assistance Grant (BCEFAG), which aims to support underprivileged students to which working students can apply.
Baguio Councilor Vladimir Diamsay Cayabas, committee chair on education, culture, creativity, and historical research said: “The DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and OCSWDO (City SWD Office) have a list of who are the members of the marginalized group in the community,” that helps in monitoring the welfare and verifying of the applicants. However, if she waits for any of these to materialize, then she will starve and also her family. Maricar is not just a mere cosplayer of Darna but a superhero to her family as she juggles work and studies – but also bears the heavy brunt of providing for them.