Mae Catibog was always in a hurry, until a woman in ragged clothes, sitting on a sidewalk in Buendia Avenue, sketching in full concentration, made her pause.
“I have actually been noticing her for a week now, it’s just that I am always in a hurry every morning that I couldn’t get a chance to stop and see for myself what she’s doing,” Mae said. “This afternoon though on my way home, I saw her and without second thoughts decided to stop. She really is incredible. I sat beside her and just looked on while she sketches.”
The woman’s art pieces did not disappoint Mae.
The artist, often seen on the sidewalks of Buendia, introduced herself to Mae as Jhalanie Matuan, aged 45, who sells her works for 50 pesos each. She claims to have kidney cancer and that she needs the money she earns from artwork for her treatment.
That day, two foreigners, Indonesians who happened to be passing by, bought some of Jhalanie’s paintings. Mae bought herself two of the artist’s works, too.
“One of my choices (An image of a nude woman on a dirty sidewalk), she said, won her an award in Macau. She also said that she has had many awards for her works. This, of course, I cannot verify but I told the same to my new-found Indonesian friends,” Mae said.
“I am glad I stopped by. I brought home with me two incredible works by this wise woman on the streets. Poignant and respectable. She doesn’t beg. She draws what she sees—both by the naked and the eyes within,” Mae added.
I was raped
Jhalanie is mute, but she still managed to tell many stories when Mae returned a few days after they first met.
She used to live in Jaro, Iloilo before her family moved to Manila.
They ended up in Navotas. Jhalanie ended up begging for money on streets to help her parents, who both had cancer.
It was in Navotas where, she claimed, she was raped.
Jhalanie said she tried to file a complaint against the rapist but it was she who ended up in jail for months for a reason she still does not know.
As a result of the incident, Jhalanie got pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl inside the prison. Her daughter, now seven years old, is under the care of a foundation in Pasay.
Jhalanie did not talk about her late father much but said her mother died just last March due to cancer.
Never finished school
She wrote—with regret showing on her face—about the life they left in the province and about a piece of land they owned back in Iloilo, and compared it to life in the metro which she calls “bagsik ng Maynila.”
As for her art, Jhalanie said she knew she already had the skills when she was young, even if she never finished school and never got formal art courses.
She claimed, though, that she won several community art contests when she was young and even won one contest held at the PICC way back in the 1990s.
She took a spot on Buendia Avenue (the sidewalk fronting a vacant lot where a Filinvest building will soon rise), started sketching again and began displaying her works.
Mae, who has been working in Makati for years, said she only noticed Jhalanie last month, but was immediately captivated by her art.
Some passersby, amazed by what she can do, bought art pieces from Jhalanie, while some gave her more art materials so she can make more beautiful art pieces.
She also got food and drinks from random Good Samaritans — things she said she shared with other vagrants she encounters.
Jhalanie kept coming back to same spot in Buendia because, she said, “a voice” tells her so, and she can feel God’s presence there, probably because of the kind-hearted people she encounters in the area.
In fact, while sharing her story, a man living in a condominium nearby gave her new books to help her with her craft.
Jhalanie also revealed that just the night before, an artist named Benedict Abigan gave her an artwork which she can sell, so she can continue her treatment.
However, that is not always the case, as she, again in tears, recalled times when authorities had to drive her away, accusing her of stealing.
Just the other night, Jhalanie said that a cop seized some of her artworks—pieces of art seen by Mae herself just a few days back.
Also, a woman she thought was just watching her draw, suddenly stole money from her.
Jhalanie has no home other than the streets, and no family other than the people who have come to know about her.
After drawing, she goes back to an area on Roxas Boulevard to sleep.
Memories of the ocean
Asked why she chose to rest on Roxas Boulevard, Jhalanie said Manila Bay reminds her of her hometown. They used to live near the sea in Iloilo.
She also said that the bay area, where she often lets out her problems and frustrations, has become her constant companion.
Whether the stories of Jhalanie are true or not, she obviously had a painful past that continues to creep into the present.
ABS-CBN News tried to contact a certain Dra. Cueto whom Jhalanie said is helping her at the Ospital ng Maynila, but the hospital said the name is not in the list of their doctors.
The amazing thing is how she—even with her illness and her place in the society—transforms all of those bad experienceS into something beautiful.
Jhalanie said she wants continue doing art, which, she said, helps heal her from her cancer. She also wishes to have a real home and, if it is not yet too late, to be able to finish schooling.