Outside US Embassy, in Lady Dragon they trust | Inquirer News

Outside US Embassy, in Lady Dragon they trust

Since 2007, street vendors on Roxas Boulevard are earning extra as cell-phone custodians for visa applicants
/ 05:58 AM January 28, 2018

HONESTY THEIR BEST CURRENCY Linda Lopez (third from left) and her trusty partners wait for visa applicants who find themselves in an “emergency” outside the US Embassy on Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

Trust, it is said, is the foundation of all commerce.

For the past 11 years, a group of sidewalk vendors just outside the US Embassy on Roxas Boulevard in Manila has been earning extra — with only their word of honor as capital.


Their service caters to visa applicants who, at the last minute, realize that they are not allowed to bring mobile phones or any electronic device into the embassy and desperately need someone to whom they could entrust their gadgets.


It’s the usual predicament of those who go the embassy without a companion or personal vehicle where they can leave their stuff.

And it’s a “need” that Linda Lopez, a 52-year-old snack vendor, first discovered in 2007 and has since turned into an enterprise which now involves about 20 other peddlers.

Storage fees

They can usually be found waiting in monobloc chairs under a tree just about five meters from the embassy gate designated for visa applicants.

They charge different “storage fees” depending on the item deposited: As low as P20 each for USB (universal serial bus) flash drives, P100 for cell phones, P300 if the applicant decides to leave his or her bag as well.

The gadgets are kept in ziplock bags and placed inside their backpacks. There is no time limit and customers are simply given claim tags.


If the visa applicants came all they way from the provinces, looking tired and short of cash, they might even be given a discount.

The collected fees are divided among members of the group at the end of office hours.

On a good day, each can go home with at least P500, Lopez said in an interview with the Inquirer on Friday.

They issue a claim stub for every item entrusted to them for safekeeping.—PHOTOS BY AIE BALAGTAS SEE

‘Lakas ng loob’

“People continue to trust us because we’re honest and we value their trust. Since the day we started, we have never had any complaint about lost or missing items,” Lopez said with a measure of pride.

“My first investment here was guts (lakas ng loob),” she said.

The idea to offer such a service occurred on her in March 2007 when a group of seafarers who were scheduled for an interview at the embassy “panicked” after seeing the sign about its no-gadget rule.

“They couldn’t leave their phones with the guards because that’s also not allowed. Worried that they would miss their appointment, the seamen approached me for help. I was just there hanging out on Roxas Boulevard, you know, as an illegal vendor.”

Lopez, who is also known to friends as “Dragon,” agreed to keep the seamen’s gadgets—but for a fee.

Left with no other choice, they said yes.

Did it surprise the Lady Dragon that her first-ever customers immediately trusted a total stranger like her?

“No, it’s actually the other way around. They were the ones who were surprised because I returned all their gadgets. Everything’s intact. Walang labis, walang kulang.”

Proving doubters wrong

But Lopez said there were times when potential customers were hesitant or suspicious at first, thinking she and her group were running a con. “It’s still happening, but time and again we have been proving them wrong.”

“We are always asked: ‘What’s the assurance that you wouldn’t steal our things?’” Lopez added. “I’d ask them to take a good look at the embassy and Manila Bay. Then, I would remind them that I don’t need their money because that body of water is my fishing ground, and the embassy is my hacienda.”

“I also tell them that ‘I love my job more than I like your phone,’” she said. “Or that I may look greedy (mukhang pera), but I don’t need your gadget.”

Those witty comebacks often proved enough to win the doubter’s heart.

Before parting ways with a satisfied customer, Lopez said, she would say “thank you so much for letting us earn a decent living.”

Sharing the blessing

Instead of establishing a monopoly, Lopez told fellow vendors about the opportunity and allowed them to join her under the tree, “ensuring that all of us will somehow have a steady source of income.”

To pass the hours while waiting for customers to return, they get into a huddle for a Bible study every Wednesday, where the virtues of honesty and integrity are reinforced among the participants.

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“But do you know why people call me Linda the Dragon?” she asked. “Because when I’m angry, I don’t mince words. Because I love what we’re doing and will not let anyone mess with  it after all these years. Thieves are not welcome here.”


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