Ulingan, the charcoal making place, was formed in 1999 when Pier 18 (garbage transfer point of Manila City) started its operations. Some scavengers living nearby started to build their temporarly shelter (kubo) near the gutter or sea wall. Those early settlers were Ka Domeng, Ka Boy and Ka Vic and some other unknown scavengers. They thought of turning scrap woods and pieces of wood into charcoal. It is possible that some of the early scavengers had some previous knowledge of charcoal making from their home provinces.
They started low scale charcoal making and overtime they were joined by other scavengers imitating their business. At first charcoal making was not allowed; barangay tanots and the police tried to ban the charcoal activity, but apparently were not successful to ban the charcoal activities.

Approximately 400 families live in Ulingan made up of about 750 adults and 620 children. These families who are “informal settlers” live on land owned by the Government (National Housing Authorities – NHA). Usually the men are busy working in the charcoal factories or working at the nearby garbage dumpsite (transit point) picking garbage or going outside Ulingan to find wood. The women aid in the coal making process while children search for metal scraps like nails and screws.

Nobody told the people how big will be the shack of each family. They just built their shelter as big as they wanted or could afford. But when the Samahan Matiisin was established it began allocated spaces to the “mag-uuling” or charcoal makers. The NHA allows the families the use of the land until such time that it may reclaim it. They only permit required of the coal maker to become a member of the Samahan.
The long-standing “people’s” organization of the charcoal making community is led by leaders democratically elected by the community and represents the community before government agencies and the outside world – that is the time they started the land allocation to the “mag-uuling”or charcoal makers. Some people own their house while others rent a house for 500 to 1000 pesos.


The wood comes from garbage dumps, from demolished houses, and wood that is found in the city. Some charcoal makers go outside Ulingan to find wood but most of them rely on “mangangahoy” or wood scavengers from outside the community.
A car full of wood costs about 500-600 pesos depending on the quality of the wood. A truck full of wood can cost more than 10,000 pesos.
One can start a charcoal business with 3 to 5 sidecars of wood…but other materials are needed as well such as the iron sheets. It takes 3 days to burn the wood. The bigger the oven one uses the higher the profits.


The wood particulates in the smoke are too small to be filtered by the nose and the upper respiratory system and thereby they wind up deep in the lungs for months and years. Once deeply seated in the lungs, the particulates may cause damages and chemical changes to the body. It may lead to a decrease in lung function and severity of an existing lung disease. Likewise, wood smoke aggravates asthma, emphysema, pneumonia and bronchitis. It may also irritate the eyes and trigger allergies and headaches. Long time exposure to wood smoke on the other hand may lead to chronic bronchitis, arteriosclerosis and nasal, throat, lung, blood and lymph system cancers.
Everyone in Ulingan from the youngest resident up to the oldest– is at risk to these respiratory diseases. These pollutants surround the air of the residents in Ulingan day in and day out from 1999 up to present.
Project Pearls is organizing regular medical missions (quarterly) with doctors and nurses. Project Pearls allots part of its funds to help people pay for medicines in case they fall ill. Priority is given to children and elderly people. Other NGO’s are active in the area and have their health programs.


There are few public schools in the area which are free but few can afford to pay for the uniforms, the transport to school, and school supplies. Most of the kids have to work with their parents to increase the family’s income. Some kids go to school and work after school. There is lack of school buildings and thus the children go to school in morning and afternoon shifts. Kids who attend school in the afternoon will work with their parents and aid in the coal making process during the morning hours.
To allow kids proper education, NGOs like Project Pearls are looking for people who would sponsor a child to school. For more on project P.E.A.R.L.S please go to www.projectpearls.org and see description related to Project Pearls images.


There are recurring discussions about demolishing and relocating the people of Ulingan. Until now, it always ended in just talks. To date,the Government has tagged 150 families who live near the waterfront of Manila Bay for relocation, as this area is considered very dangerous during the typhoons.
These 150 families are expected to be relocated to Bocaue in Bulacan, an area in the middle of nowhere with no economic prospects. Many might come back to the city and thus a vicious cycle will be created.

I would like to thank Sidney Snoeck, Photojournalist who is dedicating much of his work and effort to Project P.E.A.R.L.S for helping me gather all the information. Without his help I would have not been able to share this information with you.









































One Response to “Philippines, Manila – Ulingan, The Charcoal Community” Subscribe

  1. Helmut Schadt March 1, 2015 at 8:52 pm #

    Very impressive report!!!
    Reminds me when I was at Smokey Mountain :(

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