WE CANNOT walk on major cities in the Philippines without noticing them, and if you are too busy not to notice them, they will make their presence known no matter what with universally known motions.
Hands outstretched and they are asking for money. Thumbs pressed against their middle and ring fingers with matching lifting their hands to their mouth and they are asking for food.
They are usually on the highways and busy streets tapping car windows and passengers in a jeep. They also congregate on sidewalks, fast food outlets and outside malls to catch passing individuals. They reach their hands out with a tin can or a plastic cup to beg for coins from whoever passes by. Others beg for their own while others beg for the syndicate.
Oftentimes it is a woman with a baby held on her hands, children with their infant sibling, with an old folk, a handicapped or sick person that can break your heart if you allow to. They look pathetic that it is difficult to say “no”.
In encountering them every day, people somehow develop tactics to avoid them. First is not to look into their eyes. Second is to pretend that they aren’t there. And third is to establish a villain look that would turn them off.
Well, these scenarios are not shocking because Philippines is a developing country. And developing countries around the world share same problems such as unemployment, widespread poverty, poor healthcare and uncompetitive education program.
But the sad thing is that as days pass into week and weeks into months then years, their number is getting bigger and bigger. The children become teens; their faces harden after many years of malnutrition and exposure to cruel weather conditions, their faces are marked by violence for they mostly end up as criminals and drug addicts who are tired of poverty.
Compassion is no longer their friend. But still, their needs are rarely acknowledged by the government and the society. And when they are, it is for disgust, judgment and strong arm of law.
But who are really to blame to these unfortunate individuals’ circumstances? Is it themselves, their family, the society or the government?
In the Philippines there is a law called Anti-Mendicancy or the Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1563 that was signed during Marcos administration on June 11, 1978.
The Law defined mendicant as "any person who has no visible and legal means of support, or lawful employment and who is physically able to work but neglects to apply himself to some lawful calling and instead uses begging as a means of living" (Section 3, Par. 3, PD 1563).
Section 2 of the law states that the purposes of its creation is to prevent the commission of mendicancy, exploitation of infants and children through mendicancy and provide habilitative services for those already exploited or in immediate danger of exploitation, and to promote the rehabilitation of minors found begging and mendicants by providing an integrated developmental package of preventive, habillitative, interceptive, remedial or rehabilitative services.
But where are these habilitative services now?
Why are there still so many people in the street who are asking for food and money to strangers? Why are there still people who don’t have decent home to secure them?
It just implicates that the government failed to do its part in uplifting the lives of these people.
It seems that the government was just passing a law that they do not care to implement. There is a law that could tone down the number of beggars but is not intensified.
It has been 35 years since the law has been passed and we still go through our days with the same street scenarios.
Beggars are victims of the stupid system of the government, of the corrupt so called “public servants” and passive society.
Beggars deserve respect. They are also humans. They need counsel. They have to be educated. They should not be treated and considered as inferior individuals. They should be treated equally.
According to a Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime."
The problem of the increasing number of beggars in the Philippines need long term solutions. Giving them money or food won’t solve the problem. They have to learn how to earn on their own, feed their family, and buy their other necessities through decent ways.
However, it is hard for them to do that because they don’t have the means. And that is the role of the government; to provide means for beggars.
Since the government always takes pride about the improving economy of the country, the masses should fairly feel the progress. Beggars should be educated that there are many ways to get out from their miserable lives through governments programs and laws that would best solve the problem.
But then, making programs and passing laws is not enough, it has to have implementation, sustainability, feed backing, and evaluation if it is still appropriate to use as time passes by. (Hanna Mae Salcedo)
* Sunday Essays are articles written by Ateneo de Davao University students for their advanced journalism class.