Malilong: A sad Christmas story

THIS is one of the saddest Christmas stories I have ever heard. And the characters are real, not fictional.

Paul Matthew Tanglao, 21, was a sales clerk in a grocery in Sta. Ana, Manila. His former employer is one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains.

His last day of work was on December 10, a Sunday. That was the day he got caught stealing a can of corned beef by a security guard. He spent the next ten days in jail, too poor to post bail for his temporary freedom.

The other day he was finally freed, although temporarily, after his mother paid his P2,000 bail. That’s almost seventy times more than the value (P31.50) of the corned beef that he took to quell the grumbling in his empty stomach.

Tanglao started feeling the hunger pang at 4 p.m. but chose to ignore it because he only had less than P20 in his pocket. One hour and forty five minutes later, the hunger became unbearable and this was when he committed his most stupid mistake: he went to the supermarket warehouse and took a can of corned beef.

An alert security guard, however, caught him and confiscated the item that he stole which he hid under his apron. He never got to taste any corned beef that day, only the stinking smell of a crowded dungeon.

The police tried to dissuade the supermarket representatives from suing him but they were adamant to teach him a lesson and show Tanglao’s co-employees that crime does not pay. Never mind that (according to the police), the cost of photocopying of documents to support the criminal complaint) are many times over the value of the corned beef.

The bishop of Caloocan also tried to intercede for the grocery clerk, offering to pay even one hundred times the value of the stolen corned beef but was similarly rebuffed. Maybe, the good prelate should come with a better offer even if the supermarket did not suffer any material damage as the corned beef was recovered. Seventy seven times seven times might be sufficient to buy forgiveness, your Most Reverend Excellency, Tanglao said he knew that stealing was wrong but he was just really hungry. Now he feels, he said, “like I’ve been shamed and embarrassed before the world.” You can never hear that confession from the bigger and more experienced thieves.

Tanglao committed a crime and must pay for it. As they say, law may be harsh but it’s the law. I just wished that the same harsh law were applied to every thief, not just to a hungry man who was driven to crime because did not have enough money to buy lunch.

Alas, such is not the case and that is what makes the case of Paul Matthew Tanglao a really sad Christmas story.

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