Better future than begging

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Instead of Christmas carols that we hear in the advent of the Yule season – which starts very early in our country – a different song came to my mind after government authorities broke up a syndicated street begging in Metro Manila that use children and families from indigenous peoples (IPs). This we learned last week from Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Erwin Tulfo following the “rescue” of some 200 street beggars belonging to IP tribes.

Mainly based in Mindanao, they were part of 400 families reportedly shipped here to take advantage of the Christmas season charity of Metro Manilans. Boarded to ships and tickets allegedly paid under the names of “Pogi” and “Ganda,” Tulfo disclosed, they discovered the IP families became willing victims to this blatant “human trafficking” syndicates behind the street begging in Metro Manila.

But how lucrative could street begging possibly be?

From investigations they did, Tulfo found out each street beggar can raise much as P5,000 a day just relying mainly on the generosity and kindness of people giving them alms money. They get more during Christmas season when people are extra generous to share the blessings of the season of gift giving, including cash.

Unfortunately, the street beggars could barely enjoy their daily take. Worse, Tulfo learned from the “rescued” IP street beggars they were being housed in a barracks-style residence in Tondo, Manila. “They are charged P50 per day, to stay 12 hours a day. They stay there, two shifts of 100 (adults and children). They stay there to sleep on shifts, prison style,” Tulfo bewailed during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday.

Left to fend for themselves, many of these waifs brave the fast moving vehicles and unmindful of the dangers of street begging. In fact, Tulfo sounded us out with the idea of State adoption of the rescued streetchildren. As punishment for their neglect, he was toying the idea for the DSWD social workers to take them away from their parents who would only be given visitation rights.

Usually, we encounter street-begging children would sing Christmas carols to motorists during traffic stoplights. After learning this sad plight of IP children being used to do this syndicated street begging, the song that comes to mind is much sadder:

Bless the beasts and the children,

For in this world they have no voice,

They have no choice….

…Light their way

When the darkness surrounds them;

Give them love, let it shine all around them.

Bless the beasts and the children;

Give them shelter from a storm…

For baby boomers like me, these lines from the 1971 popular song of The Carpenters have been embedded to our memory lane. Like a prayer said over and over again, the song best describes the very sad realities that many children suffer in the hands of their elders. They are not just happening to children here in our country but sadly all around the world in many ways than one.

Born after World War II, “baby boomers” were named after the unprecedented post-war spike in birth rates, referred to as the “baby boom.” Like Tulfo, we were born in the fringes of the “baby boom” period. Levity aside, the “baby boom” in the Philippines did not start nor ended during that period.

In fact, the Philippines continues to be a “baby factory” in this part of the world. Demography statistics showed a rate of 2.49 births per woman in the Philippines as of 2020. In the latest census, the Philippine population is placed roughly at more than 111 million people as of 2021. However, population growth in the Philippines is projected to have slowed down to just 0.3 percent. According to the Population Commission (POPCOM), this growth rate was slowest in over 70 years as Filipinos delayed having children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But still, the Philippine population is projected to reach 113 to 155 million by this yearend.

This is not to argue for adoption of very contentious birth control measures. What the Philippine government has been espousing is to uphold the rights of Filipino couple to decide the size of their family. The State therefore does not intrude all the way to the couple’s bedroom. But the State actively promotes the policy of “responsible parenthood” through agencies of the government such as the DSWD.

The concept of “responsible parenthood,” as defined in the PopCom is the will and ability of parents to respond to the needs and aspirations of the family and children. It is a shared responsibility of the husband and the wife to determine and achieve the desired number, spacing, and timing of their children according to their own family life aspirations, taking into account psychological preparedness, health status, socio-cultural, and economic concerns.

This brings to mind the recent legal opinion rendered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) advising Tulfo against sending letters to “negligent fathers” to prod them to provide financial support to their children whom they abandoned. In a legal opinion sought out by Tulfo, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla informed the DSWD Secretary there are existing agencies of the government such as the Public Attorney’s Office that can perform this legal function to go after “negligent fathers.”

“In the alternative, the DSWD may assist these minors who are not receiving financial support from their respective fathers in seeking legal service so they can properly obtain the financial support which they are entitled to receive under the law,” Remulla suggested. While “the intention is noble,” the Justice Secretary reminded Tulfo that the latter must act within the confines of the DSWD’s 2022 Citizen’s Charter.

The Justice Secretary, however, is not dissuading the DSWD Secretary from sending out notices to “negligent fathers.” Provided, Remulla advised, the language of the letter does not “create the impression to the recipient that the DSWD is lawyering on behalf of the minors.”

Placing these neglected and abandoned children as wards of the State under the care of the DSWD would at least secure them better future as the hopes of our motherland.


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