Should you give to beggars? Cebu City’s Anti-Mendicancy Campaign

Rene U. Borromeo (The Freeman) - December 16, 2013 - 12:00am

 CEBU, Philippines - More and more motorists and commuters are getting annoyed of the presence of beggars in different areas in Cebu City.

While there is an existing national law and an ordinance that prohibits the public from giving alms to beggars, these mendicants continue to exist because there are still people who support their illegal activities.

 Presidential Decree 1563 was issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in June 11, 1978 to “control and eradicate mendicancy and providing penalties” against violators. This was, however, not strictly implemented by authorities.

The Anti-Mendicancy Law of 1978 applies to mendicants of all ages, including infants or children who are eight years old and below, found begging and the parents of exploited infants and children.

“Mendicancy breeds crime, creates traffic hazards, endangers health and exposes mendicants to indignities and degradation,” the law states.

The main purpose of creating the law is to stop mendicancy, prevent the exploitation of infants and children through mendicancy and to provide rehabilitative services for those already exploited or in immediate danger of exploitation.

The law defines mendicants as those persons who have no visible and legal means of support, or lawful employment and who are physically able to work but neglect to apply themselves to some lawful calling and instead use begging as a means of living.

An exploited infant or child also refers to an infant or child eight years and below who is used in begging or one who accompanies a habitual vagrant or beggar.

Beggars are all over Cebu City streets.

There is a man, a Badjao, who approaches motorists during a stop signal along Gorordo Avenue and plays his harmonica in exchange for loose change.

This writer once told the man to stop begging because he is healthy and can afford to work to earn a living. The man, however, said, “Walay trabaho, Badjao.”

A female Badjao, who begs along P. Burgos Street, just a stone throw from the Cebu City Hall, always carries with her a child when she approaches foreigners who visit the Magellan’s Cross. Because she does not know how to speak English, the woman would gesture that she needs money to buy food for her child.

“Nahibaw-an pa gani namo nga dunay ubang nagpakilimos nga moabang ra g’yud og mga bata aron ilang gamiton og nga malooy kanila ang mga tawo,” said SP02 Egmedio Felisan, head of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) police community relations section.

Despite doing something that is against the law, many beggars would do their thing in places near police stations without fear of being arrested.

When Presidential Decree 1563 was created 35 years ago, the government already knew that there is an immediate need to provide appropriate services to enable mendicants to meet their basic needs and develop self-reliance, but the government enforcers failed to implement it.

Isabelita “Betty” Ganub, executive director of the Cebu City Anti-Mendicancy Task Force, said “Dili g’yud ni mawala ang mga makililimos kun duna pa gihapo’y mga tawo nga manghatag og kwarta kanila diha sa karsada.”

Ganub said the task force has already noted that the number of street dwellers, which include candle vendors, beggars and other mendicants, has already reached 1,339 as of last week. She said this usually happens as the Christmas season is approaching.

“Daghan na kaayo kanila ang among gipang-rescue ug gikuha diha sa karsada, gitugyan namo sa mga opisyal sa barangay apan buhian ra man ‘sab lagi. Diha mi gipanghatud balik sa  probinsya nga ilang gigikanan apan mobalik ra gihapon,” she said.

 Jocelyn Pesquera, Mayor Michael Rama’s representative in the City Anti-Mendicancy Board, had already asked the police to assist them in controlling the mendicants all over the city.

 Section 4 of the Anti-Mendicancy Law provides that infants or children below eight years old who are found begging or being used by a mendicant for purposes of begging shall be “rescued” as a neglected child under the Child and Youth Welfare Code.

The law further provides that these children shall be brought immediately to the custody and care of the Department of Social Services and Development now called Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

 DSWD Information Officer Kerwin Macopia said the Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS) in Cebu City headed by Ester Concha has been alerted already by DSWD Regional Director Mercedita P. Jabagat about the increasing number of beggars and mendicants in the city.

Macopia said while the law provides that the apprehended or rescued beggars and mendicants shall be brought to DSWD, such work has been devolved already to the local government units.

“Kon dili na g’yud nila makaya, anha pa diha nga kami sa DSWD mo-come in ug motabang kanila,” Macopia said.

 But SP02 Felisan observed that the city does not have a center where the rescued mendicants and exploited children can be housed. There is a so-called Cebu City Community Scout Center and the Parian Drop-in Center where child beggars and mendicants are being cared for, but it cannot accommodate many persons.

In 2009, then Councilor Eugenio “Jingjing” Faelnar had proposed for the construction of a building to accommodate the rescued mendicants and beggars so that the city can fully implement the anti-mendicancy law, but this did not materialize.

 While the law penalizes the beggars and mendicants, it also imposes fines to anybody who give alms directly to the mendicants, exploited infants and minors on public roads, sidewalks, parks and in other public places.

 The DSWD has been tasked by the law to conduct an intensified information campaign to educate the public that they only contribute to lawful fund raising projects and prevent the community in giving alms, except if it will be done through organized and legitimate agencies.

 â€œMalooy bitaw unta ta sa mga beggars labi na ang mga bata pero kun hatagan nato sila sama ra man gud nga gidasig nato sila pagpadayon sa pagpakilimos,” said motorist Suzzette Canoy.

Mayor Rama gave ‘full authority’ to the Anti-Mendicancy Board to formulate policies that will strengthen the campaign against the mendicants and beggars in the city.

Because Christmas and Sinulog activities are fast approaching, the Anti-Mendicancy Task Force will round up the street dwellers, including beggars, and let them stay at night at the then Citi-Center Commercial Complex building in Barangay Kamagayan.

This writer tried to talk to one of the Badjao beggars at Plaza Sugbo near the Magellan’s Cross and asked her why she did not look for a good job, even as laundry woman where she can earn P300 a day.

“Wala modawat trabaho sa Badjao,” she quickly answered. A man who was listening to the interview reacted by saying, “Mga tapulan g’yud na sila. Gusto lang magsigi og pangayo’g kwarta.”

SP02 Felisan, who used to be a street child before he became a policeman in 1990, said, “Angay nato sila tudloan unsaon sa pagpangisda dili kay igo lang hatagan og isda aron nga aduna sila’y kanunay nga ikasuwa.”

Felisan was once a “pier boy,” who dived for coins dropped into the sea by passengers of interisland vessels.

“One time kaniadto gipangdakup mi nga mga bata nga libudsuroy ug gidala sa Kawit Island aron dili mi makasamok atul sa Sinulog pero kami nga mga batang pier makalangoy man sa dagat og dugay, kabalik gihapon mi dinhi sa syudad,” he said.

When he was apprehended and was cared for at the Community Scouts center, Felisan continued his studies and was given a placement test that allowed him to proceed to college without completing his secondary education.

Last September 9, Felisan and his family was awarded by the National Police Commission as the Most Outstanding Model PNP Family. Felisan, now 48, is a father of three children. His eldest son is also active in encouraging street children to be good.

His three children are Church choir members and are also catechists, while Felisan and his wife Myrna are also actively promoting women and children’s welfare issues.

DSWD’s Macopia explained that their counterparts in the local government units should strictly implement the provisions of the law because they can seek the help of the police to accomplish the task.

Macopia said those neglected and exploited children that will be rescued by the government shall be turned over to their respective parents, but the parents shall be subjected first to counseling for them to be reminded of their responsibilities to their children. –/QSB (FREEMAN)



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