Manila Bulletin

Be­ing a poor kid taught me em­pa­thy

- MAYOR ISKO MORENO Poverty · Homelessness · Society · Social Issues · Crime · Manila · Ramon Magsaysay · Nigeria · Saudi Arabia · Facebook · Isko Moreno · Arrests

In a re­cent in­ter­view, I was asked by a re­porter if I am amenable to the idea of plac­ing beg­gars un­der ar­rest. These are the home­less peo­ple who end up in the streets beg­ging for alms due to lack of in­come.

Flatly, I re­jected the idea. It is just not my cup of tea. Hav­ing been in that rock-bot­tom sit­u­a­tion be­fore, I can­not say that be­ing poor is a sin or a fault in any way. It is the kind of sit­u­a­tion in which no one would ever, ever want to be.

I do not ques­tion the wis­dom of na­tional au­thor­i­ties who broached the idea of hav­ing the beg­gars ar­rested, for fear that they may be spread­ing COVID-19, since they do not ob­serve any safety pro­to­cols par­tic­u­larly wear­ing of face masks.

Maybe those from the na­tional gov­ern­ment have a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive about this is­sue but to me, send­ing the home­less peo­ple to jail is an­other thing, not only be­cause I was also home­less at one point in my life but, as I’ve said, it just isn’t my cup of tea.

I would rather get these home­less peo­ple off the streets and care for them in our very own fa­cil­i­ties des­ig­nated for the pur­pose.

In fact, for al­most eight months now, we in the city gov­ern­ment of Manila, through our so­cial wel­fare depart­ment headed by Re Fu­goso, have been tak­ing care of hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of home­less peo­ple who had ended up liv­ing in the streets and beg­ging for alms, due to the pan­demic.

Since the quar­an­tine and lock­downs be­gan in March, we gath­ered these home­less, un­wanted in­di­vid­u­als and have been tak­ing care of them since. We have three fa­cil­i­tites for them.

Modesty aside, we do not only feed these street­d­wellers three square meals a day. We also pro­vide them with clothes, toi­letries, var­i­ous forms of en­ter­tain­ment — like reg­u­lar movie show­ing and zumba ses­sions — and even ex­tras, since most do­na­tions of clothes and food that land in our of­fice from time to time are au­to­mat­i­cally sent to them.

We also en­sure their health and safety, by mak­ing them un­dergo reg­u­lar med­i­cal tests. Our med­i­cal teams go to them and con­duct the check­ing.

While their life in our city-run fa­cil­i­ties may not be lux­u­ri­ous, it is com­fort­able enough and def­i­nitely, a lot bet­ter than liv­ing in the streets.

In fact, I sus­pect that a lot of home­less troop to Manila prob­a­bly upon learn­ing that the city pro­vides the ba­sic needs of those gath­ered.

Those who would want to go back to their na­tive home­towns are be­ing as­sisted by so­cial wel­fare chief Re Fu­goso her­self, as in fact, 200 such fam­i­lies have al­ready been sent to their re­spec­tive prov­inces about a week ago.

Back to the is­sue and let me be clear. There is no ques­tion that we in the city gov­ern­ment are all for in­still­ing dis­ci­pline among ev­ery­one in the city, in­clud­ing the home­less. No ex­cep­tion.

How­ever, I firmly be­lieve that when you are at the helm of gov­er­nance, you have to strike a bal­ance be­tween dis­ci­pline and cer­tainty in place on one hand, and com­pas­sion and hu­man­ity on the other.

Ad­dresss­ing the poor is never easy.

Ac­tions need to be taken but there is a need to learn to stretch your pa­tience to the max­i­mum.

I re­mem­ber clearly what for­mer Pres­i­dent Ra­mon Magsaysay once said: “Those who have less in life should have more in law.”

This creed of one of the great­est pres­i­dents who ever lived is what en­deared him to the masses and has been my guid­ing rule since I en­tered pol­i­tics.

Sim­ply put, this means that the or­di­nary cit­i­zens or those in the lower rungs of so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially the poor, should get the nec­es­sary at­ten­tion from gov­ern­ment which they need more than those who are well off.

Maybe hav­ing grown up know­ing pre­cisely what poverty means and ac­tu­ally feels like, also in­stilled in me the value of em­pa­thy.

***

Gaya ng paulit-ulit kong sinasabi, kailan­gan ko ang tu­long niny­ong la­hat. Walang mag­ma­malasakit sa Maynila kundi tayo ding mga Batang Maynila. Manila, God first!

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For up­dates on lat­est de­vel­op­ments in the city of Manila, please visit my Face­book ac­count — “Isko Moreno Do­magoso.”

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