Being a poor kid taught me empathy
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!
For updates on latest developments in the city of Manila, please visit my Facebook account — “Isko Moreno Domagoso.”