In a country that boasts a population of over 101 million people, of which over 25% of the population lives below the poverty line (based upon a monthly per capita income of P10,534), it is not a big surprise to see beggars in the streets of nearly all cities and villages throughout the Philippines. Actually, it should be expected. While there is an existing national law that prohibits the public from giving alms to beggars, these outstretched hands continue to exist because there are still people who support their illegal activities.
I see it everyday here in Calbayog City. While I do see some people give foodstuffs to some beggars, others still give money to these mendicants. I sat at a local eatery one day and observed an older man (in his early 60’s) take everything that was given to him and, like a vacuum cleaner, he sucked up coins, paper notes, bakery goods, and leftovers from the eating establishment. I noticed that as he sat there looking decrepit, he would take the most recent deposit from his cup, leaving one or two pesos in the bottom, and secure rest in his “bulging” pocket. His pocket was not bulging from coins, but from a bankroll I seen him extract to wrap a recent P20 note that was given to him. My guess is that he could be making double the average daily wage, maybe more! I also seen a well-kept young woman approach him with a package full of baked goods, like bread rolls. When she handed it to him, he waited for her to walk away then immediately hid the entire package under his shirt and continued with his outstretched paper cup. I can remember giving this enterprising gentleman a few pesos in the past, but not any more! The more I observed this guy, the more I am convinced that he is healthy enough to be working an honest job – doing something.
I remember my wife telling me of a middle-aged Asian woman panhandler regularly located on the corner of our Wal-Mart parking lot back home in Mississippi. She was seen in the Subway sandwich shop one day ordering a sub sandwich and she tipped the cashier Two Dollars! I’m guessing there must be good money in the begging profession if you find the right corner to set upon!
Here in the Philippines, the Anti-Mendicancy Law or Presidential Decree No.1563, was issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in June 11, 1978. This law was designed to control and eventually eradicate widespread street begging in the Philippines. According to the provisions of the statute, minors under 15 years old caught begging are deemed neglected children and can be apprehended by the Department of Social Services. Those under 8 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. Adults are subject to heavy fines and can be imprisoned for up to four years. While I always knew it was wrong to give these people money, I assumed it was okay to give them food. WRONG! People found giving money or gifts to mendicants are also liable to be fined.
Since its implementation, the law has been controversial because for the most part, it was ineffective and not only addressed professional beggars, but also religious organizations, Christmas caroler’s, and the genuine poor who were unable to find work. Missionaries were also affected in that they were unable to request donations while preaching, even though these donations were passed on to the church and were not depended upon for their livelihoods. Villagers and poor provincial people moving to cities looking for work claimed that the statute criminalized poverty.
And since settling here, we recently became aware that in December 2014, the secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) upheld the statute and further forbade the public from offering donations to Christmas caroler’s under the terms of Presidential Order No. 1563. 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.
I’m still waiting for someone to knock on my door and include me in the education campaign… that we shouldn’t be handing money over to the needy. And while I am waiting, and since I have apparently been in violation of anti-mendicancy laws since my arrival, I wonder if it is possible to clear the slate and file for a government rebate for the last two Christmas caroling seasons? Just because we were not properly informed.
Next thing you know, the Philippines will pass an Anti-Mail-Order-Bride Law. Oh, wait… they already did that (RA 6955). Sorry guys!