OpinionBury to kill

Bury to kill

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There are some things that just couldn’t be killed until they are buried.

I did not make a mistake there.

Take the case of mendicants in Dumaguete. For the longest time, these street scroungers have been like pests that the City just couldn’t get rid of. They seem to have multiplied exponentially just in the recent past, more specifically after the pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Could it be that, like the businesses, they are trying to make up for their “losses” during the pandemic?

But why in Dumaguete City, and not in their own hometowns? Could it be because it is a City of Gentle People, which goes without saying that the people are also more kind-hearted and, therefore, more charitable (tolerant)?

Or maybe the City government is not enforcing the anti-mendicancy law? This has resulted in Dumaguete becoming a free town for beggars!

Recently, the issue of mendicants in the City has again surfaced. The people of Dumaguete have expressed their concerns regarding beggars whose numbers have grown unchecked in the City, especially along the boulevard, like annoying and destructive weeds!

Complaints have reached City Hall once again, and City officials have responded, not so much the Executive though, but certain concerned members of the City Council, not all. Then again, aren’t they usually the only ones concerned about such issues? If you know your Councilors, you know those of them I’m talking about!

News articles refer to them as Badjaos, the Nomads of the Sea, sea gypsies, or whatever else they have been called. They are sea-dwellers from Mindanao who have traditionally made their living diving for fish and pearls.

However, over the years, and for whatever reasons, they have opted to transition to a life on land. Sadly though for us, this land-based life they have envisioned for themselves does not seem to include having to work to sustain themselves.

If truth be told, land-based life may have been harder for them if they had not discovered Dumaguete—a City where they can just beg for money, and not face serious enough consequences to deter them from doing so. And so they have flourished in the City of Gentle People!

The Badjao problem has become worse because, as it turns out, they do not have a monopoly on mendicancy. They are joined by local mendicants, like force multipliers to the Badjaos, who hail from places in Negros Oriental, including Dumaguete City.

I know firsthand there are many from the town of Mabinay, and the city of Bais, just to name two. Whole families of them take Ceres buses from their hometowns. When asked how they can afford the fare, they say they get on for free. Really?

I believe differently. I think that with nothing to stop them, begging in Dumaguete is pretty lucrative, enabling them to afford the fare home and back.

You also will notice that they are not really dressed in rags, and some even have cellphones (the rest may be hiding theirs). Can you reconcile that?

Knowing this, it is, therefore, not surprising that their numbers have grown.

There are many questions about why the City’s mendicant population has grown to such an alarming extent, and what the City government is doing about it.

My friends and I have logn asked those questions, and so have countless City residents. But we’ve always been confident that the City Social Welfare & Development Office harbors all the answers, all the solutions.

I thought it was worth paying that Office a visit, if only to know the programs they have to help dig these mendicants out of the rut they’re in, and stop relying on alms.

That was only two weeks ago when I went there to speak with the head of the CSWD. On my way to the CSWD, I stopped at the Special Enforcement Unit, and fortunately, the head of office was there, with about a dozen of his enforcers.

I did not waste time asking my questions: Do you patrol the boulevard for mendicants? And if you do, what do you do with the mendicants?

The answer I got wasn’t as satisfactory as I had hoped, but it would be understandable if that Office did things as they have historically done.

I was told that they do patrol the boulevard but in the way the head of office described it, only in the vicinity of Pantawan 2.

While there may be a few foreigners (tourists) at the Pantawan 2, they are mostly the ones who’ve been in the City for some time, and therefore, are not new to the sight of mendicants and beggars. They are hardly the ones we need to present good first impressions to.

The rest of the stretch of the boulevard, from Epifanio Surban St. all the way to Silliman Avenue, is where new tourist arrivals and domestic visitors flock to upon arriving in the City of Gentle People. That’s where some of the best restaurants are, and where the view is best. They are the ones we need to impress, lest they take away a vision of a beggar-infested City.

Unfortunately, the Social Work personnel are in the unpatrolled portion of the boulevard, according to the City Special Enforcement Unit, where these mendicants swarm. For those establishments whose security guards arrive late in the day, their al fresco customers can be assured of interrupted meals, and seeing outstretched hands begging for alms.

The SEU was quick to decry their inability to patrol the entire boulevard, and the lack of facilities to hold mendicants. That inability is exacerbated by the fact that they do not work at night.

If you ask me, this is an absolutely simple problem that is just waiting to be solved, if the City had the will.

This reminds me of another government unit, the Traffic Management Office, whose effectiveness, if there were any, stops at 5 pm.

After my visit to the SEU, everything I was told at the CSWD gave new meaning to the idiom “passing the buck.”From what I understood from the head of the CSWD, the responsibility of patrolling the boulevard, or in their term, “rounding up”, rests on the SEU simply because it is their mandate — to enforce the law.

I think that’s wrong because while the SEU may have more personnel to do the rounds, the problem with mendicants remains under the purview of the CSWD. I would understand better if the Social Work office were to spearhead all round-up operations, using the SEU as their enforcement arm. I think that’s how they were meant to operate all along.

Sadly, at the time of my visit, I learned that they will not be doing round-ups because they were “busy with work in their offices”. I thought that “work” for them naturally included round-ups.

On with the questions: Have you caught any of these mendicants? The answer was yes, they do catch some sometimes. Well, not the CSWD but the SEU people.

And what do you do with them? The mendicants are taken to a facility in Talay, hold them there, while the CSWD makes arrangements with particular shipping companies to give the Badjaos free passage back to their hometowns. When an arrangement is finalized, the Badjaos are escorted to the pier, and are actually seen off by the CSWD.

That’s fine, except that after a week or so, the Badjaos are back in Dumaguete again. How can they stay away when it is too lucrative to beg here in the City, and the only downside would be to be given free passage back home?

Whatever happened to the mandate of the CSWD to design and develop programs that would give these people a livelihood that would elevate their sense of dignity and self-esteem, allow them to live?! Putting them on a boat for free is hardly it. The CSWD, with genuine initiative, should not be facing the same problem over and over again, taxing its resource to no end without viable results.

I suggested they should round these people up, put them on a bus, drive them to the remotest part of the Province, and leave them there. Do this to them two or three times, and they should develop a fear of begging in Dumaguete City. Drastic measures for stubborn problems!

Of course, with the way it is, the City government will never do that. But if it did — if it knew how to think outside the box — the City would have buried the problem before even killing it.

_____________________________

Author’s email: bjplug@gmail.com

 

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