THEY’RE everywhere, loitering and sleeping under the EDSA flyover near Camp Crame, outside shopping malls, every business establishment and busy intersections. Like hungry zombies, they prey on motorists, pedestrians and the seemingly most delicious of them all – tourists.
Hundreds of these beggars, many of them minors and indigenous people, started swarming Metro Manila at the start of December. Although their presence is felt every Yuletide Season, their big number this month have alarmed authorities in the metropolis.
There are questions that need to be answered too: Are these poor people working for syndicates? Are they being financed by groups out to embarrass the government by showing how Filipinos are mired in poverty? Or are they simply the same group of mendicants who have made it a habit to go to the metropolis to beg during the Christmas and New Year season?
National Capital Region Police Office chief, Director Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar said during a four-day ‘rescue operation’ last week, his men rounded up 366 of these beggars around Metro Manila particularly Manila and Quezon City.
The beggars were composed of 155 adults and 211 minors. Out of the 366, 110 turned out to be Aeta tribesmen while 59 were Badjaos.
The Quezon City Police District headed by Chief Superintendent Joselito T. Esquivel Jr. have ‘apprehended’ 194 of the beggars since last December 11
The NCRPO uses the Anti-Mendicancy Law or Presidential Decree No. 1563 issued by the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos in going after the beggars who could face a minimum P500 fine and as much as P1,000 fine or 2-year in prison if they are proven to be ‘habitual offenders.’
The QCPD has rounded up beggars in Barangays Pinyahan, Kamuning, Sacred Heart and Central and South Triangle. As a standard procedure, they are turned over to government hospitals after profiling and counseling.
Eleazar, however, made it clear that the roundup of beggars and street children is not a crackdown on the poor since they are merely implementing PD 1563. The NCRPO chief said they also want to protect the beggars specially their young kids from the hazards of living in the streets and sleeping on cold pavements.
Police have also received numerous complaints about the presence of some beggars who destroy the side mirrors or scratch the paint of vehicles whose occupants don’t give them alms. There are also reports that some have been threatening drivers specifically women with harm.
Apart from that, the mendicants also contribute to the worsening traffic situation as they block the path of motor vehicles in order to force drivers to give them money.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development should supposedly be the premier government agency tasked to address the problem on mendicancy and at the same time help the beggars return to their hometowns. However, the perennial complaint is that as soon as the beggars are turned over to the DSWD by the police, it would only take them a day or two before they return to the streets they love most.