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Begging your pardon

IN one and a half sweeping movements, the President and Commander-in-Chief is taking on the drug lords, top brass and lesser cops, governors and mayors, oligarchs, villainous miners, diplomats and the UN. As Christmas surely and certainly approaches, will he also bother to do something about beggars and their babies?

I had just closed the door of the car when a big slob of a man knocked on the window and with one palm up demanded help. Charity? For someone twice my size and half my age and robust enough to be eking out a living? When I shook my head, he glared at me, then turned away, his dark shirt and shapeless form adding to the feeling of menace that I tried to shake off as a small rain wrapped the night in wet indigo folds. I wondered, how does Davao City handle mendicants?

An old law punishes almsgivers with a fine of P200, and not to be outdone, priests remind churchgoers that giving alms is not the right charity. In some parishes, feeding programs for street children and livelihood projects for mothers support families that would otherwise be recruited by the syndicates that live off the fat of beggars.

However, I have yet to hear of a similar program for able-bodied men like the one who accosted me that rainy night.

(It is a good idea to load cookies in your car for the children when they rush your car as soon as the traffic light goes red.)

When Josie Darang was still with us as a Malate walking landmark, it was her habit to drop coins onto the palm of whichever beggar came within sight of her. After all, wasn’t she named after a saint? I was tired of repeating the same message she must’ve heard a hundred times from the priests in the church where she sang during holy mass, “Don’t encourage them.” But hers was a merciful heart. Until one blessed day when the Holy Spirit touched her. As I slowed down the car to make a turn, a woman standing on the curb stretched out her hand to Josie, who was in the passenger seat. At which Josie angrily rolled down the window and scolded her, “How many years – 20, 25? – have you been doing this? I’m not giving you any more help. Go home!” Then she rolled up the window, fuming. (Jullie Y. Daza)