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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

food for thought

Today I learned that the unemployment rate in the Philippines is 7.3% (October 2006) from 7.4 (December 2005). (

And although poverty incidence has gone down from 27.2 percent of families in 2000 to 23 percent in 2006, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), this is still a good 19.9Million of the country's population. ( source: Philippine Star).
Sunday night, we - along with some colleagues traveled to Cebu for a company event. My husband was also with me because he's visited us for the weekend and was going back to Cebu.

This is the sight that greeted the passengers aboard Trans Asia last Monday in Cebu port. In the Philippines, this is a usual sight when approaching seaports, very ordinary and expected. In fact, I would have considered it very unusual and strange if upon approaching a port, they are nowhere in sight.

Aboard these wooden bancas represent a part of the poverty-stricken population of this country. They would eagerly meet maiden voyages approaching the seaports, hollering at the passengers and motioning them to throw coins. This is their way of living, their livelihood is swimming for the coins thrown off to the waters by curious turistas and ordinary passengers alike.

At one time, I was a participant to this begging-giving scene. Curious at how they would "catch" the coins in the water. But later on, like this very early morning, I only watch them silently with a flood of contradicting emotions.

I thought I have turned jaded. Maybe I have. But I also cared that a number of our countrymen lives this way. You cannot believe how many whys I would always juggle back and forth in my mind when seeing similar situations. And this instant is not an exception, no matter how many times I've seen this thing.

For one, most of these bancas have a baby on board. An infant!

Being a mother, I am always taken aback with this totally heartbreaking sight. But the initial shock of seeing infants on deck is slowly replaced with more powerful emotions. For one, I feel angry at how these people use an innocent baby to their advantage, like a props to be brutally frank. I am very well aware of what it is, a strategy to elicit sympathy from onlookers. They are really capitalizing on this and banking on the thought that passengers would throw in more money with the sight of an angel onboard. I am also sad, even depressed that they have to resort to this tactic.

But oh, call me anything you like when I do not throwing coins to them. That is not what they need. They need more than that, they need another from of livelihood. If no one throws a coin, I'm sure this will discourage them from this way of living.

I might go on wondering of the future of the babies aboard, but I also sharply remember the cliche that says, give and you will teach them to beg but teach them how to fish and they will be better off (or something similar to that effect). (But do not think that I am not feeling guilty at having said (or written) these thoughts because I am. Guilty because I could not do anything about it. I am helpless as they too are helpless.

And I must admit that seeing them again, made me think long and hard. Like the first time I saw these party of "seafarers", I am still half-amused at their quickness and agility. Half-awed at how very good swimmers they are. But at the back of my mind, I am pondering at the hard truths of living in a country like the Philippines. This also conjures up images of the rich partying, shopping and dining in extravagant places in the country. Such is the irony of life. Such is the reality.


grace said...

I understand how you must feel! People living this way has been there, will always be there for God knows how long! When my mom was a student in Cebu, she once saw a mom, with an infant tied to her back, dive with the infant!! for a one peso coin hurled at them.

ZAM said... sad...gets me depressed..

ellen b. said...

Very sad indeed. I hope that I would have more compassion...

Admin said...

Hi Zen, nakikita ko to most of the pantalan in the Philippines. Sa Cebu maraming ganito, so sad talaga.