TARLAC: The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) recently reactivated Task Force Kalinga: Sagip Katutubo to stop rampant mendicancy in Central Luzon.
The task force has been commissioned to increase awareness and promote advocacy towards the full implementation of Presidential Decree 1563, otherwise known as the Anti-Mendicancy Law.
The law primarily aims to stop mendicancy, prevent the exploitation of infants and children and provide rehabilitative services for those already exploited or in immediate danger of exploitation, while at the same time provide penalties against violators (both mendicant and alms giver).
Gemma Gabuya, DSWD regional director, stressed the need for a task force in order to successfully implement the law.
“Currently, the implementation of the law is weak because alms givers are not being penalized that is why we need to reactivate [the task force]in order to come up with effective mechanism on the ground to raise the public’s awareness that this law is existing and that in case the public wants to help, there are other ways they can channel their donations,” she said.
Gabuya also said that mendicancy breeds hazards and crimes, and indigenous peoples (IPs) are among the more vulnerable sectors that need to be helped and empowered.
“This issue is a multi-dimensional concern and the national government cannot solve it alone. We need the help of the local government units, civil society organizations, the IP community and the media to come up with sustainable plans and programs to uplift the lives of the mendicants and to realize our vision of achieving zero IP mendicants in the region,” she said.
Gabuya added that there is a need to fast track interventions for the IP mendicants, especially that the start of the “ber” months signals the influx of Aetas and Sama-Bajaos in major streets within the region for their pakikipamasko or Christmas solicitation activities.
IPs displaced and destitute after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991 paved the way for the spread of mendicancy.
In Tarlac, there are at least 14 indigenous communities such as in Tarlac City – Sitio Paquiliao, Barangay Care; in the towns of Bamban – San Martin, Sitio Sacobia in San Vicente and Sitio Tarucan in Anupul; Capas – Maruglo, Bueno, Santa Juliana and Sitio Culiao in Patling; San Jose – Barangay Maamot, Sitio Pisapungan in Sula, Sitio Socorro in Moriones, Sitio Agus-tala in Burgos and Sitio San Pedro in Iba; and San Clemente – Dueg.
Even the Badjaos from Mindanao have converged in the streets begging, including going up jeepneys, striking fear among residents and commuters who sometimes get hurt, spat upon and cursed if they don’t give anything to the mendicants.
In Tarlac City alone, there are around 100 Badjao IPs who have built shanties around a warehouse. Some were sent back to their place of origin by the government. Others were placed in a resettlement area at Bagong Bakod in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija or at the Severa community in Mabalacat City, Pampanga.
A social worker said, “If we give to them, we are actually encouraging them to remain in the streets begging and
so we become part of the problem instead of presenting solutions to it.”
The task force is led by the DSWD, in coordination with the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples.
Other member agencies include the Philippine Information Agency, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Office of the Civil Defense, Philippine National Police, Commission on Human Rights, Department of Health, Department of Labor and Employment, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, National Economic Development Authority, and Department of Agriculture.
Local government units with IP communities, non-government organizations, civil society organizations, and members of the media are also part of the task force.