Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Brides and young prostitutes

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:39:00 02/17/2011

WE WERE looking toward the backdoor of the chapel for the bride’s appearance, when suddenly the door flew open, blown in by the strong Batangas winds, and there stood the bride. Her white veil and bridal dress blew wildly about her. She was the very image of beauty, passion, mystery and the sacred.

The bride, Dianna Calderon, and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman’s son, Dino, got married in a loving, tasteful ceremony that had the row of bridesmaids sitting in front of us in tears, and the older men and women nodding as if to say, “Yes, this is the way it should be.”

It happens often in the Philippines that soon after you see something inspiring, you see or hear of something degrading of human beings, often of children. The same afternoon of the wedding, we heard of the 12- and 13-year-old prostitutes of Tondo whose lives are in sharp contrast with that of the bride. The girls are scavengers during the day, and at night they are prostitutes for the truck drivers, half-drunk istambays, garbage workers and the other rootless men who hang around the piers. The charge is P20 to P50 to feel the girl’s breasts and private parts (pakalog), while sex is P300 (palong-palo), often in a garbage truck. The girls have three men a night for sex on average, but some nights there are long lines. “I just lay there,” one girl said of her experience. The whole transaction is so crude, you can feel sorry even for the guys.

This Tondo situation was first reported on last week’s “Reporter’s Notebook” on GMA-7.

There is much beauty and goodness in the country, but also much cruelty. Sometimes we see the same troubling sight day after day. At the Anonas Station of the LRT a very young girl, 3 years old perhaps, often sits and begs. As best we can tell, people bring her there in the afternoon, coax a sad smile onto her face, put a tin cup in her hand and leave her. They come late in the evening to get her when the rush hour is over. For hours she sits there while people hurry past. Some drop a coin in her cup, but she doesn’t seem to notice. Other small children pass by holding their mothers’ hands. Babies pass in their mother’s arms. All the children look down on the little girl, wondering why she has no mama. It’s hard to get the little girl’s fear and loneliness out of one’s mind.

It is impossible for anyone who travels through the city to miss children pushing scavengers’ kareton or begging late into the night, or stretched out on the hot sidewalk worn out by life.

It should be very difficult to plunder in this country when there is evidence everywhere that plunder is food, medicine and housing taken from poor children. It’s easier to plunder, as Madoff did in Miami among his wealthy friends. Corruption in poor countries is brazen disregard of God’s poor children.

It is hard to determine who is guilty. The children are not guilty, neither are their parents really guilty once we know their poverty. Even the pimps may not be fully guilty, because they probably grew up in similar circumstances as the children.

The powerful are guilty, and who else? In the Old Testament the prophets singled out kings and rich men and women for special criticism, but in the end the Lord punished the whole people, nobles and servants, priests and people, rich and poor. Theologians tell us that in the New Testament we are saved or not as a whole people and not as individuals. It isn’t just rhetoric to say we are all guilty for the abuses done to children.

While many people abuse the young and vulnerable, there are others who give their lives for them. One such person is Sr. Felicitas de Lima of Iriga, Camarines Sur, who is no longer able to climb Mt. Iriga to bring literacy programs and agriculture coops to the Negritos high up on the mountain. She is well into her 70s now, but she still runs an orphanage for 120 children (real orphans, abandoned children, troubled children and those children whose parents, both lowlanders and Negritos, can no longer afford to raise them). She begs for money, feeds the children (now her orphanage is nearly 80 percent self-sufficient in food), educates them (she has built an accredited elementary school with regular teachers and sends the children to high school and even college). She gives each child a marketable skill and real, tangible love. She knows all their names, their backgrounds, special problems and their hopes in life.

People like Sister Felicitas lessen the guilt that may otherwise fall on us for our failure to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters. She needs many more pulling with her, however.

* * *

Before young people appropriate the success of the struggle of the Egyptian people to themselves and to the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, we should point out that when it came to actually fighting for the future of the revolution against the police forces in Tahrir Square, men in their 40s, 50s and even 60s, men with prominent stomachs and gray hair, were right in the middle of the struggle punching away and being punched.

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