Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Begging

If Christmas in rich Christian countries is an excuse for unabashed consumerism, in poor Christian countries, it's an excuse for unabashed begging.

On the way home yesterday, a Barangay tanod in his camouflage pants stood guard in front of our gate, a well-creased envelope in hand. Upon spotting our approach he quickly rushed over and knocked on my car window. "Namamasko po. Para lang sa mga tanod." He didn't even have the courtesy to let us get out of the car first. I'd never met him or seen him actually do his job, but what the heck, he expects me to shell out cash to fund their holiday drinking binge nonetheless. Such is the story of the holiday season in Manila. Christmas brings out the beggar in some of us.

As soon as the air is cool and malls start playing Christmas songs, little (and big) boys and girls begin their nightly noise-making. Don't get me wrong, when I was a kid, I went carolling too. But it was all done in fun. My best neighborhood friends in tow, we would wander as far as our parents would allow to serenade houses with our best renditions of Western and Filipino carols. If we made a few bucks, so much the better. But carolling was an adventure. It was an excuse to wander out at night and see brightly-lit houses. It was never about making money.

These days, for kids, and probably because their parents told them, it's all about milking as much moolah as possible from your kapitbahay. If you give a gaggle of kids a few coins, you can expect them to come back again in a few minutes. An original band of four would break in two's or even come separately, to get some more money.

When I was younger, I don't remember kids carolling on the streets. Now they play patintero with cars, sing a few off-key notes, and all to make a few bucks. Their faces, when they sing Joy to the World, hold absolutely no joy. Their faces aren't even expectant, just blank. As if they were merely going through the motions. In recent years, more and more kids seem to do this. There are city ordinances banning such a practice, but parents don't seem to care when they allow their kids to put themselves in harm's way. What the heck, its all in keeping with the logic of siring as many kids as possible to make you money right?

Making themselves as conspicuously visible as possible, Aetas and other indigenous Filipinos also flock to Manila this season. They usually camp out in the Camachile area near the North Express way tollgate. They would set camp on the islands near the Balintawak cloverleaf for a couple of weeks or more. What for, I have no clue. Maybe they're waiting for manna to fall from heaven. Some wander as far as the South Triangle area. Yesterday we saw some sitting on a sidewalk near Timog. They just sat there, waiting. For guilty middle class folks to take pity on them? Perhaps. A few appropriately dressed "taong-grasa" began sleeping next to our rice store about 2 weeks ago. We didn't have the heart to shoo them away. They obviously waited for soft-hearted customers to give them cash or some rice.

Today, Christmas morning, there are kids wandering the streets to howl "Namamasko po!" at each house. I asked my boyfriend if such a practice was done in Nueva Ecija, where he and his family usually spent their Christmas. He said no. So I wonder where and when this practice of Christmas begging began. Maybe it's a symptom of a worsening social condition. Maybe people these days are more liable to "eat their pride" than eat dust. They're more likely to shame themselves to make ends meet. They're more likely to forgo honor than starve. But why is there a sense of entitlement, like Christmas owes them? And why is poverty always an excuse?

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