89 Days to Go to May 9 2016, February 10, 2016 Ash Wednesday
On my way to the bus terminal for Tuguegarao this morning, I heard a radio announcer reading Manila Archbishop Cardinal Tagle’s appeal, “On this Year of Mercy, today, Ash Wednesday, Fast and Feed hungry poor children.” Yes, the hungry poor children must be fed but how about their equally hungry unemployed or underemployed parents? Yes, social welfare must be promoted but how about social action which analyses, criticizes and develops proactive programs to counteract the root cause of poverty which is the deeper reason why the poor whether children or adults are hungry? I miss my good friend Dennis Murphy and his wife Alice. From the time I began my stint as parish priest of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Project 4, Quezon City, I have kept in touch with this unusual couple enjoying countless social encounters as well as direct involvement in the struggles of the urban poor. Through Dennis and Alice, I understood in a most direct way the actual life and struggles of the poor, particularly in the area of housing. How many times have I joined their Non-Government Organization popularly known as the Urban Poor Associates or UPA in preventing the unjust demolition and eviction of urban poor communities. Those encounters, often between urban poor communities and the demolition teams organized by the Department or Public Order and Safety (DPOS) of either City or Municipality were quite emotional and yet always firm and non-violent. It was clear how the reality of poverty was more than a superficial issue. It went deep into the core of politics, economics and culture of the country concerned. For so many years now, politics and its convenient partner, business have systematically side lined the poor and benefited wealthy individuals, families and the corporations they own and run. Land, natural resources, essential businesses and services are no longer controlled and managed by government. Thanks to globalization and its dire consequence of contractualization, labor has become progressively cheaper. Cheap labor could hardly cope with the ever increasing price of everything. But wages will always be low in order to attract foreign companies to invest in the Philippines. Because of low wages, many will be tempted to join the Overseas Contract Workers’ bandwagon. Thus, a good many families survive with the support of their OCW parent, sibling or niece or nephew, but at what cost? How many OCWs abroad suffer from dysfunctional espouses and problematic children? An P 18,000 initial salary of a domestic helper in Singapore sounds fantastic compared to the P3,500 of one in Metro Manila, but how much of that really reaches and supports the families left at home? The “kasambahay” receiving so little in the Philippines has the great advantage of easier and better access to their espouses and children. Examples of poor, underpaid OCWs and their counterparts in the Philippines are myriad. To this the response of Dennis and Alice Murphy is to empower urban poor families through decent housing and the equally important issue of livelihood (kabahayan at kabuhayan).
Feeding the hungry whether children or adult is just one of the corporal acts of mercy. Doing this is truly meritorious but not enough. There is another hunger that I see in people like Dennis and Alice, the hunger for justice and the rights of the poor, i.e. housing and livelihood. While those who have the capacity to feed hungry poor children should do so but equally crucial is teaching a different hunger, the hunger so wonderfully and inspiringly manifested by Dennis and Alice, the hunger of for justice, human rights and peace. This Ash Wednesday I pray for Dennis and Alice and their work at the Urban Poor Associates. I pray as well that genuine social concern and justice or social action will spread throughout society and the church.