The pandemic and the protracted lockdown across Metro Manila it occasioned has affected everyone, resulting in loss of livelihood and the closing of several businesses, big and small. But the most affected are the poorest of the poor—the homeless and the wretched of the streets.
This was underscored even at the start of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, himself a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) survivor. He had said as early as March when the ECQ started that if mismanaged, it might fuel social unrest.
“It is impossible to impose a lockdown in the capital’s many slums,” Pabillo, appointed by Pope Francis as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila after the appointment of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle to a key Vatican dicastery, said. “Many live without a roof over their heads. Others are crammed into makeshift shelters where it is very hot. It is difficult to ask them to stay locked up for a long time.”
Pabillo told United Catholic Asian News (Ucan) that the poor were “primarily concerned with their day-to-day survival, not the virus.”
“They don’t have any savings in case of a hard blow,” he added. “The government has not announced any specific aid to help day laborers and the poor.”
Last March when the ECQ started, the Arnold Janssen Bahay Kalinga in Tayuman, Manila, of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) missionary order, was ordered closed by Barangay 176 of Santa Cruz, Manila.
Cardinal Tagle himself had blessed the Tayuman center in 2017.
The shelter for the poor provided free baths and meals to the homeless and psychosocial-spiritual counseling to drug dependents and the “wounded.”
“The homeless beneficiaries were at a loss where to go and what to do to survive,” said Fr. Flaviano L. Villanueva, SVD, founder of the shelter.
Seven schools in Manila accommodated the homeless displaced by the closure: Espiritu Santo Parochial School, Malate and Paco Catholic Schools, De La Salle University, College of Saint Benilde and Saint Scholastica’s College.
“In three months, the homeless received the dignified, systematic and holistic care which AJKC (Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center) stands for,” said Fr. Villanueva.
Despite the draconian quarantine measures, the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to increase. In fact, Kidapawan Bishop Jose Bagaforo, national director of Caritas, said President Duterte in his state of the nation address on July 27 glossed over the pandemic and its economic impact, especially on the poor.
Critics said the annual address saw Duterte instead ratcheting up further his strident rhetoric against drugs, in which thousands had been extrajudicially killed, and urging the return of the death penalty.
“The pandemic could have been the silver lining for the government to push for a whole society response toward unity and solidarity. But pride, prejudice and power prevailed over better judgment and people’s welfare,” Bishop Bagaforo was quoted as saying by Ucan.
The Mindanao bishop criticized the former mayor of Davao City for not presenting a “clear road map” in fighting fight the coronavirus.
“(Duterte) failed to clearly present his plans on how to improve the health-care system in this country and deliver public service to vulnerable sectors,” he said.
Recently Novaliches Bishop Roberto Gaa inaugurated the Arnold Janssen (AJ) Bahay Kalinga in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City. The shelter is an extension of the one in Tayuman that remains closed.
Unlike the one in Manila, which is “tenanted” in a building at the SVD fathers’ Catholic Trade Center complex in Tayuman, the Caloocan shelter is a big and very airy house in a vast compound with trees and open green spaces.
“Bahay Kalinga provides a space for the psychosocial and human development programs and services for our street dwellers and wounded beneficiaries,” said Fr. Villanueva, SVD, president of the AJ Kalinga Foundation, Inc.
The SVD priest explained that the AJ Bahay Kalinga provides “dignified services (for) our dear homeless.”
The Caloocan shelter has a separate dormitory for men and women, full kitchen and dining areas, shower rooms, recreation area, and chapel and oratory.
It has a lecture hall-cum-workshop for skills training (sewing, plumbing, electrical and welding). It also has an office for job placement and a training program on urban agriculture.
The Bagong Silang center resulted from the SVD fathers’ search for a “more permanent home” for the homeless, said Fr. Villanueva.
Checking out three buildings and appealing to their owners, the SVD priest found a “dead end.”
“I realized that the life of the homeless person is the same,” he explained. “They knock on doors but are rejected; they search for food, but find stones.
“But God has His ways in preparing for the best.”
Fr. Villanueva said his search led him to the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (CP or the Passionist fathers), whose Philippine superior, Fr. Edwin Flor, CP, said they had a “two-story building” that had lain idle for seven years.
When the SVD priest asked if the Passionists would be willing to work on a “collaborative mission frontier,” Fr. Flor expressed his excitement. He later got the approval of the Passionist provincial council for the project.
The AJ Bahay Kalinga was inaugurated on July 16 by Bishop Gaa.
In his remarks, Bishop Gaa said the AJ Bahay Kalinga “gives not only shelter but new hope and life” to the homeless who have been “neglected and driven away” by society.
“This is not just a bahay kalinga or caring home,” he told the beneficiaries. “We welcome you here but you also welcome us and allow us to live the Gospel.” INQ
To make a donation, call Fr. Flaviano Vllanueva, SVD, at 0918-8880203.