Msgr. Fernando G. Gutierrez
At present, the nature and consequential effects of COVID-19 may not be fully known. While the pandemic is a not yet a thing of the past and the whole world is painstakingly struggling with its threats until a vaccine to counteract it is discovered, we have to be contented with so many unknowns that result into confusion and undue fear. The conflicting theories of some medical experts and the growing restlessness of the general public, cast a “a cloud of unknowing” on the minds of so many people.
In the meantime, while the Philippines has not fully recovered from the pandemic, lawless elements continue their shipment and distribution of illegal drugs, manufacture of COVID-19 drugs not approved by FDA, fabrication of false IATF badges and permits as well as operation of underground hospitals to treat Chinese nationals COVID-19 patients.
Even some government officials who are expected to uphold the law are guilty of corruptions. Three San Agustin, Hagonoy, Bulacan barangay officials face raps over alleged cash aid distribution anomalies. In Negros Occidental, a barangay chairwoman allegedly gave financial assistance to her grandchild and her niece who were unqualified for the program.
Politicians turned epidemiologists
Adding insult to injury, politicians and some sectors of society turned “epidemiologists” overnight. NLT (not less than) CDC and W.H.O advised US President Donald Trump not to take Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) or chloroquine, a quinoline medicine used to treat or prevent malaria, a disease caused by parasites that enter the body through the bite of a mosquito. Chloroquine is not effective against all strains of malaria and most allegedly to heighten immune system against COVID-19.
The Sun, a News UK Company reports that Kimberley Simpson, a care worker was left in tears after a UK citizen accused her of “spreading germs” as she shopped in her uniform at B&M. The woman, a non-clinical hospital personnel, followed Kimberly through the store, “shouting that she wasn’t allowed because I’m in uniform.”
Kimberly said,“I’ve just spoken to (my manager) and they said I’m not doing anything wrong. We have worked so hard, noclients have COVID so we are clearly doing something right.”
In another nightmarish case, a care worker said at Lidi (UK) shopper had spat on her and called her a “virus spreader” while she was at the shopping store.
These and similar incidents are happening on a daily basis in the Philippines. A person who had been ordered by a hospital to quarantine at home had been blocked by fellow barangay residents to go home. A busload of returning to the Philippines OFWs were prevented by the townsfolk to check-in a hotel.
Filipino slum children’s experiences of poverty
I have a reprint of Joey Velasco’s painting of “Hapag ng Pag-asa” (Table of Hope) hanging in my dining place of my former US condominium. It was there with an African painting of the Last Supper. Jesus and the apostles in Grande Bubu mud cloth robe gathered around an Old Tuareg Mali wooden bowl.
Velasco’s painting was given to me as a gift by Fr. Vic Robles. I must admit that it is an eye catcher because of its colorful and unique Filipino motif. I put it up there – for aesthetic reason – as a decoration. Lately, through some clippings in the Internet on Joey and his artworks, my interest in this painting was aroused, my fascination with it made me restless and the faces of the children, literally, haunted me endlessly. It was then I thought of writing a reflection on the street children. I began looking intensely and reflecting deeply again and again at the children’s faces.
St. Gregory remarked that we know a person by his face. By looking at their faces, I wanted to know more of the poor hungry children’s stories. Fortunately, through Rosa Rojales, Fr. Vic’s niece, I found, the book, They Have Jesus (THJ), Stories of the Children of Hapag,written by Joey.
Mrs. Queenie Velasco, Joey’s widow, allowed me to reference Joey Velasco’s book, “They Have Jesus;” Fr. Vic Robles helped me so that Queenie would give me the authorization to cite Joey’s book.
As I look closely at the “Hapag” children’s faces, they show what each of the children feel. There is no denial of the absence of happiness in any of them. There is no laughter, but faces of distrust, frustration, bewilderment, and hunger for physical satisfaction and love. Their faces reveal only one common trend: they are not at home. There is so much fear and anxiety in their heart trying to compete with love. This theme is best illustrated in Perpetual Sacrifice, (1949), a painting by a Filipino-American abstractionist-expressionist, art-patron Alfredo Ossorio.
Perpetual Sacrifice, Ossorio’s most celebrated work, is an ink, wax and watercolor on canvas that employs iconographic religious themes, and Christian. Osorio’s Catholic faith influenced his painting of intricate orange, red and black strokes to create an abstract image of a Christ-like form with an exaggerated heart, and around its small figures in black seem to be attempting intimidatingly to rupture it. (Trio of Abstract Expressionists in Angels, Demons, and Savages.Michael Coleman. www.washdiplomat.com/index.php?option=com_content&id. April 1, 2013.) Tiny faces of angst and sorrow, similar to those of Hapag’s children, are portrayed in the remainder of the canvas.
In the movie, Face/Off, Troy, the villain, planted a time bomb, with a biological payload that could destroy the entire city of Los Angeles – and Troy isn’t about to say where it is. The FBI scientists came up with a plan: an experimental surgery which made them to graft temporarily Troy’s face on Archer’s head and allow the latter to question the former’s brother, Pollux. This technique was devised to get the info from Troy where he keeps the bomb. But after Archer has taken Troy’s face, Troy regains consciousness and forces the doctors to keep Archer’s face. Troy and Archer’s faces are not their own, they are masks that hide the real feelings inside their bearers.
The hungry children’s faces are no masks. They portray vividly and unequivocally what’s going on deep within each of them. How do you describe the pain behind those faces? They were hungry, staring at nothing and looking for answers. Joey Velasco did a phenomenal masterpiece to capture on canvass what the children feel and mirror them on their faces.
Emmanuel Levinas, a less well-known Jewish philosopher (1906-1995), theorized that the human is always the other man. It is not a redux of the Enlightenment Humanism that puts man in contrast with the power of his reason. Instead, it is the Humanism of the otherness that defines one’s identity through the face of the other.
There is first the very uprightness of the face, its upright exposure, without defense. The skin of the face is that which stays most naked, most destitute. It is the most naked, though with a decent nudity. It is the most destitute also: there is an essential poverty in the face, the proof of this is that one tries to mask this poverty by putting on poses, by taking on a countenance. The face is exposed, menaced, as if inviting us to an act of violence. At the same time, the face is what forbids us to kill. (Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo 85-86. Duquesne Univ Pr.1st edition March 1985.)
The feelings of love, harmony or hatred and distrust, when shown in one’s face, evoke the same in another. “This circuitry is called the ‘mirror-neuron system,’ (MNS) because it contains a special type of brain cells, or neurons, that become active both when their owner does something, and when he or she senses someone else doing the same thing.” (Helsinki University of Technology and the Research Centre Jülich, Germany www.worldscience.net/exclusives/050309yawnfrm.htm?vm=r. Accessed: 8/10/2013.) For example, when someone yawns, those around him yawn as well.
How the slum children view the world and those around them are recounted in their stories. They experienced the sufferings and sadness, because they were betrayed even by members of their own family who became their tormentors, instead as protectors, and by society that turned a blind eye to their plight rather than helping them escape from miserable life.
Physically, the hungry children are confined merely within their small world of hunger and poverty. They don’t see anything other than distrust, don’t experience anything, but malnutrition, don’t feel anything, except cruel “love” and false affection.
“A smile is a window on your face to show your heart is at home”. Anonymous.
Itok’s death wish.
‘”Nagdarasal po ako sa gabi sabi ko sana kunin na N’ya ako … sa hirap po ng buhay” (I pray at night that God may take me because life is so difficult.) THJ, Bruises of Itok, p. 36.
One can detect a tinge of frustration or resignation in his voice when he said, “parang ‘di po kasi pantay-pantay ang pagkagawa sa atin ni Jesus, eh” (… It seems Jesus did not make us equally.) THJ, p. 33.
Carl Jung said, “Where we stumble and fall, there we find pure gold.” Itok has not found yet the “gold” of a good life and God’s blessings, because of the callousness of his society toward the plight of the destitute. As Itok remains stumbled and fallen in the miry dirt of poverty, hunger, frustrations and anger, he continues to plead God to take away his life. His death wish is unanswered, not because God does not listen. He follows a divine timetable, for he has a plan for Itok. God wants to prick through Itok’s misery our apathetic or wimpy conscience.
One day a pilgrim, upon seeing the sick, the crippled, the poor and the dying by the roadside in India, went down to his knees and uttered a complaining prayer, “God, how is it that a loving Creator like you can see such things and yet do nothing about them?” God responded, “I did already. I made you.” God wants someone to help Itok get a good grasp of who God is. God is found not only among the mansions of rich people, but also in the dumpsite of Itok.
Skepticism of Michael. Fragrance of the Dumpsite.
“Hind pa. (Michael’s answer to the question whether he had seen himself in the painting). Ewan ko. Wala akong pakialam du’n.” (Not yet. I don’t know. I don’t give a damn.) THJ, Fragrance of the Dumpsite, p. 138.
Skeptikos (Greek, from Latin scepticus, the sect of the Skeptics, followers of Greek philosopher, Pyrrho)) is an investigator or examiner or one who doubts the possibility of true knowledge. There are three main types of skepticism: 1. philosophical skepticism, or Pyrrhonism, 2. scientific skepticism, and 3. religious skepticism. The task of the scientific skeptic is to disparage what is nonsense in spite of enough evidence to the contrary. Philosophical skeptics avoid asserting the absolute, for the reason that one can be wrong. A religious skeptic is not necessarily an atheist or agnostic, but doubts certain religious assertions.
The word skepticism is related to the word prejudice (Latin praeiudicium, “prior judgment.” Skeptics put their judgment on hold until a convincing proof is obtained. Prejudice is connected also with discrimination.
Robert G. Ingeroll said that an agnostic does not only say, “I do not know,” he goes further and utters, “You do not know.
Strictly speaking Michael is not a skeptic. His “I don’t care” attitude is mainly a ploy or a cover-up in dealing with rejection and depression. When someone encounters a problem with self, such as addiction, alcoholism or a spouse, then one’s work, religion or an affair could be used as an escape goat or bandage. Instead of confronting the problem head on, the person resorts to the third party as a cover-up, such as a mistress, drugs or gambling. Is Marx right in saying, “Fragrance of the Dumpsite”?
Failure may have caused Michael to give up trying, and to find personal satisfaction in “I don’t care” behavior. Being a dumpsite scavenger, he has a low self-esteem that he has reached a point of really not caring. He has a failure in personal relationship within his dysfunctional family: a father, a gambler and an addict and his mother a club dancer. He tries to deaden and sedate the pain and sufferings with “I don’t care” attitude.(www.disciplinehelp.com/teacher/detail.cfm?behaviorID=49. Accessed: 7/10/2013.)
All of these, hard life and no exemplary parental models, contribute to Michael’s belief in himself as a “nobody,”
Prayerfully, I hope that Michael will find God through his neighbors. “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother and I found all three.” (Unknown author.)
The Doll of Tinay
Tinay … was just side glancing though, as if asking herself, “Who is this male person … again? Is this goodness for real?” … The heinous crime of a child rape shocks us as none other … Men, by their very nature, are meant to be datus, pandays, hunters, and protectors of their families … THJ, The Doll of Tinay, pp. 157 and 159.
A child always catches everyone’s attention. It is because a child exhibits unpretentiousness, innocence and playfulness that adults seldom possess. Someone said that he would give every drop of his blood to bring back his childhood.
Happy days of childhood remain embedded in our memory. We long for those memorable childhood days when as adults we swim on the sea of adversities and trials. Dan Simmons remarked, “When we are old and failing, it is the memories of childhood which can be summoned most clearly.” A child is carefree, worries don’t linger in his mind for so long and troubles don’t bother him.
Sometimes to get an adult’s attention, a child can come up with a slight injury or a faint cry. These are all due to the child’s playfulness and fantasy. It is the child’s concept of what heaven is. William Wordsworth said, “Heaven lies about us in our infancy.” (William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (1802-04).
Pablo Neruda wrote, “Everything is ceremony in the wild garden of childhood.” (Winter Garden). “There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.” (Elizabeth Lawrence)
By pushing towards hard work (Luther and Marx’s influence) and rationalization (through Aquinas and Descartes), man loses playfulness, festivity and phantasy. (Harvey Cox, The Feast Of Fools. p. 12. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 10 53rd East Street, New York, N.Y. 10022. 1969)The garden where childhood used to play is gone.
First impression is lasting. The child’s family is the nursery of human character. Good and bad habits are acquired in early life. “Childhood is like a mirror, which reflects in afterlife the images first presented to it. The first thing continues forever with the child. The first joy, the first sorrow, the first success, the first failure, the first achievement, the first misadventure, paint the foreground of his life.” (Samuel Smiles.)
Sexual assault of a child
It is an abomination to rape a child. The heinous crime is even worse when perpetrated by a family member who is supposed to be a trustee, confidant and defender
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), reports that by the end of March, with much of the country under lockdown, there was a 22% increase in monthly calls from people younger than 18, and half of all incoming contacts were from minors, Camille Cooper, the organization’s vice president of public policy, tells NPR.
In 1 out of 5 cases where the minor was living with their abuser. 79% said they were currently living with that perpetrator. In March, 67% identified their perpetrator as a family member. Closing schools and canceling youth activities like sports removes children from the watchful eyes of “mandatory reporters” — those trusted adults, like teachers, nurses and child care providers, who are required by law in most states to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect.
As a result of looking at the information that we had from those sessions, it was clear that the abuse was escalating in both frequency and severity, A lot of the kids that were coming to the hotline were feeling pretty vulnerable and traumatized. And it was a direct result of COVID-19, because they were quarantined with their abuser. The abuser was now abusing them on a daily basis. (Anya Kamenetz, Child Sexual Abuse Reports Are On The Rise Amid Lockdown Orders. April 28, 2020.)
A withered flower
Tinay was like a rose, which has not blown fully, her innocence, virginity, playfulness and phantasy were plucked out. Her innocence has withered and her childhood has been completely robbed of its blissful memories.
“Reason and happiness are like flowers, they wither when plucked.” (George Santayana)
Though Tinay has been ravished at an early age, let us remember that we were never created to live depressed, guilty, condemned, ashamed or unworthy. We were created to be victorious. Letus to remember as we face both good times and difficult times in our lives, God’s love endures forever.
“Little Dodoy was the one gathering their things for safety under the heavy rain while holding his dog named, ‘Tigre’ which finally drowned. They were helpless and powerless. THJ, Rumors of the Underworld, p. 172.
Dodoy’s mother confided to Joey, “Marami po kasi kaming beses nademolosh eh. Dito nga po malapit na naman eh pinatagal nang kaunti nu’ng kapitan sa Phase 5 … pero pinapawasak na din daw po ni Bayani Fernando.” (Our abode was demolished several times. Here, our place will be demolished soon; the captain of Phase 5 was able to extend a bit our stay but Bayani Fernando has given instructions to demolish it.) THJ, p. 168. Dodoy’s family does not know either of any safe “harbor” where they could stay unmolested forever.
“They built their houses underneath the walls of the bridge where there was no room anymore for them to stand.” “Madilim din ‘pag gabi.” (It’s dark also at night ….) THJ, p. 169. The stench under the bridge and the noise from endless flow of vehicles were unbearable.
“Kung narito si Jesus hindi pa kami madedemolish. Kaibigan s’ya eh.” (If Jesus were here, our place will not be demolished.”). THJ, p. 170. “Ay, ba’t ang lungkot ng mukha ni Jesus? Sana man lang pinasaya n’yo s’ya nang kaunti dahil pag-asa ang pinag-uusapan diyan, eh.” (Why is Jesus’ face sad? I wish you had made it look happy because the painting speaks of hope.) THJ, p. 173.
The sinful Joyce.
“She (Joyce) was supposed to be playing hula-hoop with playmates and peers in the streets, but she prefers to stay home all day. Joy is tired of going to school. She tends to be socially isolated and sequestered. She was violated and literally robbed of her youth.” THJ, The Scars of Joyce, p. 189.
Everyone in Joyce’s neighborhood gossip about her teenage “lust.” “Noong una nga po, nahihiya kami lumabas dito dahil pinaguusapan nila lahat. Ang mga tao tsismisan tungkol sa kanya. Ang aga raw n’ya lumandi. Pero wala. Nasanay na rin kami.” (At first, we were ashamed to go out of the house because people were talking about her. They were gossiping about her. They said she flirted very early. But we eventually got used to it.” THJ, p. 186.
Poor community, like that of Joyce’s, where neighbors pass the time in gossips and innuendoes, and where not everyone works, cheap talks about people’s lives are normal day-to-day events. Nigel Nicholson in Psychology Today of May 01, 2001, The New Word on Gossip, contends that gossip builds up networking among acquaintances and is common among those who share a collective identity, suffer rampant individualism and the fragmentation of lifestyle. (www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200105/the-new-word-gossip. Accessed: 8/10/2013.)
Joyce was silent and just sat quietly with her child during Joey’s visit to her place and interview with her aunt. We do not know why Joyce was so quiet. Social scientists say that people in trouble or in depression keep to themselves in solitude. The dysfunctional person believes that there is no use stretching out their hands for help, for it’s useless to do so. This behavior is cyclical. The more a depressed person stays away from others, the more he becomes depressed.
Buknoy’s Fearsome Worries
“Buknoy is seven years old but his face is the face of a weary forty-year-old bread winner. In the painting, he was the one looking far away and beyond, as if afraid of a danger that imminently lurks ahead. The fear of the unknown and uncertain future. This reference-model is anxious of tomorrow.” THJ, The Far Gaze of Buknoy, p. 201.
Buknoy suffers from fear within and fear from without. He was gazing at the horizon with fearsome worries. “(Buknoy, italic added) had a far gaze because in real life, his father is across the street at their doorway fuming in anger and waiting for the supply of food that Buknoy is assigned to bring home that night.” ITHJ, p. 202. The life of this child is filled with worries and fears. He is worried where to find “cans, mineral water bottles, copper wires” to have sufficient money to be handed to his father. “Nasa tatay lahat. Gusto ko makatulong.” (Everything is with my father. I want to help.) He is fearful because he knows that “papaluin po kasi ako ng tambo sa katawan ng papa ko ‘pag wala akong dalang gabe at bigas …” (Papa would beat my body with the broom if I don’t have taro and rice with me …” THJ, p. 205. Buknoy, though worried and fearful of corporal punishment, yet he is generous.
From Hapag ng Pag-asa to Hapag ng Pag-ibig
All is not lost. Mrs. Queenie Velasco, who experienced a blessed and happy married life with Joey and grief when he died, finds joy and happiness through providing decent living for the “Hapag” children and their family. Queenie’s informative faith of the Head as well as her transformative faith of the Heart became a reality through performative faith of the Hands. The Joey Velasco Foundation continues the legacy of Joey transforming “Hapag ng Pag-asa” into “Hapag ng Pag-ibig.” All became a reality because of faith that works!