By Kindra Calonia
Lately, the talk of town has been about how things in Boracay have gone back to the “pre-closure” era.
Tourists are seen eating or drinking on the beach, vendors are strolling, and if you sneak a peek on the far edges of the beach you might even catch a masseuse giving a massage on White Beach. I know, sacrilege. Yet, what seems to be disturbing most locals and perhaps tourists alike are the return of possible beggars on the White Beach.
Before the island’s six-month closure, the sight of beggars was quite common. In 2016, Gemma Santerva, social officer of Malay town, declared that “begging is an eyesore to Boracay tourists” and worked closely with the PNP (Philippine National Police Force) to ban begging throughout the island. Ironically, begging has been prohibited in the Philippines since 1978 yet enforcers don’t seem too much concerned about this unless there is a major event happening in the Philippines as a Papal visit where you’ll see the PNP and local enforcers scrambling to “clean the streets.”
Begging is certainly a world-wide phenomenon and has been a feature of life as long as the state of our economy continues to generate an unequal distribution of wealth.
So, what makes this particular phenomenon such an eyesore, as we all ask ourselves whether “to give or not to give?” Having talked to a few tourists and locals, the main issue is this idea of guilt that presides within us. Some also explain how the sight of beggars create a mixed feeling of frustration, in the sense that they physically point out to what’s wrong in our society, and therefore most people will try to avoid the problem by walking faster, ignoring their presence completely, or giving money (which falls back to this common feeling of guilt).
As I’ve discovered, the girls are certainly more street savvy than the boys displaying English names as Summer rather than spelling out their Muslim names. Boracay born and bred, the likes of Summer or Abdullah (kids who I interviewed for this piece), come from Muslim families that have migrated to Boracay from Marawi more than 10 years ago. Speaking fluent Maranao (dialect from Marawi), Aklanon (dialect from Aklan), Tagalog and English with a few Chinese and Korean words, these kids know how to break a deal and where to attract the more expensive customers.
“Growing up on the streets and selling bracelets taught me how to be wise, save money, and talk to different people and cultures,” says a young man who used to sell bracelets in the early 2000s and is now a proud owner of a souvenir shop in Station 1. As with the other kids, he recalls having to beg and sell bracelets from when he was eight-years-old as his father left his mother and 11 siblings. Selling bracelets was a means of survival, a chance at banking on a meal for supper, rather than going home hungry. And it is most likely what these kids of today are doing on White Beach. “Of course, it would have been nicer not to beg, but I was born in this family and not rich, so we have to live as best we can.” Indicative of how begging is usually a situation which people fall into due to dire circumstances and necessity rather than out of choice.
Shells from the bracelets are all hand-picked from Puka Beach and the strings are bought in Talipapa market. Self-taught and self-proficient, not only do they boast multi-lingual skills, but this gang of kids attend elementary and high school by day and hustle White Beach by night as a means of survival. “Luckily, I was sponsored by an English man to continue my studies, and therefore had the opportunity to go to private schools. It was a great opportunity to learn different cultures and also further my studies. Yet, even if I went to school during the day, I still sold bracelets after school up until I was 16,” recalls the interviewee.
Drawing from the different conversations, one thing for sure, is that begging inevitably comes from the inequality of wealth as well as from forces of migration which lead poorer communities to migrate to richer areas. Certainly, the act of begging causes unease but if we can’t rectify the economic situation then it is a phenomenon that will most likely stay and grow.
Given the stories told, I still fall short on my first and foremost question: “To give or not to give?” There is certainly no easy or black and white answer. I think it’s an easy way out to just buy the bracelets, assuage our guilt and forget about it.
However, as a community, I think there’s a more integrative and holistic solution to help those in dire situations rather than just passing money on. Begging is also our problem, not just theirs. If one could initiate an organization that would offer education, training, and workshops to their mothers and fathers who could be an active part in their solution, then it would definitely help alleviate the structural problems that cause this in the first place.