Tuesday, November 14, 2017
ILOILO City – Rounding up the Badjaos in this city is shaping up into a cat-and-mouse game.
On the first day of the city government’s “Oplan Sapupo” – a campaign ordered by Mayor Jose Espinosa III to rein in mendicant Badjaos – yesterday, not one of them was caught.
But it was not because the Badjaos left the city. They ran away upon seeing city government personnel out to get them, said Jeck Conlu, chief of the Public Safety and Transportation and Management Office (PSTMO).
Espinosa tasked the PSTMO to round up and ship the Badjaos back to Mindanao, citing public health and security concerns.
In La Paz district, according to Conlu, the Badjaos rushed to the Iloilo River and hid under Forbes Bridge to evade capture.
PSTMO personnel, together with those from the Iloilo City Police Office and City Social Welfare and Development Office, gave up pursuing them, said Conlu.
The same thing happened when the team went to Mandurriao and Jaro districts.
Noting that the Badjaos had cell phones, Conlu theorized that those in La Paz likely warned their companions in Mandurriao and Jaro about the city government personnel.
“Sa Mandurriao naglinagsanay kami. Nagpalalagyo sila sa wayang. May mga cell phones sila,” said Conlu.
At the end of the day, Conlu and his team managed to get only five Atis – two adults and three minors.
The Atis have started flocking to the city, too, as the holiday season draws near. But while some of them are mendicants, the more entrepreneurial ones sell goods on sidewalks such as broomsticks from coconut leaves, coin purses and wallets made from forest vines, herbs and potions.
The five rounded-up Atis were moved to an Ati community in nearby Guimaras Island.
The Badjaos, widely known as “sea gypsies”, are an ethnic group scattered along the coastal areas of Tawi Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, and some coastal municipalities of Zamboanga del Sur in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The loss of their ancestral waters, armed conflict, poverty, and discrimination forced many of them to migrate to urban areas. Many have resorted to begging as a form of livelihood.
Conlu expressed confidence that his team could successfully round up the Badjaos at night when this group of indigenous people gather to sleep mostly on sidewalks.
PSTMO and CSWDO estimated over 50 Badjaos in the city.
“Kadamo sang higko nga ginahimo nila (They are dirtying the city),” said Espinosa in ordering the PSTMO to round up the Badjaos.
The city government will also strictly enforce the anti-mendicancy ordinance, the mayor stressed.
Begging and giving alms to beggars are punishable under City Regulation Ordinance 2002-400.
“Kun mangayo-ngayo sila nagapamilit pa kag nagapamutong, so kalaw-ay gid (They force people to give them alms, it’s so disgusting),” said Espinosa.
In previous years, according to Espinosa, mendicant Badjaos had “sponsors” or people backing them up and to whom they shared a portion of the alms collected.
“I don’t know if they still practice this scheme,” said the mayor.
Regarding this, Conlu said the ICPO will be making a validation./PN