To search for him is to search for dignity—his, yours and mine.
A photo of a man holding a placard went viral last Friday. His face, illuminated by the lights of passing vehicles, bore pain and desperation. It was bereft of hope. It was also an act of strength. A plea to restore his dignity.
It was heartbreaking to read his appeal: “I’m not a bad person. I lost my job because of COVID-19 pandemic, guys. I’m begging for your help. Please help me provide the needs of my family. I may be losing my dignity being a man but with your help I will regain it in the eyes of my children.”
The netizens asked for his name. My friends and I tried to look for him on the same spot where The STAR photographer Miguel de Guzman took his photo, at the corner of EDSA and Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City. Still, to no avail. We don’t have much but we will continue to look for him just so we can give him what we can afford, just so we can give him friendship and encouragement to continue the fight to survive. So far, we trust in his narrative.
The nameless man is the face of poverty in the time of the pandemic. His photo, uploaded on the Facebook page of The Philippine STAR, has had, as of this writing, more than 22,000 shares from 142,000 people. There have been 7,400 comments of sympathy and encouragement for him.
I’m not a bad person. I lost my job because of COVID-19 pandemic, guys. I’m begging for your help. Please help me provide the needs of my family. I may be losing my dignity being a man but with your help I will regain it in the eyes of my children.
There are many like him on the streets of Manila begging for help, raising a placard on the streets to beg for alms. At the height of the pandemic, many jeepney drivers who lost their source of income also did the same in Quezon City. It is very easy to dismiss them with a snide remark: “Magbanat kayo ng buto. Maghanap kayo ng trabaho.”
Though that is a valid suggestion, their (those who lost their jobs) sense of hopelessness is also apparent in the face of a country ravaged by the virus caused by COVID-19 and the virus of corruption in the government that has yet to uncover and recover the missing billions from a crucial government agency. How do people like them find a job when, in fact, according to STAR reports, some four million workers lost their jobs due to the effects of the pandemic as of 2020?
The nameless man was certain that by begging for help he would lose his dignity. But he was also certain that, with people’s help, he would restore it in the eyes of his children that he would be able to feed. For how long?
The help that he would receive is palliative, a Band-Aid to a gaping wound. Sure, dole-outs can help a man like him, but only to a certain extent. One can only hope that the money he might receive from some generous souls would also spark the entrepreneur in him — if, say, he gets an ample amount to start a small online business. One can only hope that he be blessed with another job that he could keep and treasure. There are kind souls around. Hope abounds. But first, you need to ask — for help.
You don’t lose your dignity if you sincerely ask for help. Someone goes through something every day. Those who muster the courage to ask for help also give a chance for others to raise their generosity bar. Dignity works both ways—the receiver of help maintains his dignity by being able to survive the day or his life; the giver receives the dignity of enlightened humanity. Kindness is dignity spelled another way. It is also its own reward.
One of the most painful scenes you could see in this lifetime is a picture of a once-employed father begging for help for his children. It tugs at the heartstrings. It is not only humbling on his part. It is also humiliating. But humiliation cannot hold a candle to a mouth that is gaping in hunger. One gets past pride, until humiliation becomes the courage the spirit needs. From it, a lesson or two is learned — to never experience it again, to better one’s life in every given opportunity.
We will continue to look for the nameless man. We will continue to see him in the body and soul of other people while we survive the economic onslaught of the pandemic. We will continue to give them hope, kindness. We will give them dignity.
The alleged missing billions in PhilHealth funds is both a travesty and a tragedy — that’s its name. Dishonor. Corruption. If we are not appalled by that, what else would it take?
The man begging on the street also has a name—Dignity.
Banner photo by Miguel de Guzman/Philippine Star