I met Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle at least twice when he was still the archbishop of the Diocese of Imus, which covers the entire Province of Cavite. My impression of him then was that he does not mince words when he talked about the wicked ways of sinners. He also struck me as a man who is stoic and not prone to emotional outburst.
That’s why I was surprised when I saw him on TV crying while he was expressing his disgust over the P10-billion “pork barrel” scam. The cardinal lamented the fact that the big amount of government money was pocketed by some people instead of being used to ameliorate the condition of poor people.
His heart bled as he noted the pathetic situation of poor, homeless people who are forced to sleep on Metro Manila’s sidewalks with only cardboard boxes as their sleeping mat and blanket.
Cardinal Tagle, who grew up in Imus, Cavite, is very much aware of the hardship of the less fortunate because he, too, struggled hard when he was a young man with a dream to pursue a college education. He was a library “muchacho” when he was studying at a college in Washington State, US.
He knew well that indigent individuals, particularly those living in the squatters’ areas, do not eat three square meals a day. He knew well that poor, sick people die simply because they don’t have money for medicines.
I understand the indignation of the good cardinal over the pork barrel scam and the failure of the government to extend assistance to the poor. I recall a case of a family of four who had made the corner of Vito Cruz Street and Roxas Boulevard, Manila as their sleeping quarters at night.
One rainy night, the family — composed of a man and his wife and two boys about three years old and one year old — had to suffer the biting cold caused by the pouring rain that soaked their clothes and other belongings.
They tried to seek shelter in a nearby bank, but the security guards drove them away.
When the rain stopped at dawn, the woman was crying loudly, attracting the attention of passersby. I was then a police reporter assigned to the night shift, and our news crew happened to be passing by the area.
We noticed some people surrounding the woman and her kids. When we inquired, we learned that the one-year-old boy had just died. The boy was suffering fever the night before, we were told.
This pathetic condition of a poor boy dying in the arms of his helpless mother is not an isolated case. Sad things like this happen on a regular basis in streets, under city bridges and in squatter areas in Metro Manila and the exurbs.
I have first-hand knowledge of this plight of the poor as I saw it with my own eyes when I was a house-to-house salesman in Manila. I saw the pitiful sight of children in the squatter areas in Paco and Pandacan.
One particular image has stuck in my mind: Inside a makeshift shack were three boys – about two, three and four years old – eating what was supposed to be their lunch consisting of a plate of rice and few spoons of molasses. They were all naked. There was a sleeping woman in the shack whom I presumed was their mother.
This kind of rank poverty certainly distresses conscientious people like Cardinal Tagle. But some politicians are so callous that they do not seem to be bothered at all by the plight of the poor. This is indicated by the fact that they steal government funds in large sums which could have been used to, say, buy medicines for indigent families.
Cardinal Tagle’s compassion for the less fortunate is one reason he cried over the “pork barrel” scandal. Another reason could be his realization that the consciences of corrupt politicians and government officials are as black as the color of asphalt.