The parish has a population of about 50,000 and is widely diverse. The church property borders a large gated community of homes in the P10-million to P40-million range.
Down the hill is an upper middle-class village of attorneys, doctors, corporate executives, business owners and a retired general. Down the road from there is a middle-class neighborhood of lifetime overseas workers, like engineers and ship captains.
Just beyond their gates near the Barangay Hall are the families of seamen and those with a son or daughter working in call centers and banks. They own backyard talyers, jeepneys, “Internet cafés,” and stalls at the talipapa.
Beyond the view of all these are the landless paying rent in “compounds” of small hollow block houses. These areas are inhabited by the jeepney drivers, security guards, messengers, and the taho vender that walks through the gated communities every morning and returns in the evening with balut.
The parish priest, Father Dennis, is one of the “good guys.” Like others in the Congregation of the Mission, Fr. Dennis has a passion and a compassion for helping those in need.
The last few weeks, he has spent much time commuting between the gated villages and the compounds. At the compounds he has been hearing the same stories with increasing frequency and intensity. The people have a very small stockpile of food, and replenishing their food supply is becoming much more difficult as each nonworking day passes. “Father, we have only a little rice and we have no money to buy more.” The food packs from the city and some private groups are welcome, but it is not the same as having your own food in your own kitchen.
These are the “working urban poor” that are used to struggling but are also used to the dignity of as much self-sufficiency as possible. They are regulars at the Barangay Health Center, but their children go to school every day. They might not be able to donate money but are available at the church when the trucks needed to be loaded with goods for the victims of the Taal Volcano eruption.
With their words of concern still in his ears, Fr. Dennis returns to the gated communities for donations. His wealthier parishioners may attend the English language Mass while these needy parishioners worship in Filipino. But they also generously open their wallets to help.
But after a few days, Father Dennis encounters problems beyond money. Cash in hand and the church’s L-300 in the parking lot, the large supermarket will not let him buy 10 cases of sardines. While the carts in the “Prestige Card Checkout Lane” may each hold a large sack of rice, he is forbidden to buy the 10 sacks he needs just for this week.
The bank executive who arranged the loan for a small mall operator convinces their supermarket tenant to let Fr. Dennis buy in quantity. But it must be done at closing time, so no one thinks the good priest is hoarding food.
To the government we say this: You have your emergency powers. You have your task force, your military, and the legislature that is backing your efforts.
While you need to give all the necessary support to the “frontliners,” do not let these “backliners” fall through the cracks any longer. Father Dennis—and others like him—is willing to do much of the heavy lifting. Just remove the anchors that are now tied around his legs. He will be glad to tell you what it is like at Covid Ground Zero.