Capitalizing on compassion

published 29 June 2014, MST

“Pardon me for interrupting your journey.”
This is normally how they begin. These are the people who climb on board airconditioned buses and solicit contributions—money, of course—to help pay for the funeral expenses of their colleague, neighbor, or loved one.
They come in shabby clothing. Their faces reflect grief, desperation, or at least vague sadness. They have with them a photocopied death certificate, which they roll out and brandish as they make their plea.
The last one I encountered, just this week, even printed out a picture of an old woman inside her coffin—her grandmother, the girl said, was a street sweeper in Caloocan and died from a heart attack. It must have been her old age and the heat that were responsible for her passing.
The girl named the street which her grandmother used to sweep. “Perhaps you may have seen her there, sometime.” She then explained that they were so poor that they could not afford to give her grandma a decent burial, and while they have approached their congressman, mayor, vice mayor and councilors, and while these have given their own donations, the amount they have to pay remains staggering.
And then the girl started making the rounds - first going from front to back handing letter envelopes to passengers, and then returning systematically to collect the envelopes. 
Many of the passengers were moved by her story.
As the girl approached the bus door, preparing to alight, the driver asked her: “Sige nga, anong pangalan ng Lola mo at saan kayo nakatira? (Well then, what is the name of your grandmother and what is your address?)”
The girl mentioned a town in Bulacan and then got down.
“Pumunta ka doon sa pulitikong maraming kinurakot na pera!” (Go instead to those politicians who steal our money!” the driver shouted after her,
The conductor then addressed the passengers. “That one’s a regular.” He and the driver then proceeded to exchange opinions on how such people are making a good living out of pretending to ask money for funeral expenses. Apparently, they had seen that girl and heard her spiel before.
I’ve encountered this at least thrice and in one particular instance, the driver berated the supposed “beggar” for fooling people into thinking they are really helping when in fact this was just another “racket”—an easy way to earn money.
“Dapat magbanat kayo ng buto hindi kay nagloloko ng tao,”the driver told him. That man, who was collecting money to supposedly bury a colleague—they were laborers who worked  for greedy, unfeeling employers—got down, muttering to himself.
It seems unthinkable that some people would have the gall to take advantage of others’ compassion just to make themselves some money. After all, wasn’t there a death certificate presented?
And then you realize that anybody ca get hold of any death certificate and have it photocopied. The would-be donors would not be double checking the facts before they fished their pockets; they would just take everything said at face value.
Note, too, that these generous people are not themselves wealthy - this is why they are taking buses, not ‘cabs, not their own vehicles, on their way to school or work. Ten or twenty pesos may not be much to some people, but it counts for a lot when you factor in the costs of food and transport for the ordinary wage earner.
Whether or not the stories are genuine, they are signs of desperation. If they are true, then imagine having to beg from strangers just to pay the funeral company. Bereavement coupled with poverty must be a terrible combination.
And if they aren’t—have we gone to such lows, that some people would fake a tragedy and profit from others’genuine desire to help? The answer is panfully obvious.
Pardon me for telling another disturbing commuter’s story this weekend. We do observe and ponder a lot on the road.