A Call for Help: The Story of Mang Ben
WHO IS MANG BEN
Benjamin Morales, or Mang Ben, is an 80 year old man who spent most of his life wandering around Marikina. I learned about his predicament through Bianca Cristi, a friend and a batch mate who took it upon herself to personally make sure that Mang Ben gets the care that he desperately needs.
Bianca has known Mang Ben for years since he would collect old bottles and newspapers around their village. Through their sporadic chats, she learned that his wife passed away a few years ago. His daughter, who used to take care of him, also passed away after being hit by a vehicle. Having no one to depend on, Mang Ben was forced to fend for himself despite his frail condition.
Last April 28, Bianca was surprised to find Mang Ben at their doorstep, imploring for her help. Having no one to care for him, he went to Anawim, a home for the elderly in Montalban to ask if they could take him in. He learned that he need to go through a process of paperwork that included a medical checkup and a case study endorsement from DSWD before he could proceed with his application. After consulting with a case worker for Anawim, Bianca and Mang Ben set out to complete his requirements.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD THAT LEADS TO MORE RED TAPE
While processing his medical papers, Bianca learned that Mang Ben was completely homeless. The housing unit that he used to stay in burned down, and he was forced to sleep in his neighbour’s tricycle every night. She also learned that prior to asking for her help, Mang Ben had already asked DSWD Marikina for a case study. And after asking to complete a bunch of requirements, they had simply sent him away.
Alarmed that he was living in the streets especially given his condition, Bianca decided to accompany him again to DSWD Marikina. She was able to get an appointment with Rodrigo Domingo, the head of the branch. Although he was very thankful for the help that Bianca has so far extended, they claimed that they had no place to house Mang Ben. He then instructed Bianca to procure a barangay clearance for him, so they could proceed with the case study. He also encouraged her to keep on following up so it could be fast tracked.
She was ofcourse, dumbfounded. Where did they expect him to stay in the meantime, while they were still processing papers?. Being a private citizen with a full-time job, she neither had the resources nor the expertise to handle Mang Ben’s predicament.
Frustrated but not ready to give up, Bianca found herself sitting in the office of the Vice Mayor of Marikina that very same day. Although the local government also did not have the facilities to house Mang Ben, Vice Mayor Cadiz offered to let him stay in their police precinct while they found a place for him.
During the succeeding days, Bianca relentlessly worked to help out Mang Ben. She implored friends and family for donations to help with his medical expenses. She personally made calls to various institutions, asking if they had a place for someone like him. All the NGO’s gave her the same answer; she needed an endorsement from DSWD before they could take him in.
Through the help of friends and former employers, she found a way to get in touch with the Office of the Undersecretary of DSWD. She simply could not accept that they would leave a homeless person in the streets while they finished all their paperwork. The main office confirmed her suspicions. DSWD Markina did not follow their agency’s SOP.
Immediately after finding out that he was homeless, they should have endorsed him to one of their half-way houses (they mentioned one near SM North Edsa in particular) until they could find a permanent home for him. Also, they further explained that some branches of DSWD actually made sure that their budget included temporary housing in their respective municipalities to help the homeless people in their district. Bianca felt vindicated by this new information. But it still did not change the fact that DSWD had nothing to offer Mang Ben.