MANILA, Philippines—University of the Philippines Prof. Randy David expressed sadness over the death of Mang Pandoy (real name: Felipe Natanio), saying that the gardener was a victim of the dysfunctional structure of opportunity in the country.
“There are limits to charity … They (the poor) will have to learn to help themselves,” David told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview, stressing that charity cannot solve poverty until the “entire structure of opportunity” is improved.
He said there was a tendency to ignore the structure and just focus on personal charity.
Mang Pandoy, David said, was made a “mascot” of the Ramos administration but he was given a regular income after he was appointed consultant on the poor and given a regular co-hosting stint in a television program.
The government, he said, tried to take care of Mang Pandoy but “there are limits to charity.”
Mang Pandoy was also given livelihood projects, including a hog-raising package, and scholarship grants for his children but they all failed.
“He had ended up expecting the government to help him all the time. But help was not always there,” David pointed out.
He said the moment assistance stopped, Mang Pandoy and members of his family were lost.
“I feel very bad about it but what can we do?” David said, explaining that in improving the structure of opportunity, the entire community instead of just one family must be targeted for investment and not doles.
David recalled that he first met Mang Pandoy in 1991 when he was selling vegetables to members of the faculty at the UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City.
“I was so impressed by his industry. He was always smiling. He was never oppressed by poverty,” David said, adding that it was the reason that he invited Mang Pandoy to be a guest at his public affairs program on Channel 13.
The witty and engaging Mang Pandoy shared his everyday “menu” for stretching the peso.
“Everybody was impressed by his practicality. Despite his poverty, he never lost hope,” the columnist said.
But several months after the program, David learned that Mang Pandoy was ill from an allergic reaction to pesticides and fertilizer and he could no longer raise vegetables to feed his family.
He helped Mang Pandoy as best he could.
In 1992, David interviewed Mang Pandoy as a case study of poverty because he wanted the problem to be the central issue in the presidential debate.
“He (Mang Pandoy) was pessimistic already due to his inability to feed his family,” David said, pointing out that the extent of his depression reached the point where Mang Pandoy offered to get himself killed if his family would be paid P100,000 for his life.
“That interview with him was aired. It became the focus of the presidential debate. Everybody forgot what the presidential candidates said and all offered to help alleviate Mang Pandoy’s family,” David said.
Face of poverty
“Mang Pandoy gave Filipino poverty its face. Many were made aware of the seriousness of poverty. The spontaneous reaction of the people was to provide assistance,” David said. Life eased up for the Natanio family then.
In the succeeding years, Mang Pandoy and his family were New Year’s Day guests at the David home until five years ago when they stopped coming.
“I thought he had gone off to live in the province. I never knew he was still in Metro Manila. It is only now that I found out,” David said.
Although the Natanio children knew his telephone number and where he lived, they never made any attempt to reach him, he said.
Nevertheless, David said nobody should be blamed for what happened to Mang Pandoy. “We cannot even blame Mang Pandoy because he was a victim of the dysfunctional structure.” Jeanette I. Andrade