Charity (justice) at home | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Charity (justice) at home

/ 04:06 AM September 22, 2021

My parents used to harp about my activism in my youth by going: “Charity begins at home,” which for them was fixing your room, or running errands for them.

As I grew older, I was able to turn the tables on them and say, yes, charity begins at home, so can we give our household helpers and employees higher salaries and cover their social security and health insurance?


With COVID-19, this “charity begins at home” mantra becomes all too real. In these hard times, we get more requests for help, including from past employees, especially domestic helpers who are often second family.

A friend of mine texted last month about how busy she had been with their yaya, the one who cared for her and her siblings. The first texts said she was in the hospital and they were worried that it might be COVID-19. Fortunately, she tested negative. In time, she was discharged and my friend brought her home to be cared for, all her siblings pitching in for expenses.


I made sure about PhilHealth and SSS coverage for our helpers and drivers, and I can tell you the reimbursements and pensions, after they retire, do help. (PhilHealth’s reimbursements are paltry, but it’s better than nothing.)

Even then, it’s good to think of extra help, even without people asking. There was one mayordomo, yes a male mayordoma, who worked for my aunt’s family for more than 50 years and was ready to go back to the provinces to retire. He started out as a houseboy but became an all-around help—yayo (male for yaya), gardener, cook, whatever work needed to be done. I dropped by to give him a despedida cash gift and to thank him for bringing such joy to the entire clan.

A few weeks later, I found out that all these years, a nephew and two nieces living in the house where he continued to serve had been pitching in each month to give him money and would continue now that he was retired.

While social security helps, it could be much better, and the COVID-19 assistance, including the “ayuda” of material goods, has been ridiculously small. It becomes all the more obscene when you think of the money that’s been plundered, in PhilHealth and in this brewing Pharmally scandal.

But we can’t just keep complaining. What can we do to help make life better for those who deserve better?

I thought about that when our subdivision security guard came by the other day to give me rice, “ayuda” from the barangay. I gave it back to him and said he could share it with another guard. I thought of, but didn’t go into, an explanation of taxes meant not just for roads and services but also to address economic inequity. I know of many others who do that as well with their ayuda, sharing it out with the guards or with household help. Ayuda just shouldn’t be going to higher-income households.

Social safety nets can make a difference. Statistics just released for the United States show that when you factor in COVID-19 government assistance, the poverty rate in the US actually dropped from 11.8 percent in 2019 to 9.1 percent in 2020! Official statistics are not out yet for the Philippines, but the Asian Development Bank recently projected that poverty incidence increased from 16 percent in 2018 to 20 percent in 2020.


I used to argue with my parents that the poor didn’t need our charity. Instead, we needed to find ways to help them help themselves.

Three or four years ago, one of my maternal grandmother’s helpers, who stayed on even after my grandmother had passed away, asked if I could give her some pre-retirement pay. I calculated how long she worked with us, and how much she was already getting with SSS, which we had also covered. I sent her P70,000, with a promise to give her more when she retired.

A few months later, I asked her what she had done with the money. She said she used P50,000 to build a small house in the province, which she rented out at P2,000 a month. I congratulated her, saying how good she was in business, with a complete return on her investment in about two years. I then teased her, asking if I could give her more money to build and administer more rental properties… for me.

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TAGS: charity, house helpers, Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi, Social Security
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