SQUATTER KIDS AS ‘APOSTLES’ IN THE LAST-SUPPER * Hapag ng Pag-asa, the painting

Hapag ng Pag-asa, the painting / In memoriam – Joey Velasco
eastwind journals
By Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
Blogger / retired Inquirer columnist / healing ministry
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Author’s Note.
This article is based on an interview of the late Joey Velasco about 25 years ago, when he was still alive. Joey was healed of terminal kidney cancer by the Lord through Sister Raquel Reodica, RVM, which extended his life for a few more years to finish his paintings for his Healer. God rest your beautiful soul, Joey. He gave me digital copies of his heart-rending paintings, which he asked me to share with the world. Below are some of them. Please share.
The late Joey Velasco painted the mural HAPAG NG PAG-ASA (Table of Hope, shown below), which became an overnight sensation because of its powerful social message – the 12 apostles depicted as squatter kids. Painstakingly, Joey interviewed the 12 ‘apostles’ and made them pose for the painting one by one. Subsequently, he wrote a book depicting their painful lives, entitled “They have Jesus, Stories of the Children of Hapag“.
Once, Joey gathered the kids and treated them to Jolibee. All of them said it was their first time to taste this food. Their stomachs were so small from under-nourishment, many could not finish a single drumstick. One kid placed the half-eaten chicken back into its box, and said she was saving it for her mother.
p286 hapag ng pag-asa


Father Javey of Pugad, a street children foundation, wonders why squatter kids always share the little they have. They are never selfish. They share morsels without hesitation. Father Javey thinks it is because they know personal suffering is related to communal suffering. Morsels, like suffering, are shared, which relieve the suffering even though there is less to go around.


Jesuit theologian Fr. Carlos Abesamis, SJ called the children ‘precious lotus in mud’. The lotus flower, sacred to Buddhists and Hindus as a symbol of spiritual renewal, is so pure, yet it thrives in muddy waters. Father Arturo Sanchez, SDB says the painting is “a gospel within a frame.” Archbishop Oscar Cruz, DD says “the painting conveys the intensity of a socio-political reality.” There are framed replicas of Hapag everywhere, in homes, chapels, schools.


Broken Lives
Indeed, the stories of suffering related by the squatter kids are stories told by Jesus to us. Ten-years-old Jessica (not her real name), one of the 12 children, is the girl on the left holding a bag in the painting. She sleeps atop a tomb in a cemetery with her grandmother. She was abandoned when she was five months old by her mother who eventually went crazy. She makes a living by crawling on jeepney floors, wiping passengers’ shoes with a rag. She comes home at eleven every evening after ‘work’. 
Rene (second to the last on the right in the painting) is nine years old. In the painting, he looks like he is 30 years old due to the stresses of life. He has to bring home two cans of sardines every evening as his ‘assignment’, otherwise his father flogs with a GI pipe. Once, his elder brother poured hot water over his head. The day Rene posed for Joey for the painting, he did not go home because he did not have the two cans of sardines, he told Joey a year later. You can see in the painting the fear in his eyes, worried about his ‘assignment’.


Rita (behind Jessica in the painting) was pregnant at 13 years old. She had a nine-month old baby. That was 20 years ago. Now she is old and her daughter full grown somewhere. She lived in a crowded squatter colony where a teenage boy slowly seduced and took advantage of her.


Tonio, eleven years old, (to the right of Jesus in the painting) is a professional padlock picker and a petty thief. He is good in mathematics even though he has not gone to school. He has been jailed four times. His father is jobless and his mother washes clothes for a fee, if she is not playing bingo or pusoy. It is so unfortunate that children are forced into petty crimes by sheer poverty and by parents who cannot cope.
I give you storms so you can seek my shelter
I give you sickness so you can seek my healing
I give you pain to purify and strengthen you
pain is a form of prayer if you offer it to me


Street Children of Metro-Manila


Street children live in a world of violence and misery. We walk along the streets, ignoring them, too busy with our lives. After you see Joey’s painting or read his book, you may perhaps take a second look and offer a sandwich to these children, whose happy or naughty faces hide their pains.


Pugad started in 1988 in response to the sudden rapid increase in abandoned street children. Pugad then was a mere soup kitchen, harboring 20 children. By the mid-90s, it had about a hundred, aged from 9 to 22. It has a family integration program because they feel the ultimate long term solution lies in parents, not children, who are not the problem but the effects of the problem. Pugad is only one of dozens of children centers citywide.


As of 1995, 25 years before the writing of this article, there were about 200,000 street children nationwide. If we presume 40 percent is in Metro-Manila, that is a stunning 80,000. That was 25 years ago. This could easily be circa 120,000 today. All the combined children centers can hardly make a dent on this number.


This Third World social phenomenon is something we cannot ignore and must face. It begins with our awareness and sensitivity when we see them in the streets. Sharing our bounty is not an option, it is an obligation. If we fail to help the poor, it is a sin of omission.


Poverty is a form of violence. Poor people vent their anger for their misery on society and on their own children, who pass this on to the next generation. The little we give relieves society of violence bred by poverty.
Some of Joey’s Paintings





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