EVER wondered where street dwellers in Manila went when millions of Filipinos lined up in the thoroughfare from the Apostolic Nunciature in Quirino to the airport in Pasay to see Pope Francis?
They went on a vacation.
It was a refreshing sight for passersby to see cleaner roads without the usual view of beggars trying to live their lives in the center islands of the long boulevards of Manila. However, the supposed clean up operation of the government may be just another band-aid solution.
It was a relief when the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) refuted earlier news from the U.K.-based publication Daily Mail that street children were caged to keep the streets of Manila clean for the Papal visit.
“We do not tolerate this practice. We put child abusers in jail,” DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman said.
However, reports of transporting homeless families to a resort in Nasugbu, Batangas resurfaced in local media after an NGO official confirmed that there was an effort from the government to conceal the real face of poverty in the country.
In an interview with GMA News Online on Thursday, Jan. 22, development manager of the non-profit organization Bahay Tuluyan Catherine Scerri said seven buses of homeless families arrived at the Chateau Royale Sports and Country Club in Nasugbu on Jan. 14, the night before the pope’s arrival on Jan. 15.
The families, according to Scerri, were brought back to Manila on the afternoon of Jan. 19, after Pope Francis left the Philippines.
“They said that there is normally an annual outing for the MCCT (Modified Conditional Cash Transfer), but they also had the impression that this was being done so they wouldn’t be seen during the Pope’s visit,” the NGO official said.
MCCT is one of the current administration’s flagship programs aiming to reduce poverty through giving funds to families, to send their children to school and provide health services to each member of the family.
Scerri further confirmed that the families had activities and seminars in the resort set out by the welfare department.
The resident manager of Chateau Royale confirmed that DSWD checked in 500 indigents from Baclaran, Manila and Paranaque who were booked at the resort for six days.
In addition to the destitute beneficiaries of MCCT, 100 staff from DSWD occupied rooms in the resort. A total of 70 rooms and other facilities of the place were chartered throughout their stay.
Each room in the resort cost more than P6,000 per night, a report from ABS-CBN News said, but the DSWD was able get a discounted price of P4,000 each.
Secretary Soliman did not deny the reports, insisting that bringing the street dwellers in a resort was not a move to cover up poverty but a way to protect them.
“Yes, it’s true. 100 families or 490-something individuals, that effort was part of registering them as partner beneficiaries of MCCT. It’s a continuing process. These families were newly identified by LGUs,” Soliman said.
“It’s not to keep them out of sight, but this is an LGU effort to take them from the areas which were identified where people will be mostly congregating. For safety. They didn’t want these families to be in those areas,” she defended.
“But no, it was not for keeping them out of sight. We do reach out to families even before the announcement of the pope coming.”
Soliman reiterated that not all street families were brought to the resort, noting that many of them were still present along Taft Avenue and MH Del Pilar Street in Malate.
Contrary to the Secretary’s statement that the program is a “continuing process,” Scerri revealed that the families were only informed about the trip just two days before their departure.
“Funny coincidence,” she said, adding that the families were told that if they do not join the outing, they would be caught.
In a statement, DWSD stressed that the effort to keep the street children away from the streets were not only for the papal visit.
“Reaching out to street children is a regular program of the Department meant to keep them off the street where it is dangerous for their health and safety. The MCCT is likewise a continuing program for them, since 2013. We are not doing all these for the Pope’s visit,” Solman said.
Scerri slammed the statement, insisting that the families have been on the streets for years.
“If they were so vulnerable, why get them from the street then dump them again after the pope’s visit? If really Manila was not safe, then why is it safe to the six to seven million people who attended the pope’s Mass, who attended the different activities? It seems really inconsistent,” she added.
The NGO official also expressed her disappointment over Soliman’s statement in an interview with Time criticizing other organizations for making an issue of the outing to get more sympathy from the donors.
“We’re disappointed with the allegations that come from DSWD. There’s an article in Time… that made some suggestions that NGOs were drawing attention to this issue as a sympathy ploy or to get funding,” she said.
Meanwhile, a leftist group revealed that it is not the first time that the government has tried “hiding poverty” during international events held in the country including the World Economic Forum (WEF) last year.
“Every time there is a big international event, the Aquino government would scramble to hide the poor and homeless from the eyes of the international media and guests. They would claim to ‘rescue’ the poor and bring them to an outing or camping trip for the duration of the event. The poor are coerced into joining. After this, they go back to the streets and return to their impoverished conditions,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.
“The Aquino government is again whitewashing poverty. This is no different from what Imelda Marcos did during her term as governor of Metropolitan Manila. What the DSWD does is unacceptable and should be stopped. We believe that the same activities will be repeated during the APEC summit in November. Public funds are being used to conceal poverty, not help the poor,” he added.
Bayan slammed the government for forcing the indigents to join the pseudo “camping”.
“The idea that the homeless would be excluded from government’s CCT program if they don’t join the outing is already a form of coercion. Previous memoranda during the WEF last year also show that the homeless people were brought to a holding area and ‘obliged’ to join the camping trips,” the group said.
“Poor people need jobs and homes, not outings and camping trips intended to hide them from the world. Use public funds to really help the poor, not hide the poor. That is what the DSWD fails to grasp. It relies not just on dole-outs but also on the cosmetic approach to addressing poverty,” it added.
Malacañang, on the other hand, defended DSWD.
“They were not hidden. As explained by Secretary Soliman… this was not the first case where the DSWD has done that,” deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
She said the “treat” was a part of the department’s program, adding that it was for their safety from possible stampede.
“It’s not that they’re being hidden. Of course, it was also for the safety of the people who sleep on the center island and in some of other areas. We saw the along Roxas Boulevard where they turned up in large numbers in trying to greet the pope,” Valte said, adding that this has been the third batch of street dwellers who were brought to the Batangas resort.
“We don’t make it a point to lie about these things also because you see that one of the administration’s biggest program is poverty alleviation,” she insisted.
(With reports from GMANetwork.com, ABS-CBNews.com and Rappler.com)
(LA Weekend January 24-27, 2015 Sec. A pg.12)