Depriving poor of seeing Pope ‘malicious’—group

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MANILA, Jan. 28, 2015—An ecumenical group decries the “meanness and malice” with which the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) allegedly hid hundreds of street people during the recent visit of Pope Francis, who is known for his special love of the poor, supposedly to keep them safe from the crowds who will gather to see the pontiff during his recent trip to the Philippines.

“Whatever reasons the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had for ‘treating’ or ‘hiding’ at least 100 poor families (including 500 street children) during the Pope’s visit is surely with meanness and malice … DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman said that this was done so that they would not be vulnerable to the influx of people coming to witness the Pope. We cannot understand this line, even as a poor excuse,” says Norma P.Dollaga of the Kapatirang Simbahan Para sa Bayan (KASIMBAYAN) in a statement.

Pope Francis visits former street children of Tulay ng Kabataan after the Holy Mass at the Manila Cathedral, Jan. 16, 2015. (Photo: TNK)

Pope Francis visits former street children of Tulay ng Kabataan after the Holy Mass at the Manila Cathedral, Jan. 16, 2015. (Photo: TNK)

Of all the days

The street people were reportedly billeted at Château Royale Resort in Nasugbu, Batangas from Jan. 14 to 19, coinciding with the Holy Father’s first apostolic trip to the country.

“Of all the days of supposed ‘good will’ toward the street-dwelling families, why choose the days when the Pope was here? Pope Francis is a known ally of the poor. Day after day the street dwellers suffer from the rising and setting of sun; why choose a rare occasion when they can join the crowd welcoming the Pope in whom they put their high expectations and hopes?” she asks.

She explains Pope Francis embraces the poor and sharply challenges the structures and systems of injustice that excludes the poor, lamenting that the choice of a government that usually hounds the poor and pushes them away from the ‘comfort’ of having the cement of the boulevard as the floor of their homes and abodes, was to callously spirit them out of the city in an act of honey-coated, but nonetheless, vicious, exclusion.

According to Dollaga, DSWD appeared to be in such a hurry to hide the poor.

She asserts the agency should have found creative ways to accommodate poor families in Pasay, Manila and Parañaque in a special way during Pope’s visit.

“At the very least, they could have organized them under a short-term plan, provided a little comfort, and included them in welcoming the Pope. They could have listened to the message of Pope Francis with a translator, so that they could immediately understand what the Pope was saying. This type of authentic gesture would have given the poor the privilege of listening to the one whose heart is dedicated to the poor; it would have included them,” she says.

Jobs, housing

More comprehensively, Dollaga stresses that part of the gift to the poor honoring the Pope’s visit could have been livable housing, decent jobs for the adults, and health and education services.

She notes that the amount spent on the resort stay, reportedly Php 4.3 million, could have given actual services for the families.

“Perhaps they could have also been treated with a trip to a simple resort after Pope Francis left the country. The poor ones could have shared their wisdom and reflections on how they appreciated the coming of their ally-Pope,” she shares.

Dollaga laments that a long-term plan seems beyond DSWD given that government programs supposedly to address poverty, joblessness, corruption, and social services become a source of profit for capitalists and bureaucrats.

Quoting Pope Francis, she says, “I hope that this prophetic summons will challenge everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.” (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)

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