Hiding the poor from Pope Francis

Pixel Dinky SolimanI wrote this article for the Philippine Online Chronicles.

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman’s admission that the Aquino government brought homeless families to a posh resort during the visit of Pope Francis only confirmed what everybody already knew. Hiding the poor from foreign leaders and dignitaries visiting the Philippines is not new for the country’s government. This practice has rather become the rule rather than the exception with the country’s ruling classes notorious for massive spending on beautification as opposed to social welfare programs.

The classic practitioner of the “vanishing poor” act was no other than the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Manila slum-dwellers were driven away en masse from the parade routes of the 1974 Miss Universe beauty pageant and the 1975 visit of US President Gerald Ford. Ever since the 1976 International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in Manila, it has become an annual ritual for succeeding Philippine governments to wall up slum areas along the highways to keep them out of sight from visitors.

Even the coming to power of Corazon Aquino on the heels of the 1986 “People Power” uprising against the Marcos dictatorship did nothing to end this anti-poor tradition. Over 600,000 informal settlers were reportedly evicted from their shanties during the rule of the current president’s mother. Successive governments from Ramos, to Estrada (whose pro-poor rhetoric has not prevented him from demolishing over 22,000 squatters’ homes in the first year of his term), to Arroyo, up to Noynoy Aquino have resorted to all sorts of schemes to hide the poor.

After repeatedly denying that the homeless and poor were removed from the streets of Manila in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis to the country, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman admitted that the Philippine government sent some 100 poor homeless families to an air-conditioned resort in time for the papal visit. A teary-eyed Soliman said in a Senate investigation meeting that her agency took them to an air-conditioned resort in Batangas to clear Roxas Boulevard, which was part of the route taken by the pope’s motorcade in Manila.

The homeless families were brought to the Chateau Royale resort in Nasugbu Batangas, located 90 kilometers south of the predominantly Catholic country’s national capital. The DSWD spent $97,600 for the six-day “family camp” supposedly as part of the Aquino government’s anti-poverty program. According to the agency, the training is supposed to equip the participants with the skills to help them find jobs.

Secretary Soliman had earlier denied a news report that the department gathered and hid the poor during the papal visit. She insisted that the training given by her agency merely coincided with the visit of the pope. And indeed, bringing the poor to a resort is definitely a more creative way of hiding them than simply walling up slums like they did last May 2014 when the World Economic Forum (WEF) was held in Manila.

The penchant for magically covering up poverty continues today as the Aquino regime struggles to keep up appearances of progress amidst unabated corruption, poverty, and inequality. From the onset, Aquino has always insisted that his good governance and anti-corruption campaign has led to economic growth. But as his term comes to a close, it has become clear to all that this so-called development have only benefited Aquino’s close friends and family in power, big businesses, and the landed elites.

It thus comes with a tinge of irony that Pope Francis, who is popular for his support for the poor, visited the country to see firsthand the real conditions of indigent and destitute Filipinos, especially the victims of typhoon Haiyan. The Aquino government’s staged vanishing of the poor came to an abrupt end with the homeless families being taken back to Manila after the pope left the country.


  1. Even if they managed to hide the street dwellers, i doubt it if the Pope did not notice the slums.

    At any rate, the degree of overpopulation in the Philippines must have really struck him as staggering, for on his return flight from the country, he uttered these famous words which had talk shows getting hilarious over the, in appearances, awkwardly phrased remark: “Certain people seem to think – excuse me for the expression – that in order to be good Catholics, they must behave like rabbits.”

    This article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-j-reid-jr/pope-francis-and-rabbits_b_6520770.html) is an interesting analysis on this comment. Some excerpts:
    ”So, let’s assume that the Pope knew just how much attention his “breed like rabbits” remark would receive. Why did he say this? Who was he trying to reach? I might guess that he was appealing to the average Catholic couple. What do we know about average Catholic couples? That they are very, very likely to use artificial means of contraception. It is commonly said that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives at some point in their lives. This figure is rightly viewed with skepticism, but still it is the case that the vast majority of Catholic women probably have. ”

    ”So, how to interpret what the Pope was saying to that vast silent majority of Catholic women? It is fair to conclude the following: he is endorsing their sense of responsibility in using birth control, urging them to take another look at the Church, and encouraging them to form their consciences by talking to pastors. He is not changing doctrine. He has not altered the Church’s stance on contraception, but he has opened a welcoming door to those who have chosen to use contraceptives for purposes that are not wrong.”

    ””You don’t have to breed like rabbits.” No, Pope Francis has not changed doctrine. But he has started a debate. The contraception question will never be viewed in the same way again. I was in college in the 1970s when my lagging faith was revived by the vigor of internal Catholic debates. The richness, vitality and diversity of an intellectual tradition really and truly engaging the problems of the world was attractive to me. Pope Francis is doing his level best to rouse that tradition from its long midnight slumber. And he is certainly causing many people to give the Church a fresh look.”

    ”Large populations consume significant natural resources. ”

  2. Just another Catholic standpoint regarding contraceptives as uttered by highly popular French priest Guy Gilbert ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Gilbert ) who works, among his other occupations, at rehabilitating problematic French youth.

    “I always carry condoms with me and I’ve saved young people, especially young girls, who might have got pregnant. And for sure, I’ve saved some from AIDS…”

    “- “J’ai toujours des capotes sur moi et j’ai sauvé des jeunes, des filles surtout qui auraient pu être enceintes. Et j’en ai sauvé certains du sida, oui, c’est sûr…”


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