THE short stretch of time that Pope Francis was here was expectedly like a freeze frame. While we knew of the larger more important issues that affect us, it was difficult not to get caught up in Francis Fever.
It didn’t matter that he is the last person to want to be treated like a rock star. For that stretch of five days, he could only be exactly that. To me, lapsed Catholic as I am, the fascination had everything to do with the things Pope Francis said and his kind of thinking about the world. It’s the kind that we rarely witness from our own Church.
But of course post-Pope Francis, the issues we suspended in the air for five days could only be layered now with even more urgency. There are the realizations about the security overdrive that speaks of this government’s anti-people policies; there is also just the danger of spin. It seems time now to take stock.
Turning off our phones
The first time I found my Smart phone without a signal, I freaked out: what of work? What of urgent texts telling me about deadlines, or new writing gigs? I checked the mother’s Globe phone and it was without a signal, too.
Little did we know then that it had everything to do with Pope Francis traveling from Villamor Airbase to his official residence in Manila. Little did we know that it would happen during the rest of his visit, and most every time he would be in transit be it by land or plane, no matter the distance.
It would be announced later on that this was a pre-planned security measure, one that had the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) killing our mobile phone signals to secure the Pope.
Now of course this would have made sense to anyone at all who was in the immediate vicinity of the Papal activities; it would’ve even made sense to me were the Pope passing through any of the roads near where I was losing my signal. But one is hard put to imagine how in the world a mobile phone in Mandaluyong – or Quezon City – could affect the security of the Pope in Manila, or while he’s high up in the air flying to Tacloban.
One has to wonder why we weren’t told about this suspension of mobile phone signals. We would’ve made a fuss of course, but at least we would’ve been forewarned about losing the ability to communicate.
Displacing the poor
We knew they were hiding the poor with huge fences ala Imelda Marcos circa Martial Law. The better to control the images of “the poor” that Pope Francis will take home with him, “the poor” that the international media would catch on camera.
But there is nothing like the decision to bring 100 or so families from the streets where they live to a resort in Batangas, all under the purview of government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). They speak of it shamelessly to Time Magazine online (21 January):
“<Corazon> Juliano-Soliman did confirm that 100 homeless families — comprising 490 parents and children — were taken off the street of Roxas Boulevard, the palm-fringed thoroughfare arcing Manila Bay along which Pope Francis traveled several times, and taken about an hour and a half’s drive away to the plush Chateau Royal Batangas resort. Room
rates there range from $90 to $500 per night.
“This sojourn lasted from Jan. 14, the day before Pope Francis’s visit, until Jan. 19, the day he left. It was organized by the Department of Social Welfare’s Modified Conditional Cash Transfer program, which provides grants to aid ‘families with special needs.’
“Juliano-Soliman says this was done so that families would “not be vulnerable to the influx of people coming to witness the Pope.” Pressed to clarify, she expressed fears that the destitute ‘could be seen as not having a positive influence in the crowd’ and could be ‘used by people who do not have good intentions.’”
According to an ABS-CBN report from Chateau Royal in Batangas, there was a 100-member staff from DSWD that accompanied the families, who occupied 70 rooms in all. On January 15 two big trucks delivered clothes and toiletries, diapers and medicines and toys. Their days were filled with activities.
It is beyond me how this was deemed acceptable by this government, and how it continues to rationalize this decision by invoking the need to protect these children and their families.
Protect them from what, exactly? From the huge number of people who might have been generous with alms given Pope Francis’s words? Who might have sat on the sidewalks with the poor and asked them what they feel, what they need?
The ‘matuwid na daan’
We have heard this government spin what Pope Francis says about social justice: this government is on the same side as the Pope. This government is glad to have found an ally of “matuwid na daan” in Pope Francis.
And yet, between these two instances of “securing” the Pope, it is clear that this government stands on the extreme opposite of justice, if not of kindness.
To have killed our phone signals without warning, to have decided to do that without proper consultation – without even making sure that certain areas that are far from Papal activities remain unaffected – was not only unfair, it was also dangerous. Now that Pope Francis Fever is over it can also be said: this is a scary scary reminder that government can issue such orders, and citizens can be left unable to communicate with each other, emergencies be damned.
Speaking of damnation, what of the homeless and impoverished who were given a taste of the good life in a vacation resort in Batangas, only to be brought back to earth after Pope Francis leaves? To have displaced the poor and put them in such a place, only to bring them back out to the streets is not only unjust, it is mean and unthinking. It lacks compassion and kindness. It is disgusting.
How’s that for back to normal.