IN a country that knows of how one First Lady had once upon a time hidden the poor from view of international visitors, it was no surprise that we heard of how they were hidden – yet again – for Pope Francis’ visit in 2015.
Of course we are being told by government that bringing homeless families to a Batangas resort was not at all about hiding the poor from the Pope, as it was about protecting the poor on the one hand, and orienting them on the conditional cash transfer program of government on the other.
The timing is suspect. And it doesn’t make things better that the first response we heard from Malacañang was that this had already been done before, as if that makes it right at all.
The only other thing that makes this worse is this fact: it is the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) that facilitated and spent on what they call a “family camp.” I mean one would expect this to be shamelessly done by local government units, if not ordered by Malacañang itself.
But for the Social Welfare Department to actually be at the helm of this project … there are just so many things wrong with that.
The MCCT opportunity
The Social Welfare secretary does not deny that taking the homeless from the streets to a Batangas resort was part of preparing for Pope Francis’s arrival. What she denies is that this was a way to keep the poor out of sight for the duration of the Pope’s visit.
“Hindi namin ipinagkakaila yun na bahagi ng effort ng lokal na pamahalaan na nung nag-ugnayan kami imbes na dalhin sila sa facilties na masisikip na, pagkakataon ito para marehistro sila sa programa (ng modified conditional cash transfer). <…> Hindi namin idine-deny na ang effort na gawing maayos ang Roxas Boulevard ay bahagi ho ito, kami ay nakipag-ugnayan para madala sila sa proseso ng pagrerehistro,” Secretary Dinky Soliman said. (27 Jan)
Registration for the modified conditional cash transfer (MCCT) program. See, the regular conditional cash transfer program is not something that the homeless street workers (watch your car boys, beggars, scavengers) are eligible for. The MCCT was created specifically for these homeless, where they might be granted cash for fulfillment of certain conditions like putting back their kids in school, or weekly attendance in family development sessions, among others. Government also promises them homes that will be rent-free for a duration of time, depending on their fulfillment of conditions.
Now of course there are many reasons to question this poverty reduction program to begin with. But let’s say that we have no issue with it, was there anything wrong with DSWD thinking it the right time to orient the homeless on the MCCT, given that the LGUs were wanting to remove them from the streets for the Pope’s visit anyway? What was wrong with the DSWD taking this opportunity to bring the homeless elsewhere, and teach them about living in rooms with doors, and using the toilet?
Yes, that came from the mouth of the Social Welfare secretary. She has also since said that this was the government’s way of showing the poor that government cares for them, as it was about making sure to protect the poor from those who might take advantage of them during Pope Francis’ visit.
Displacing the poor
On radio over at DZMM, she also said that the DSWD got Chateau Royal “within regulation and it was a big thing for the workshop participants <…> they saw that they are also important people for the government.” While in Batangas, the homeless were also given workshops on basic literacy, as well as vocational training. A sports clinic was also held. (Philstar.com, 25 Jan)
Government insists this is not the first time they’ve brought the homeless out-of-town for an MCCT family camp and orientation. In a press release, they say that they’ve in fact done it four times before: on August 2011, December 2011, May 2012, and May 2014.
This of course does not make it right. And it’s not even because this was a way to remove the poor from the streets and keep them out of sight during an event that puts a spotlight on the Philippines. It’s about whether or not displacing the poor, removing them from the streets and bringing them to a place that is the extreme opposite of their impoverished conditions, is the kindest thing to do.
All these things that the Social Welfare Secretary says these family camps are about, from providing the poor with MCCT orientation to familiarizing them with doors and toilets, to making them feel cared for – all these could’ve happened in a space that is more normal. Certainly a vacation resort is far from normal, even for the middle class. P6,000-peso a night per room rate of Chateau Royal is too steep a price to pay.
In an interview, the Social Welfare Secretary said: “There are people who are castigating us for bringing <the poor> to a place where they ate three times a day. I don’t understand. <…> That is my question to them (critics). It’s so hypocritical. They say we should all help the poor and when you help them and bring them to a place like <Chateau Royale>, you are asked why you brought them there. Where would we bring them? Don’t they deserve to be there?” (Inquirer.net, 25 Jan)
The Social Welfare Secretary also invokes the Pope, and says that the Pope himself saw the poor, and asked that we help the poor. So why is it that they at the DSWD are being criticized for doing exactly that?
The numbers have since been released. For the 490 families and DSWD staff, the government spent P4.3 million pesos for the MCCT family camp in Batangas. That was P1193.50 pesos per day per person, with three meals and two snacks a day.
Methinks the Social Welfare Secretary might have missed the point of Pope Francis’ statements about the poor. He asked that we listen to the poor, hear what they have to say, find out what it is that they need and want. I’m pretty sure spending P4.3 million pesos for a six-day stay in a resort would not even make it on any list of needs and wants for the homeless. It goes without saying that P4.3 million pesos could’ve been better spent.
That part of it is not difficult to understand, is it? And so the demand now is for government – and the DSWD – to explain in what world this Batangas trip, and this expense, is acceptable and justifiable.
“Dinky admits ‘family camping’ part of preps for papal visit” by Patricia Lourdes Viray. Philstar.com. 27 January 2015.
“Dinky Soliman: Family camp for homeless meant to clear streets during papal visit” by Amita O. Legaspi. GMA News Online. 27 January 2015.
“DSWD chief: Resort stay is ‘family camping’ for poor” by Pia Lee-Brago. The Philippine Star. 25 January 2015.
“DSWD Launches Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT).” DSWD website. 30 November 2012.
“Soliman ‘pained’ by insinuations gov’t hid the poor from Pope Francis” by Nikko Dizon. Inquirer.net. 25 January 2015.