Engineered divide


LAST week’s whirlwind named Pope Francis left many of us starstruck and awed more than any real typhoon could. The visit of the people’s Pope to Manila and Tacloban mobilized roughly 4.5 million in his Mass in Manila last Sunday. All in all we estimate that around six million have cumulatively attended to and tried to view the Pope along the streets and in his events from his arrival to his departure to Rome a few days ago.

On his arrival, most of us lined along the route from the Villamor Air Base going to the Vatican embassy (or the Apostolic Nunciature). The crowd that gathered along that 16 kilometer stretch of road from Villamor to Quirino Avenue was estimated to have reached around 400,000. This number is a result of our earlier estimate using a density of at most 6 people per square meter. Using that density, around 24,000 people can line up along a kilometer of road. Simply multiplying the length with the number of people per kilometer will give us 390,000 which we can round up to 400,000. Note that the density is not uniform along the route and at some areas the crowd were standing only on one side of the road.

On his second day, the route that the Pope took was longer due to multiple stops in his itinerary. Overall, the total length of the route from the Apostolic Nunciature to Malacanang to the Manila Cathedral then back to the Vatican embassy and the afternoon route from the Nunciature to the Mall of Asia and back add up to around 26 kilometers. This would translate to a minimum of 620,000 to a high of 780,000 viewers along that route. The Manila Cathedral area is not that large and would not have significantly changed the estimate.

If we account only the route to Villamor on his Tacloban leg, the number of people that would have been able to see him would be slightly less than double of his first day. That will make the total on the Manila part to be around 700,000 people. If we add our estimate of the crowd in Tacloban of around 200,000 to 300,000 along the route and in the airport, the total for the third day would be from 900,000 to 1 million people.

The biggest crowd was during the fourth day of the Pope’s visit. We estimate that there were around 3 million in the Luneta and adjoining areas and at the minimum another 1.3 million along the road plus around 200,000 in and around the UST area.

This adds up to a total of around 4.5 million on the fourth day.

The MMDA and the PNP counted the crowd to be around 6 million in the Luneta area but this is an overestimation. If one is to compute the density of the people using this number, we would get around 10 people per square meter. The images inside Quirino grandstand, in the Luneta area, and the roads around the park do not show that dense packing of people. There are areas where this density of 10 is reached but mostly the typical range is around 4 to 5 people per square meter. Using this as an upper bound, we can get an estimate of 3 million in the Luneta.

The last day wait for the Pope was a bit more packed and the people lined up the streets early in the day. The same route was used from the Apostolic Nunciature to the Villamor Airbase was used and this lead us to an estimate of at least another 400,000. Note that all of these estimates do not include those inside the buildings or on small side streets.

All in all, the total cumulative crowd for the whole trip of the Pope would run up to nearly seven (7) million people. This is spread over the five days of the Pope’s visit. Most of them might have come back repeatedly but all in all, this is the number that would have glimpsed the Pope in the Philippines.

Yet could this have been larger? One difference of the 1995 World Youth Day events was that we have social media, the Internet and live TV more pervasively nowadays. Some might have balked at braving the rains and watched and listened to the Pope’s message in their homes. Pope Francis’ messages were sharp enough to sting and wake us up even if we see it via the electromagnetic waves brought to our TV sets.

The Pope’s message of being one with the poor is in stark contrast with the security divide that the organizers foisted upon the people. The long lines of policemen, the so-called human barricades and the concrete barriers were no match to the fervor of the ordinary folk who wanted to be heard and wanted to be seen. Yet there were instances of the poor and marginalized pushed back and prevented to come and be heard. Some 2,000 farmers, workers and the urban poor bringing their issues of “justice” and “human rights” were denied to be near the Pope’s route. The political prisoners who staged a hunger strike were prevented from putting their message across.

This kind of engineered divide should not stand for long with the call of the Pope of giving voice to the poor and denouncing economic exclusion and inequality. We should all be one with the omitted poor and should not erect barriers between us and them. We should act to bring down this divide and push for genuine pro-people policies that will address the widespread poverty in our country. This is Francis’ message to us Filipinos.


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  1. The Church is the Great Divider. By constantly meddling in issues for which they have no real answers, especially in politics, they create polarized societies which is opposite of the love that Jesus preached. They will become better spiritual shepherds if they will just drop all their unhallowed agendas and stick to the Ten Commandments.

  2. In our publicity hungry Philippines, crowd estimates are naturally inflated. The truth is, it does not matter whether it was 3 million or 10 million who came out to see the Pope. What is important is the message, that we are all children of god and we need to show compassion for the poor.