It is easy to get lost in the pomp and pageantry—and yes, be utterly critical of how uncreative those songs are, how absurd the dancing prepubescent girls and boys are, how the government’s prepared welcome did not in any way capture our creativity and talent as a nation. It could only fail in comparison to the people’s welcome, where despite being practically caged in by security measures and standing so far from where the pope-mobile would pass, the crowd’s squeals of joy upon seeing Pope Francis is enough to get goosebumps.
But often he has reminded of how he is no rock star, how there is a need for simplicity and humility, compassion and kindness. It is in light of the latter that instead of talking about that speech of the President to welcome Pope Francis, one must speak of Pope Francis’s speech, what it is he says and thinks, instead of what we are being made to think this visit is about.
Because media is unthinkingly spinning this visit to the tune of government’s propaganda of security and order, their own Catholic hysteria magnified by the microphones they hold for reportage that has ceased to be such. It’s a media mess like no other, as it is a government’s inability to imagine what Pope Francis stands for.
That behooves us all to listen. These are excerpts from his Malacañang speech, January 16.
The crisis of the family
“Families have an indispensable mission in society. It is in the family that children are trained in sound values, high ideals and genuine concern for others.
“But like all God’s gifts, the family can also be disfigured and destroyed. It needs our support. We know how difficult it is for our democracies today to preserve and defend such basic human values as respect for the inviolable dignity of each human person, respect for the rights of conscience and religious freedom, and respect for the inalienable right to life, beginning with that of the unborn and extending to that of the elderly and infirm.”
Pope Francis hits the nail on the head of the crisis that the Filipino family is faced with. Countless families are disfigured and destroyed by the indignity of poverty and lack of opportunities in this country, which government has yet—is refusing—to solve.
Because it thinks helping families is about continuing the system of conditional cash transfers (CCTs). That is, giving the poorest Filipino families monthly dole-outs, on conditions that have nothing to do with providing them the means to become self-sufficient. Children must be going to school, babies must be breastfed, parents must attend seminars with the local health center or other accredited CCT event, etc. etc.
All these dole-outs achieve is an alleged fall in our poverty numbers, the monthly stipend allowing government to imagine that these families cease to be poor. To even think that this means a dignified living, that this will teach families to be free from need and want, astounds me.
This is not supporting families at all. It is making sure they remain dependent on government dole-outs-the better to win elections with.
For Yolanda survivors
“In a particular way, this visit is meant to express my closeness to our brothers and sisters who endured the suffering, loss and devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda. Together with many people throughout the world, I have admired the heroic strength, faith and resilience demonstrated by so many Filipinos in the face of this natural disaster, and so many others.”
Pope Francis’s visit to Leyte—as with the pageantry in Manila—is nothing but a staged production. He is set to meet people who have survived the storm, yes. But he is also set to meet survivors who can afford to travel to Palo Cathedral from elsewhere in Leyte. He is set to meet—if my Leyte contacts have heard correctly—the poor who can afford to donate to the Mass he is to officiate in Palo.
If the security barriers between the Pope and the people are same as in Manila, then Pope Francis will not see those who survived the storm and continue to be neglected and oppressed more than a year after Yolanda. Neither will he see how rebuilding is not something that’s happening with the people’s needs in mind.
“Today the Philippines, together with many other countries in Asia, faces the challenge of building on solid foundations a modern society—a society respectful of authentic human values, protective of our God-given human dignity and rights, and ready to confront new and complex political and ethical questions.
“As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good. In this way they will help preserve the rich human and natural resources with which God has blessed this country. Thus will they be able to marshal the moral resources needed to face the demands of the present, and to pass on to coming generations a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace.
“Essential to the attainment of these national goals is the moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity. The great biblical tradition enjoins on all peoples the duty to hear the voice of the poor. It bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities.
“Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart.”
Pope Francis has been here for a day and half as of this writing, and not once have we seen the impoverished as part of the crowds that gather around him. Yes, there are those handpicked “representatives” of the poor in the various events for him, but what he has not seen are the poor on our streets, the dirty and ugly counterpoint to the tree-lined debris-free streets he has passed in Manila since he arrived.
Right here is the exclusion of the poor, a stark reminder of the social injustice of class divide that happens in this country every day. That it is happening in the name of one Pope Francis who stands against it, is the white elephant in the room of this visit, if not in Malacañang itself.