• The Pope and the government cover-up


    THE magic of Pope Francis is that he seems to have his feet firmly planted on the ground, and his heart for the poor and oppressed in the right place. He is no Pope who stands at the pulpit and is content with the power and authority that this pedestal affords him. He is one to engage with the current state of things, and put these into question, shaking up the status quo, using his position of (Catholic) power to change what we think about the world, as he reassesses and reconfigures our notions of sin and forgiveness, difference and inequality.

    Coming to visit the Philippines in January 2015, it seems important that Pope Francis find out how badly government is running the preparations for his visit, and how they are missing the point. Not just the point of the visit – which is to speak to survivors of Haiyan, and see firsthand the landscape of its aftermath. But also the point the Pope makes about inequality and poverty, about the marginalization of people who are left with no way out. He could only be speaking of those who have survived Haiyan, but who have suffered not just the loss of their families and homes, but also have suffered in the hands of a government that lacks compassion and kindness, that has committed countless injustices against these survivors.

    With the Pope coming to visit, you would think it would mean this government reflecting on what it truly means to help Yolanda survivors. Instead it has taken this opportunity to reveal to us how the injustice continues.

    The culture of exclusion
    In November 2013’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis spoke of the economy of exclusion and inequality, the marginalized and the powerless.

    “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

    He could have very well been speaking about the Philippines, pre-Haiyan, and certainly post-Haiyan.

    Because in truth survivors of Haiyan have nowhere to go for the help that they need. And contrary to Aquino government officials’ declarations about how much money they’ve put out, how many bags of relief goods they’ve distributed, how things have normalized in places like Tacloban and across Eastern Visayas, anyone who listens with heart wide open, who hears what is unsaid, if not who goes to this region, would know of the dire needs still. Yes, Tacloban might be “normal” because there are students going to schools and employees going to work everyday, because hotels are open and being renovated, because restaurants and bars are sprouting up in the small city.

    But also one knows these are industries that are alive because of the influx of relief and rehabilitation workers, where the hotels and streets and restaurants are filled with foreigners, where the disparity is in the fact that as you go further away from the city, the more you will see the tents and the poverty, the neglect and the sadness. There are schools, yes, but these are students who continue to suffer a heavy heart from memories of Haiyan. There is work, yes, but these are employees who struggle to make ends meet, with the price of goods still higher than normal, with “normal” living not quite normal still.

    The beautification project
    Pope Francis coming to visit was about touching base with these people, and seeing the context within which they live, within which they continue to suffer. One had hoped that the Pope’s arrival would mean a real change in the plight of Haiyan survivors, where the government could have used the past year to build back better, to give citizens their due.

    Alas, it has turned into the most superficial and shallow of beautification projects, where even those who live off Manila’s streets, where the Pope’s convoy will surely pass, are being told they will be relocated elsewhere, given homes, yes, but disallowed from selling their wares – or begging – on the streets.

    And in Samar and Leyte, where things are bad to begin with, the Pope’s arrival only promises more suffering.

    In Palo, Leyte, which is near the Tacloban Airport, residents who own and live in ancestral homes that survived Haiyan are being told to vacate their homes as it is to be demolished for a road widening project. These are Palo homes that have been there for hundreds of years, and residents who have lived there all their lives.

    Seven thousand families in Tacloban are set to be displaced as well, for another road widening project that is said to have been planned even before Haiyan hit. One would think though that since Haiyan hit, these plans should be put in the back burner, as the last thing survivors need is to be displaced again, a year after the storm.

    In Palo, there is news of relocating Haiyan survivors to permanent housing built for them, which is to happen in November, a year since Haiyan. But one can’t help but wonder what these permanent homes look like, and how livable these actually are, given the fact of that first batch of bunkhouses judged as unfit for humans. And what happens to people who have found whatever work they might in Palo, or Tacloban, who are to be relocated elsewhere, farther away from where they have begun to live their lives again?

    The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has asked the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to beautify the Tacloban airport, as this is where Pope Francis will be welcomed. They forget that the Pope would appreciate seeing how bad things still are at the airport, and he needs to know that so many residents of Leyte and Samar wouldn’t be able to afford the flights back to their homes these days, what with jacked up prices that all but allow only the wealthier among us – if not the foreign aid workers – to avail themselves of the few flights there are to Tacloban.

    More than this government missing the point of this 2015 Papal Visit, what this reveals close to a year after Haiyan, and four months before Pope Francis visits, is this government’s continued and utter lack of compassion for these survivors. They do not care about what these survivors need, they remain deaf to their pleas.

    One hopes the Pope will know enough to see behind this government’s grand and Imeldific beautification project.


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    1. Dear Ms. Katrina, I suggest you send this article to Catholic News Agency or Vatican Radio which the Pope directly reads or listen to.

    2. Rest assured, the Pope has sensed this cover-up by the government. He is much aware of all the injustice and inequality that people now suffers. No Bishop or personality can block the Pope in fulfilling his true mission here, after all he is here to reach out to the poor and neglected not to meet with the President or any big time people.

    3. As being reported, Pope Francis will be staying more and make speaking engagements in Metro-manila. If true, this can only be construed as close collaboration between CBCP President Villegas, a known Aquino family friend and ally, and the Aquino administration. Pope Francis will only be about a few hours in Leyte and will stay for the rest of the Philippine visit in the Metro Manila. Hope the visit will not only for show.

    4. victor m. hernandez on

      Samar and Leyte provinces, the two areas that comprise Eastern Visayas, are considered underdeveloped regional economies in the Visayas. The region actually comprise the 4th largest islands in th country, after Luzon, Mindanao, and Visayas (without Samar and Leyte provinces). After Haiyan/Yolanda, it becomes even more underdevelop, and its market is severly depleted. Talking of competition in the area is totally irrelevant, because market viability will not thrive in an area where people do not have adqute income to spend. Therefore, it is better to talk about market failure in the area. It clearly needs a lot of help and subsidy from government, cash is important, give people work of whatever and give them cash. Now, that puts government in a corner to decide to give or not to give subsidy. Whether Samar and Leyte, or Tacloban as the reference point is a priority. I say it is not. Which makes one wonder, what kind of government is that when it does not help the powerless people, and hungry people. This government is operating an economic, social, and political ideology based purely on business profitability and sustainability as far as Eastern Visayas, and in many other areas and sectors of Philippines society. Which is practically, all of it and in all over the country, otherwise why are all the devastation still after almost a year of the super typhoon. The answer is also corruption, corruption, and corruption. He says, kung walang corrupt walang mahirap. I say, ang galing mong mambola. Will there be repentance, transformation when the Pope come? Ang sagot, suntok sa buwan.

    5. The government should not demolish the ancestral homes that survived the typhoon. The government, in fact, should preserve these old buildings. They heritage building and showed that they can withstand the force of Typhoon Haiyan, Yolanda.

      Please, respect the heritage houses. Save them for when we lost them there is no more going back. We will lose those that Filipinos can be proud to have. Everywhere in the world, heritage buildings are being preserved and given the designation of HERITAGE.

    6. Dick S. O'Rosary on

      its good if we can end the mendicancy that pervades our society, but one cannot and must not cause more suffering in the process. This is just mendicacy to the highest order, how come no one seems to be outraged over this? Has the daang matuwid blinded us that we could no longer anticipate its blind curves?

    7. That’s the problem with the president who rely only on the reports and advises of his secretaries without personally checking the facts on the ground zeros where disasters happened and coupled with his personal character or values derived from his societal upper class upbringing, in simple terms, no empathy feeling for the poor and suffering people or talagang may pusong bato. “Kayo ang boss ko” and “Tuwid na daan” are just slogans to deceive our people. Sa salita lang magaling.

    8. I AGREE!!! And for the Pope to her her message, I encourage the writer KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO to send a copy of this article (and maybe add a dozen or so pictures) directly to the Vatican in Europe.

    9. Pope francis is not a messiah?
      Hindi niya ginagawa ang bagay na ito para tubusin niya ang kasalanan ng tao na ginawa ng sarili nilang maling pagtuturo?
      Dapat nating tanungin, ano bang ang itinuturo o anong impluwensya Ang ibibigay nila sa mga tao at ganito na lamang kasama ang ginagawa ng maraming namumuno sa bansa?
      90% ang katoliko at ang namumuno ay ganoon din, anong aral ang itinanim nila sa mga tao at bakit ganito ang nangyayari?
      Ang totoong pagbabago nila ay upang mapanatili ni ang power at impluwensya nila na nararamdaman nilang unti-unti ng naglalaho!
      Tanggapin man ito ng marami o hindi! Ito ang totoo!!

      Hindi pagtulong sa mahirap kung hindi para sa interest ng nila!

    10. Imeldific is not the right word because Imelda may have been grand in her style but when it came to helping poor victims of calamities she was certainly not incompetent. Try Corysy, short for hypocorysy and mediocorysy. Get it?