MANILA, Philippines - The House committee on Metro Manila development is set to conduct an inquiry into reports that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) forcibly removed street children from Manila during the visit of Pope Francis last week.
The probe was prompted by Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, who said there is a need to look into media reports that the government rounded up street children in Manila and locked them in municipal detention centers or in resorts in the provinces to temporarily “clear the streets” of the country’s capital during the five-day papal visit.
Ridon said the panel is expected to summon Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman to appear before the House and explain the actions of her agency.
A report published in British tabloid Daily Mail Online quoted Fr. Shay Cullen, founder of non-government organization Preda Foundation, as saying that detained children were “locked up in a dungeon” and kept under dire circumstances.
Another report released by TIME quoted Soliman, noting that about a hundred homeless families were indeed taken off Roxas Boulevard and brought to Chateau Royal Resort in Batangas province under DSWD’s modified conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.
These families remained in the resort for the whole duration of the papal visit, TIME reported.
Ridon said reports on DSWD’s “clearing operations” are “truly horrendous, given the fact that Pope Francis visited our country to – first and foremost – see and talk to the poor.”
“Secretary Soliman’s admission that her agency indeed hid some 100 families in a resort in Batangas reeks of hypocrisy,” he added.
“In an effort to look good while under the international limelight, the government just swept the problems it cannot solve under the rug. Jailing street children or stashing their families away in a resort speaks volumes of the Aquino administration’s stage-managed style of leadership,” he said.
The lawmaker also said it is “deplorable” for DSWD to spend money under the modified CCT to whitewash poverty.
“Back when they were asking for funds in Congress, DSWD extolled the supposed benefit that the CCT gives to poor families. Is this the multi-billion anti-poverty measure the government boasts about? No wonder poverty and inequality has – in the pope’s own words – reached scandalous levels in the country,” he said.