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DSWD chief: Resort stay is ‘family camping’ for poor

Photo shows the grand ballroom of the Chateau Royale resort in Batangas, where street children feasted on unlimited servings of roast beef and roast chicken during the ‘family camp’ that coincided with the five-day papal visit. Walter Bollozos                          

MANILA, Philippines - Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman maintained yesterday that the government only wanted the street children, beggars and homeless families to feel that the government cares for them by sending them to a “family camping workshop” during the five-day visit of Pope Francis in the country.

Soliman’s agency, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), has received criticism for “hiding” the homeless people at the Chateau Royal resort in Batangas.

But Soliman explained that their family camping workshop at the resort is under the modified conditional cash transfer (CCT) program and would give poor families a “fighting chance.”

“We got the 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,” Soliman said in Filipino in an interview over radio dzMM.

She also maintained that it was not the first time that poor families were sent on out-of-town trips under DSWD’s CCT program.

Soliman said that after the orientation, the families would be relocated to rooms or apartments that the government would pay for from six months to a year. The government would also help them find jobs or establish businesses.

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But some of the families returned to streets after they receive help.

‘Sack DSWD officials for fund misuse’

Lawmakers did not accept the government’s reason.

Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz of Abakada party-list and Rep. Emmie de Jesus of Gabriela party-list are demanding that DSWD officials behind the expensive vacation of street children and beggars be sacked for it is a “misuse” of millions of CCT funds.

 Dela Cruz noted that the supposed misappropriation of CCT funds in the Batangas outing follows a Commission on Audit (COA) report that billions in taxpayers’ money had gone to families not qualified for the CCT program.

He stressed that Soliman must take responsibility for the use of CCT funds for the vacation of beggars and street children at the expensive Batangas resort.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano is also calling for a “full disclosure” of the reason why street children and homeless families were sent to the resort.

De Jesus urged COA to immediately determine if the use of CCT funds for the Batangas outing was valid and to submit a report to the House of Representatives.

She cited reports that Chateau Royale, where seven busloads of homeless enjoyed dining and swimming for five days, could charge up to P24,000 a day.

She scoffed at the statement of the DSWD that they were training the families and assessing if they were qualified for the CCT program.

“Why the need for costly accommodation? The DSWD could have done assessment on-site. It’s really hard for taxpayers not to suspect the real reason was to hide the poor out of sight of the pope, specially considering the pope went to the country to meet with the poor,” she stressed.

De Jesus also noted that with what the DSWD did with street children during the papal visit, it is not far-fetched that the agency would do the same when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit takes place in the country later this year.

‘Street kids should have met pope’

Caritas Manila president Fr. Anton Pascual also believes that it was imprudent for the DSWD to hide the street children and beggars from the eyes of Pope Francis during his visit.

“With all due respect to the DSWD and Secretary Corazon Soliman, I think the timing was not prudent to bring the street kids out of Manila during the papal visit. It is like a Marcosan era of ‘window dressing’ of Metro Manila to look good for visitors,” the priest said. “We should have brought the street kids in front of Pope Francis, led by DSWD.”

“Churchmen are also responsible in our deplorable poverty situation and it’s good to face the truth together with government and other sectors in front of the Holy Father,” he added.

Pascual also reminded the DSWD that even Jesus Christ embraced the street children as heirs to God’s kingdom. With Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan, Eva Visperas

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