Street kids treated to resort stay during papal visit – Palace

Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang admitted yesterday that street children were rounded up during Pope Francis’ recent visit but said the children were “treated” to a stay in a resort.

Officials justified the move by saying it is a policy of the Aquino administration to bring poor children and their families to recreation centers.

“They were not hidden. As explained by Secretary (Corazon) Soliman… this was not the first case where the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) has done that,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over national television.

Lawmakers demanded an explanation after Soliman revealed 490 beggars and homeless people were taken to the Chateau Royale Resort in Nasugbu, Batangas during the Jan. 15-19 papal visit.

“The pope would have wanted to see the Philippines, warts and all. Let us not pretend that we are a first-world country,” said Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, who is initiating a congressional inquiry.

Valte, however, refuted the use of the word “hidden” to describe the move, which she explained was “part of the modified” conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the DSWD – purportedly for the safety of the street children themselves so they would not be victims in case of a stampede.

“It’s not that they’re being hidden. Of course, it was also for the safety of the people who sleep on the center island and in some of the other areas. We saw them along Roxas Boulevard where they turned up in large numbers in trying to greet the pope,” she said.

There have also been other batches of street children brought to resorts other than during the pope’s visit.

Valte said Soliman had explained the move was part of the DWSD’s program since 2012 to address the needs of the homeless.

Reports showed the DSWD booked the street children and their families, mostly from Manila, Pasay and Parañaque, in 70 rooms for a “family camp.”

Rates for each room cost P6,300 daily but the agency managed to get a discount at P4,000.

They all checked out on Jan. 19, the day Pope Francis left Manila for Rome.

The incident was reported in TIME magazine where Soliman defended her move, saying the national government had to remove the street children “so that they would not be vulnerable to the influx of people coming to witness the pope.”

Another 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.

Soliman said the street people, many of whom live in shanties and hammocks tied to palm trees along the Manila Bay seafront, were removed from Roxas Boulevard before the papal visit.

A record crowd of six million flooded Roxas Boulevard on Sunday to hear Pope Francis celebrate mass in Rizal Park, the highlight of his tour in the Philippines where he preached “mercy and compassion” for the poor.

But the homeless were instead taken to plush accommodations at a hilltop resort in Batangas during the trip, before being deposited back on the streets hours after the pontiff’s departure on Monday.

Valte pointed out the benefit of the CCT program.

“Again, it’s not the first time that this program has been implemented. They are in the third batch,” Valte said, referring to the street children and homeless taken to the Batangas resort.

Doors and toilets

Soliman defended the program, denying allegations that she tried to hide the impression of poverty from the pope.

“You cannot hide poverty. When the pope landed, the first thing he saw were the shanties by the river,” she said.

Soliman added the homeless would have been “vulnerable to syndicates and discriminated (against) a lot” had they stayed in the area.

She also said they had received training as part of a government scheme launched last year to provide 11,000 homeless families with rent-free accommodation for up to a year. So far the program has helped 2,000. – Christina Mendez, Rainier Allan Ronda

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