Friday, January 30, 2015

Hiding won’t eliminate poverty

By Val G. Abelgas
Chateau-Royale-Nasugbu-BatangasWhile Pope Francis were calling on Catholics, especially the wealthy and powerful, to see the importance of solidarity with the poor and the needy during his five-day visit to the Philippines, the Aquino administration was busy insulating the Pope from the poor by hauling them from the streets where the revered visitor was scheduled to pass.
The more than 100 homeless families, consisting of close to 500 individuals, who call Roxas Blvd. and other major streets in Manila their home, were hauled to a flashy resort called Chateau Royale in Nasugbu, Batangas purportedly “for an evaluation on their possible inclusion to the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer program.”
Secretary Dinky Soliman said the Department of Social Work and Development has done this before although she could not explain why the poor families were removed from the streets on the night of December 14, one day before the Pope was scheduled to arrive, and dumped back on the streets on December 19, shortly after the Pope flew back to Rome.
The street children, who roam the city streets to beg for alms, were reportedly taken to detention centers, and obviously left to roam the streets again after the Pope’s departure.
The hauled and hidden homeless families regret that while they were able to experience some comfort for five days, they were deprived of the opportunity to earn money and receive blessing from the Pope.
It was not the first time the Aquino administration has tried to hide the true condition of the poor in the Philippines from important visitors. During the visit of US President Barack Obama in April last year, the DSWD also hauled the homeless families to Island Cove in Cavite obviously to hide them from the visiting American leader.
In May 2012, while delegates to the Asian Development Bank annual meeting discussed ways to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor in the region, the Aquino administration tried to hide the ugly sight of poverty by putting up walls that hid the squatter shanties along the esteros near the site of the ADB.
Probably thinking the ADB delegates didn’t see the sorry sight beyond those walls, President Aquino went on to boast what he described as economic gains made by his administration.
And even as he boasted of his administration’s alleged economic strides, the Social Weather Station reported that the number of Filipinos who rated themselves as poor increased by two million from the last such survey in December the previous year. The survey found that 55 percent of the respondents or 11.1 million considered themselves poor, nearly the same figure as this year and the previous year.
Lawmakers and militant groups are now rightfully demanding the resignation or ouster of Soliman who earlier said the street urchins were removed from the streets because they would have been “vulnerable to syndicates and discriminated” had they stayed in the area, only to admit later that the homeless families were taken to the Batangas resort at government expense.
The lawmakers also want to know where the DSWD got the money to pay for the cost of accommodation in the air-conditioned cabins, which Soliman said cost P4.3 million.
Instead of sweeping the problem of extreme poverty under the rug, party list Rep. Lito Atienza said the government should address it. Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, on the other hand, said, “The Pope would have wanted to see the Philippines, warts and all. Let us not pretend that we are a first-world country.”
“They (poor Filipinos) were the reason why the Pope went here. It’s difficult to understand why they have to be hidden from his sight,” said Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo.
The Church was also unhappy, comparing the move to the Marcosian era “when the window dressing of Metro Manila was done to make it look good for visitors.”
“I think the timing was not prudent. We should have instead brought the street kids in front of Pope Francis,” said Fr. Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila, the social action arm of the Archdiocese of Manila.
The incident brought to the fore once more the hypocrisy of the Aquino administration, who rode to power on the crest of an anti-corruption and anti-poverty campaign. It also brought into serious doubt the administration’s premier poverty alleviation program, the Cash Conditional Transfer (CCT).
The program cost P29.2 billion in 2011, P39.4 billion in 2012, P44 billion in 2013 and more than P50 billion last year, amounts that could have been spent better in low-cost housing, massive vocational training and job generation programs.
Under the CCT program in the Philippines, each household receives a P500 monthly allowance to subsidize its basic food needs plus P300 for every child that goes to school. A maximum of three children can get the allowance. While the World Bank described it as a “prudent safety net” for poor families during tough economic times, the danger here is that like the overseas workers program, the CCT program is boosting the mendicant mentality among Filipinos and that like the OFW program, which was launched as a temporary program during the oil crisis in the 70s, the CCT program might become a permanent policy that would instill dependency and complacency among the poor Filipinos.
While the CCT gives temporary relief to the poor, the Aquino administration still has to address the problem of poverty in the long term because economic growth would be meaningless unless it trickles down to the people. And for it to be an inclusive growth and to benefit the greater number of people, it needs to address the issue of unemployment and underemployment.
Aquino cannot go on hiding the homeless or building walls to isolate the rich from the poor, and illusions from reality. Instead, he should start removing the walls of corruption, injustice and insensitivity that have prevented the poor from rising out of poverty.

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