Monday, January 26, 2015

HIDING THE FILTH AND SQUALOR: POPE FRANCIS' VISIT IN THE PHILIPPINES




The Philippines considers itself as an emerging economy on its way to becoming another Asian Tiger. However, nobody can deny that there is filth and squalor everywhere, especially in the streets of Metro Manila. Poverty runs smack into our faces and no matter how hard we try to hide it, the filth and stench manage to seep out into the air.

But we are Filipinos. We show the good side even if our guts fester with vermin and putrid smell. We try to raise the social ante by showing visitors of note like Pope Francis, that we are like our Asian neighbors who are rich, clean, and beautiful. This notion may fool some people, but it can never fool everyone --- all the time. It does not take rocket science to know that the country is yet far from being rich and still wallows in extreme poverty.

Outside the subdivision on where I live,  small children are seen  begging on the streets. I often wonder why there are so many of them --- their lanky little bodies, bloated bellies, dirty and filthy  faces---suddenly show up with their arms extended, hoping that they be given a  few cents for food.

If you go on a jeepney ride, you are bound to see children suddenly jumping  in with their filthy little envelops shoved into the faces of startled passengers. They sing in high pitched voices, using an empty can as accompaniment. We pretend not to see their emaciated little bodies and throw them a few centavos to get them out of our sight. We think that by pretending not to see them, these unsightly creatures can just evaporate out of our midst!

Going to Manila can be one pitiable adventure. You'll see groups of families sleeping in the dockyard or bay area as your airconditioned bus passes through the thoroughfare. It is not unusual to see beggars lining up in the over/underpass or in every nooks and cranny of the city. We often wonder where our government agencies are? Weren't they supposed to take care of the poorest among the poor? Don't we have programs of government to keep the poor and homeless out of the streets?

For one week, from January 15 to 19, the titular head of the Catholic Church came for a visit. He was to see the poorest among us and the Yolanda victims of Dumaguete. He came to reach out to the vast populace of a country that is 95 percent Catholic. He is the best salesman of the faith since he represents what being Christ-like is all about. He is considered as a representation of Christ on earth by the faithful, so people from all walks of life gather to see him and hear what he has to say.

But the Philippine government, through the Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWD) thought otherwise. Rather than let the Pope see the poor who lives in squalor and filth along the bay area, they decided to rope in the said families numbering about a hundred, and temporarily booked them in a posh resort in Batangas. They say that this was not hiding the poor from the Pope, but a teach-in seminar to introduce the Modified Conditional Transfer Program of the government, or dole-outs for the poor.

Howls were heard from various sectors and questions were raised on the timing that ran smack on the Pope's visit. How come people who may not have the luxury of sleeping in real beds, or eating with utensils, were suddenly booked in a resort with first class amenities? The recipients of the bonanza said that they were fed more that enough and the place was luxurious.

How great that can be, but who paid for this little trip and how much did it cost us? Is this grandstanding or window dressing so the Pontiff doesn't see how poor we really are? Isn't it in the very core of Christianity to accept the lesser of our brethren and embrace our impoverished and long-suffering brothers, regardless of race. religion, or creed?

This recent act by the PNoy government leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Social upliftment should be in the form of concrete programs of government  that will alleviate the sufferings of the poor; and not hide them when there are dignaries around, and let everybody think that they don't exist. I raise my voice amongst the many to say,  that the act is a hideous way to cover up the truth! It's foul and it stinks!

Photo credit:  farm3.staticflickr.com

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