POSTSCRIPT / January 25, 2015 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Hiding street kids is costly hypocrisy

HIDING THE TRUTH: The Holy Father came over last Jan. 15-19 wanting to be with us — as we are, where we are – most especially with the Yolanda victims and the poorest of the poor.

Then a dinky genius in the Aquino administration gathered homeless street children, among other “eyesores” along the papal visit routes, and swept them under the rug in a crude attempt to hide them from Pope Francis.

Now it has been exposed that some 500 street children and their family members from Metro Manila were loaded on tour buses the day before Pope Francis arrived and taken to the luxury Chateau Royale Resort in Nasugbu, Batangas.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development blocked off for them 70 rooms for six days at a discounted rate of P4,000 per room per night. Some 100 DSWD personnel were with the instant vacationers to look after them.

What other “embarrassing” groups were similarly hidden from the Pope? We had been told that some noisy groups were threatening to greet the Pope with placards and a picket in front of the papal nunciature on Taft Ave. How were they “fixed”?

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ROYAL TREATMENT: A Chateau Royale executive said the street children, who spilled out of the buses looking unkempt, soon washed up and were given fresh clothes and access to the resort facilities.

To the accommodation costs, which could reach P2 million, add the administrative and logistical expenses, and that single activity of hiding street children from the Pope for five days could have cost taxpayers P4 million.

That expense for that one stupid deodorizing operation may have set a precedent.

To be consistent, the government should now be ready to fund the rapid rehabilitation of other indigents and deprived sectors, continue providing them their basic needs, including proper education, skills development and social reorientation.

The last survey showed that a little more than half of the population considered themselves poor. Who among these deprived sectors will clamor for a similar Chateau Royale treatment?

And what follow-through programs have been prepared so the costly initial effort is not wasted?

* * *

CHURCH ROLE: There was no need to hide the truth of poverty in the national capital, including depressed areas around Malacañang and the archbishop’s palace on Shaw Blvd. in Mandaluyong.

Like many other foreign governments with special interest in the Philippines, the Vatican is up-to-date on the real situation in Manila. There is no point hiding the truth from its visiting Chief of State.

In the first place, why is the Aquino administration ashamed of the poor? Does it regard them as a testament to its failure at social amelioration? Why does it see poverty as embarrassing when even from the time of Christ, and earlier, the poor have always been around?

To balance responsibility, the local Catholic Church, a conscientious contributor to the Vatican coffers, should be reminded too that it is co-responsible for the material and spiritual poverty in this dominantly Christian nation.

* * *

PROOF OF CORRUPTION: One problem of President Aquino is that having unfurled a campaign banner blaring “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap”, destitution at street level may be taken as proof of poverty and, therefore, of continuing corruption in his administration.

This may explain the DSWD’s attempt to hide street children, slum dwellers, and the like from the visiting Pontiff.

The flipside of his campaign slogan is that since corruption still infests the bureaucracy, including the high places, poverty has remained with us to stain the record of the Aquino administration.

While his Stateside PR handlers are able to project abroad an image of personal incorruptibility (not including the people around him) and win the adulation of foreigners, the local end of the propaganda has not been as successful.

The natives who know what it is to be deprived cannot be hypnotized by government propaganda and the multibillion-dollar foreign investment pledges brought home by the President after every trip abroad.

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TOO LATE: Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said, meanwhile, that the United States has lifted the financial cap on military aid to the Philippines imposed five years ago. But the loosening up is prospective, which means the aid held back in the past can no longer be recovered.

This is still good news, although rather late if the intention is to beef up Philippine capacity to prevent or repel such aggressive moves as China’s occupying territory within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

China has been busy reclaiming several isles and protrusions in some dispute areas of the West Philippine Sea. The installations feature helipads, landing strips and docking areas that give them military significance.

The Chinese move is apparently intended to establish permanent presence and cement its claim on the disputed areas.

* * *

OCCUPATION CRUCIAL: The Philippines has announced that it would abide by whatever decision is handed down by the arbitral United Nations agency where it had filed a complaint against the intrusion and land-grabbing by China.

One problem is that Beijing said from the very beginning that it would not participate in the proceedings and would ignore whatever ruling is made.

This raises the question of how to enforce any decision favorable to the Philippines after what looks like an ex-parte process.

China’s physical occupation of disputed areas, albeit done after the filing of the Philippine action, may have strengthened China’s hold on the areas in question.

Assuming the US accelerates its promised aid – reportedly $40 million in 2015 – this may not strengthen the armed forces fast enough to drive away the Chinese intruders. For one thing, it will not scare Beijing.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 25, 2015)

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