MANILA (dpa) – The Philippine government on Saturday denied allegations that it hauled off hundreds of homeless people to hide them from Pope Francis during his recent visit to the predominantly Catholic country.
The social welfare department admitted taking about 500 people off the of Manila to a resort in Batangas province, south of the capital, before the 78-year-old pontiff arrived on January 15. But the government insisted that the curiously timed trip was designed to evaluate whether they were eligible to be beneficiaries of social programme.
“They’re not being hidden,” said deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigal Valte. “This was a step to help them under a modified conditional cash transfer programme for people without permanent addresses. They were being evaluated if we can help them by giving them assistance for housing.”
Some of the families returned to the streets of the capital and revealed that they were deliberately moved out of sight during the papal visit.
“When we were at the resort, we were told that the pope wanted the streets to be cleared and did not want to see us,” one woman identified only as Joy told DZMM radio station.
Another woman who declined to be identified said she was told the same thing.
“They told us that we should stay in the resort because the pope was arriving and he didn’t want to see many homeless people,” she told the radio station.
A member of the House of Representatives has called for an investigation into what he called a “clearing operation” to hide rampant poverty in the Philippines.
“This is truly horrendous, given the fact that Pope Francis visited our country to see and talk to the poor,” said Congressman Terry Ridon, a representative for a party-list group Kabataan.
About one-quarter of the Philippines’ estimated 100 million people live on about one dollar a day, even though the economy has been one of the fastest growing in South-east Asia.