The government of the Philippines has admitted that it relocated nearly 500 homeless citizens out of Manila during Pope Francis’ visit earlier this month. While reports have surfaced that hundreds had been hidden in prisons with little food or water, the government insists they were provided shelter at a luxury resort.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told the Agence France-Press that 490 homeless residents of Manila were moved to what The Independent calls “luxurious resort cabins” outside of the capital. The resort, Chateau Royale, can run an average tourist $525 a night. Soliman excused taking the homeless out of Manila as a move to preserve their personal safety. “Part of the orientation is to familiarise themselves with a room with a door and toilets,” but not “for keeping them out of sight,” she told the AFP.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer tracked down one of the homeless Manila residents relocated during the Papal visit. A 50-year-old woman identified as “Carmen” noted that a government official invited her and her family, all living on the streets, to an “outing.” “We were well taken care of during our stay in Batangas. We were fed and given rooms to sleep in. I have nothing to complain about,” she told the newspaper.
The Philippine House of Representatives may begin an inquiry into the relocation, with many criticizing the Philippine executive government for attempting to mask the nation’s poverty before the Roman Catholic Church’s leader, who speaks often of tending to the poor. Rep. Terry Ridon, who is organizing the inquiry, described the move as “truly horrendous” and lamented that Pope Francis could not need Manila as it is in reality. “Let us not pretend that we are a first-world country,” he told the media.
While some criticize the government for removing the homeless from the streets, the revelation that Manila’s homeless were kept in a luxury resort contradicts reporting that shows homeless children caged in prisons in order to keep them off the streets during the papal visit. An exclusive report by the Daily Mail, aided by 71-year-old Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen, shows photos of children “kept behind bars, made to go to the toilet in buckets and fed leftovers which they eat from the floor.” The children, Father Cullen claimed, were kept in prisons with adult inmates, where they were subject to abuse.
The Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare has not responded directly to this report, stating only that those who were removed from the streets were kept in the Chateau Royale resort, and that the resort gave the government a discount on rooms because of the status of those staying there.
Pope Francis made caring for the poor a priority in his remarks to the people of the Philippines during his visit. While all too many people live in dire poverty, others are caught up in materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality,” he told a crowd of 20,000 who congregated to be in his presence.
His final mass in the Philippines attracted six to seven million people, what is believed to be the largest crowd in the history of the papacy.