Soliman ‘pained’ by insinuations gov’t hid the poor from Pope Francis
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — It “pains” Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman that the controversy over the homeless allegedly being hidden from Pope Francis had overshadowed the country’s collective euphoric experience with the Pontiff’s four-day apostolic visit.
She also wondered how, with the Pope’s appeal to help the poor, critics of government were castigating government for doing exactly that.
Asked if she felt the issue overshadowed the aftermath of the visit of Pope Francis, Soliman replied: “That’s my pain. The Pope loved the children. He embraced them. He recognized them. And here you are, there are people who are castigating us for bringing them to a place where they ate three times a day. I don’t understand.”
To the social welfare chief, there was nothing wrong as well with letting the homeless families enjoy for a week staying in an expensive resort.
“That is my question to them (critics). It’s so hypocritical. They say we should all help the poor and when you help them and bring them to a place like that [Chateau Royale, , venue of the controversial “training”], you are asked why you brought them there. Where would we bring them? Don’t they deserve to be there?” Soliman said.
Soliman told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the DSWD spent P4.3 million for 490 families and staff members during the six-day “training,” at a posh resort in Nasugbu, Batangas, that has been part of the government’s poverty alleviation program.
This amounted to P1,193.50 per person a day, for three meals, two snacks a day, the amenities, and clean accommodations, she said.
Soliman said President Aquino has been apprised of the controversy. The Chief Executive’s instruction to Soliman was “to keep explaining what you’re doing.”
“He said this is part of our regular program,” Soliman said.
The crux of the controversy was the timing of plucking the homeless families and street children from Roxas Boulevard, one of the main Papal routes, keeping them off the streets throughout Francis’ visit.
It gave the perception that government hid them from Pope Francis, who has always prioritized the poor, the sick, and the children.
Malacañang and Soliman herself had said there was no intention to hide the street dwellers.
“There are 11,000 (families) of them all over the metropolis. How can we hide them?” Soliman again said on Sunday.
Soliman said local government units where huge crowds were expected to gather for the Pope had asked the DSWD to take them away in the meantime because “syndicates” were likely to exploit them.
The syndicates had been using the street dwellers for petty crimes, such as pick pocketing, in large crowds, Soliman said.
Soliman said under the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT), government has been trying to keep families off the streets by training them how to live in a house.
Indeed, it is hard to believe at this day and age, something as basic as using the toilet, sleeping in a bed, and taking a bath was being reintroduced to a family, according to Soliman.
The social welfare secretary said that under the training, the homeless would acquire a set of living standards different from the norm precisely because they have been living in the streets for a long time.
At the Chateau Royale, Soliman said there were no reports of bed sheet filching, but some beneficiaries brought with them spoons and forks, which the DSWD ended up paying for.
But there was a couple who fought after one of them lost the key to the door. The spouse was heard complaining why there was a door in the first place. Others didn’t want to stay in a room with clean sheets because that meant they would have to take a bath.
Families who have been having a difficult time adjusting to a “structured living” are second generation homeless families, those who have practically lived in the streets all their lives, according to Soliman.
There are three types of homeless people in Metro Manila, according to the social welfare secretary: the victims of eviction and fire who normally stay in the streets for a year or two; those who are displaced by conflict and disasters; and those who are unable to recover from these tragedies and give birth to second or third generation street dwellers.
The DSWD’s MCCT was put together in 2013 after government realized that the original CCT only covered households — literally, the poor families with homes no matter how small, no matter what kind of materials they were made of.
The MCCT was designed specifically for those living in the streets.
Soliman said 2,497 families have benefitted from the MCCT. The local government units have found them places to rent while the DSWD gives them rent money good for six months to one year. They are also given employment to allow them to pay for rent and other expenses eventually.
However, some 10 to 15 percent of the MCCT’s beneficiaries have chosen to return to the streets because for them, they would rather live on the streets where they would not have to pay rent and earn P100 to P200 from begging, Soliman said.
When the DSWD asked them why they preferred living in the streets despite the hazards, Soliman said the families told them: “Hindi pa naman kami namamatay (We’re not dead yet).”
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