Spending for the poor

My January 27, 2015 column.
I think efforts to hide the poor and to cover up the stink, the grime, and the unsightly are futile because everyone today has a camera and a ready access to the Internet.  There will always be someone with a damning footage and there is always the possibility of that footage going viral because most of us jump at every opportunity to prove others —particularly those in power— wrong. 
This is why it is difficult to believe that the Social Welfare Department and Secretary Dinky Soliman would deliberately uproot hundreds of homeless people from their makeshift shelters in Roxas Boulevard and bring them to a “posh resort” in Batangas just to hide them from the Pope.  Surely, Soliman and the rest of the people at DSWD are not so dumb as to think that these people don’t have cellular phones or contacts with the rest of the world.  If we are to believe everyone else, they are.  I don’t subscribe to this point of view, though.  I still think Soliman and the DSWD people are among the most reliable, most hardworking, and most trustworthy people in government despite the incidences of bungled relief efforts.
Let’s make no mistake about this:  We do not condone hiding the poor from anyone, anytime.   Aside from the fact that it cannot be done, it just sounds so… Imeldific, which, when loosely translated, means delusional.  
I prefer to give Soliman and her people the benefit of the doubt in this case because, quite frankly, the alternatives were less appealing.  Let’s accept one fact that seems glossed over:  The families who have made Roxas Boulevard their home were going to be uprooted for the Papal Visit because of security concerns.  People were not even allowed to camp out overnight in the area and those living in high rise condominiums were not even allowed to peep through their windows.  So the question that begs to be answered is where should we have housed them?  Most schools, hotels, dorms in the area were full.  Of course, it would have been ideal if everyone, particularly those who have been raising a howl now gladly offered their garage or the extra rooms in their houses, but it is so much better to blame than to share responsibility.
In another time and place, allowing poor people four days of paid vacation in a resort would be met with approval.  There are those who insist that the timing sucked, because the pope was here.  Millions of Metro Manila residents did stay in the metro to commune with the Pope, but millions also did fly off to enjoy the paid days off out of town.  So while there are those who think that the timing of the paid vacation was suspicious, it can also be argued that it was opportune.   It was as good a time as any.  I think that it’s all a matter of perspective. 
But sadly, the pope did tell us to be on the side of the poor and we seem to be looking at something or someone to vent our frustration on after the intemperate remarks of the President during the welcome ceremonies at Malacanan Palace. So I guess crucifying Soliman and the DSWD is acceptable now.  Even Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr—son of the Imeldific herself who boarded up the shanties along San Andres and painted walls everywhere when Pope Paul VI visited the country in the seventies— turned holier-than-thou and joined the lynch mob. 
People are now talking about a congressional investigation.  That’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor if they choose to conduct an honest discussion about the real causes of poverty in this country and what must be done to solve the situation.  Our congressmen, most of which come from the oligarchy in this country, and who perpetuate the many inequalities in our society, might be in for a lesson or two.
Yes there are many homeless in Metro Manila—and even in the disaster-stricken areas.  Yes, we need to do something for them.  Yes, we need to find permanent solutions to the increasing incidence of poverty and hunger.  But there are better things that we can do to help the poor in this country other than crucify government people for giving the homeless four days of luxury.  It’s probably impractical; but I’ve always thought that giving directly to the poor and spending for them directly is infinitely better than having the money end up in the bank accounts of corrupt politicians.


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