Pope Francis visited the Philippines for a five-day trip, starting on Jan. 15 and ending on Jan. 19. The Pope was greeted by overjoyed flocks of the third largest Catholic population in the world, despite the often-inclement weather. Catholic believers listened to the Pope speak about social justice and poverty, topics that have often surfaced in his dialogues and homilies.
Prior to the Pope’s visit, MailOnline, a United Kingdom-based newspaper and website disclosed that homeless children on the streets of Manila were arrested and kept in detention centers in order to make the city more presentable for the pontiff’s visit.
In the exposé, the magazine claimed that “in a blatant abuse of the country’s own child protection laws, the terrified children are locked up in filthy detention centers where they sleep on concrete floors and where many of them are beaten or abused by older inmates and adult prisoners and, in some cases, starved and chained to pillars.”
Allegedly, hundreds of children were put into captivity.
At the same time, the Department of Social Welfare and Development released a statement saying that they did not jail street children. According to the Manila Standard Today, both the Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas III and the Social and Welfare Secretary Corazon Juilano-Soliman contended that the story was fabricated.
In fact, on Jan. 19, the DSWD’s website claimed that the department conducted a search of the detainment centers that were supposedly filled and declared them free of any incarcerated children.
However, if the allegations were true, the idea of the police arresting homeless children to make a better impression for the Pope would contradict the essence of his visit.
In a USA Today video, an observer in Manila noted that, “This is ironic because the Pope is the Pope of the poor.”
Pope Francis is known for his emphasis on social justice and has been quoted saying, “How I would love a Church which is poor and for the poor,” and, “Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down.”
Irish missionary priest and founder of the People’s Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance in the Philippines Father Shay Cullen asserted that the accusation stands as a mark upon the Philippine government.
“They are a shame on the nation,” Cullen said. “Officials here would be horrified at the prospect of the Pope seeing children treated in this way.”
Authorities in the Philippines have been accused in the past of political and economic corruption, and their present leader, President Benigno Aquino III, has not completely lived up to his advertised role as a champion against corruption.
Scandals involving government officials stealing significant portions of money meant for local projects have harmed Aquino’s public image; Reuters mentioned in an article that the scandal “(tainted) his carefully crafted image as a corruption fighter and (undermined) his ability to push economic reforms.”
Those economic reforms were exactly what throngs of activists demonstrated for as the Pope drew near to them in Manila. Signs in the crowd read, “Pope Francis stand vs. Aquino’s Corruption,” and pleaded for “Just and Lasting Peace.”
Whether the MailOnline article ends up being corroborated or debunked, the accusation brings to mind the various ways in which the Philippine government has aggrieved its people. The Pope, mindful of the country’s corruption, took advantage of its Catholic devotion and spoke out powerfully against it.
A USA Today article highlighted Pope Francis’ exhortation at the presidential palace that directly addressed the weighty subjects of corruption and injustice.
The pontiff proclaimed, “Everyone, at all levels of society, must reject every form of corruption as it takes resources from the poor. Our great biblical tradition … bids us to break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring and scandalous social inequalities.”