Did the Philippines hide homeless families during the Pope's visit?

Pope Francis embraces former homeless child Glyzelle Palomar, 12, in Manila in January.

Story highlights

  • Allegations are made the the Philippines hid homeless families during the Pope's visit
  • 100 homeless families from a busy street were relocated to a resort for training
  • They were returned to Manila after the Pope left

(CNN)Lawmakers in the Philippines have called for an inquiry into allegations that public funds were used to "hide" homeless families at a resort during the Pope's recent visit.

The Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has confirmed that 340 members of 100 homeless families were removed from Roxas Boulevard, a major Manila thoroughfare, and temporarily relocated to a beach resort about 90 kilometers (55 miles) away for the duration of the Papal visit.
    The families returned after the Pope's departure.
    A resolution before the Philippines House of Representatives has called on the government to summon the head of the DSWD for a probe into whether $97,600 spent on the six-day training course at the resort in Nasugbu, Batangas, amounted to a misuse of public funds.
    Rep. Terry Ridon, one of the lawmakers behind the resolution, said in a statement he was concerned that the families had been rounded up from Roxas Boulevard, which the Papal convoy traveled several times during the Pope's January 15-19 visit.
    He said the episode highlighted the "frivolous manner" in which the government implemented anti-poverty programs.
    The training course at the resort had been been funded as part of a program with the objective of "keeping families off the streets by training them how to live in a house," read the resolution, which was also sponsored by Rep. Antonio Tinio and Rep. Isagani Zarate.
    However, "after the papal visit, the families who participated in the 'training' were returned to the streets," raising questions about the program's effectiveness in terms of its "supposed objective of reducing poverty," said the resolution.

    Department's response

    In an unrelated Senate hearing Tuesday, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman was asked about the issue, and confirmed that homeless families from the boulevard had been sent to the resort.
    She said the department had already intended to enroll the families in the training program, and had considered the period of the Pope's visit would be the ideal time to do so.
    "To prepare for Pope Francis' arrival... local governments wanted to make sure that Roxas Boulevard was in a secure and safe state, and so were the (homeless) people... with the influx of people in the area," she told the hearing.
    "So when we reached out to the families on Roxas Boulevard, since we were already planning to register them to the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program, we thought it could be the right time to hold the orientation from January 15 to 19."
    The government's Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) Program is described on a government website as a "complete package of assistance to street families ... with access to social services and economic opportunities for the improvement of their living conditions."
    Ridon's resolution alleged that the resort stay was "not the first time that DSWD (had) made an attempt to cover up the massive inequality in the country."
    It claimed that during the World Economic Forum on East Asia held in Manila in May last year, families were relocated to another resort for similar training.
    The plight of the poor, particularly street children, was a touchstone during Pope Francis' visit to the predominantly Catholic country. At a Sunday Mass, the Pope embraced former street children, who asked him why God had allowed them to suffer.