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MANILA - Senator Bongbong Marcos refused to accept the statement of the Department of Social Welfare and Development that the family camp held in Batangas for Metro Manila street dwellers merely coincided with the Pope's visit last week.
Marcos said DSWD has some explaining to do.
"Nakapagtataka lang kasi yung mga equivalent ng squatters natin, mga pulubi, yan ang pinupuntahan ng Pope kahit noon pa, tapos itatago," said Marcos in an ambush interview Friday.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman has revealed 490 beggars and homeless people were taken to air-conditioned log cabins at a resort near Manila for the January 15-19 visit.
Soliman said the street people, many of whom live in shanties and hammocks tied to palm trees along the Manila Bay seafront, were removed from the capital's Roxas Boulevard before the visit.
A record crowd of six million flooded the bayside road on Sunday to hear Pope Francis celebrate mass in a nearby park, the highlight of his tour of the Catholic outpost where he preached "mercy and compassion" for the poor.
But the homeless were instead taken to plush accommodation at a hilltop resort south of Manila during the trip, before being deposited back on the streets hours after the pontiff's departure on Monday.
Soliman said the homeless would have been "vulnerable to syndicates and discriminated (against) a lot" had they stayed in the area.
"You cannot hide poverty. When the pope landed, the first thing he saw was the shanties by the river," she told AFP.
She also said they had received training as part of a government scheme launched last year to provide 11,000 homeless families with rent-free accommodation for up to a year a year. So far the program has helped 2,000.
"Part of the orientation is to familiarize themselves with a room with a door and toilets," Soliman said. With a report by Jorge Carino, ABS-CBN News; and Agence France-Presse