Dear Pope Francis,
Information about your visit to the Philippines has been occupying the country’s local media for months. Members of the national and local government have been busy preparing for your arrival. The Manila City Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada recently declared a four-day holiday for Manila residence during your visit. The decision, he said is to ensure your security while you go around the Catholic landmarks in the city. He did not mention that the holidays would ensure that you and your entourage would not have to experience the horrendous traffic on Manila roads normally experienced by locals and less important visitors in the country.As millions of Filipino Catholic devotees anticipate your arrival, I for one am glad you have decided to visit the Philippines but for a slightly different reason. As to be expected, any visit by a very important person such as yourself will attract international attention. Members of the international media will surely broadcast your every move in the Philippines to the rest of the world. This is a good opportunity as I believe that one of the fastest ways to fix the country’s problems is to expose and shame corrupt public servants to the world.
That is why the thought of international media organizations such as CNN covering your visit is great news. The last time CNN covered the Philippines was during the height of super typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda in 2013. They highlighted the incompetence and corruption in government even under the leadership of President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino 3rd. Members of the President’s own cabinet showed that politics takes priority over the welfare of the survivors of the typhoon. Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas was caught on video allegedly reminding Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romuladez about the family feud between the Romualdezes and Aquinos prior to giving his full support at the height of the rescue operation.Apart from clearing Manila roads of motorists and commuters during your visit, preparation in Tacloban City, which was the hardest hit by the typhoon in the Visaya region, is also in full swing. A news report says that the widening of the road where your vehicle is likely to travel was done. This is short of a miracle considering construction of roads in the country takes years to finish specially in remote provinces.
Four lanes instead of the usual two were constructed in expectation of the influx of visitors into the city. The report didn’t mention how many houses were removed and how many people were displaced — as houses in Manila are quite often built too near the roads — to give way for the new roads for your short visit. Sadly, some historic structures built in the 1920s were reported to be at risk of being removed as well:
Only recently, Palo homeowners said they, too, face displacement because of the papal visit after the Department of Public Works and Highways began demolishing houses and other structures along the highway leading to the seat of the archdiocese to make way for a road-widening project.
Among the structures in danger of being torn down are the Almadro family ancestral home, built in 1924, and the Palo Public Library, which is located in a 200-year-old house that is one of the oldest “bahay na bato” in the town and which the National Historical Commission of the Philippines has acknowledged as an “Important Cultural Property.”
Presumably, other less important roads where your vehicle will not pass through were left out of the upgrade. That can be seen as good news for locals whose houses weren’t demolished and bad news for those who missed out on the upgrade. Either way, most locals expect mediocre work from their public servants most of the time. Public servants are not known to care about whether or not they demolish a piece of the city’s history as they initiate their ill thought out plans. They just care about looking good to foreign dignitaries.Other beautification projects in Tacloban City include removing what they consider eyesores. Some 254 residents displaced by the super Typhoon have complained in October that they were being forced to relocate from their temporary bunkhouses to another temporary shelter, which they said would be far from their livelihood and their children’s schools. I’m sure your eminence wouldn’t want the lives of the survivors to be inconvenienced yet again just for your short visit. Their lives have already been disrupted enough as a result of the devastation brought about by the typhoon.
The point here is, since the most important highlight of your itinerary in the Philippines is your visit to Tacloban City to meet the survivors and to see first hand the devastation of the typhoon, relocating the survivors now would make your visit pointless since it would be equivalent to hiding their real conditions. A lot of Filipinos have noticed that it seems all this effort to beautify and prepare key areas where you will likely go is simply motivated by your visit alone and to prove that the government hasn’t been neglecting the survivors.
Of course the infrastructure upgrade will benefit the locals in the long-term but, after your visit, the focus will turn to something more trivial like political bickering in the capital Manila. Even Philippine Senator Francis Escudero was wondering where the 137 billion pesos allocated for the rehabilitation program for Yolanda-hit areas went because he doesn’t see and feel the improvements in the worst-hit parts of the region. Despite that, President BS Aquino’s budget secretary still wants 9.5 billion pesos allocated in the 2015 budget for the Yolanda rehabilitation program.
It’s bad enough that rehabilitation program is moving along slowly even with a VIP coming to the Philippines. What more if there were no one visiting? The public servants and the members of the public themselves will likely forget about the typhoon victims after the cameras have gone. If you visit other parts of the Philippines that were devastated by natural disasters that received less media attention or none at all, you will see this sort of routine neglect. They are neglected because the international community was not aware of the disaster. This is proof that Filipino public servants are mostly motivated by their need to show-off.
I do hope that during your visit, you can remind Filipinos that praying is not enough. A lot of Filipinos mistakenly believe that if only every Filipino prayed hard enough, the country will progress. If you can just reiterate the motto that “God helps those who help themselves”, that would certainly help. Maybe, just maybe, it could motivate a lot of Filipinos to take the initiative to do something to uplift their status in life and not just wait for government dole outs.
You might find this upsetting but there are a lot of Filipinos who appear to be religious but they are not really spiritual. They go to church every Sunday not because they feel a personal connection to God; they only go because they want to be seen as religious by others. Some go to church because they think it will save them from going to hell. Their behavior towards their fellowman after attending the holy mass is completely appalling and “evil”.
During your visit, Filipino politicians will also fight for the opportunity to kiss your hand and get your blessings. Do not be fooled by their meek appearance. Some of them have pocketed millions in taxpayers’ funds through scams disguised as priority assistance projects supposedly to help the disadvantaged members of the community. The records show that incumbent President BS Aquino has given the highest amount of pork barrel to public servants and his government has yet to account for it. He and his supporters keep saying he is not corrupt because there is no evidence he has pocketed funds himself but it seems he uses public funds to buy the favors of congressmen who have the power both to impeach him and to pass his pet policies.
I am sure you are aware that politicians all over the world use their charm to appear sympathetic to the needs of the poor. But here in the Philippines, politicians are in a league of their own. They don’t seem to have any conscience. The suffering of their compatriots do not bother them as they continue to loot the national coffers. Some say their behavior is a reflection of Philippine society. After all, Filipino voters put them in office.
Having said all this, I am sure you will enjoy your trip to the Philippines. Filipinos are known for their hospitality and for making sure their visitors have a grand time.
Have a safe trip.[Photo of Tacloban devastation courtesy GMA News and The Times UK.]
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