“It is time that the poor speak for themselves.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – They have not been invited to any of the official itinerary of Pope Francis but they are hoping that the Pope would notice them and hear their appeals.
Representatives of farmers, workers, urban poor, indigenous peoples and other sectors banded themselves and formed the People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope (People’s Welcome) for the visit of Pope Francis in the Philippines from January 15 to 19.
Nardy Sabino, spokesman of the People’s Welcome, said the Catholic Church has declared 2015 as the “Year of the Poor.” Sabino invited Pope Francis to what he called as “gatherings of the poor” at the Liwasang Bonifacio from Jan. 15 to Jan. 19 and outside the Archbishop residence in Palo, Leyte on Jan. 17.
Fr. Freddie Dulay of the Religious Discernment Group lamented that there are “no normal channels between the institutional Church and the people of God” and the Church and the government decide whom the Pope would come in contact with.
“It is time that the poor speak for themselves,” Dulay said. “There are many obstacles for the Pope not to get in touch with the poor. This [People’s Welcome] is an admirable effort to reach to the Pope.”
Cries of the poor
Representatives of various sectors took turns in appealing to Pope Francis whom they dubbed as the Pope of the Poor.
Farmers under the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), particularly those affected by “corporate and state landgrabbing” will hold a two-day fasting to highlight their call for genuine agrarian reform.
Leaders of Hacienda Luisita farmers called on Pope Francis to fight with them against “landlessness, injustice and impunity.”
More than two years after the Supreme Court ordered the distribution of the vast estate controlled by President Benigno Aquino III’s clan for more than five decades, farmworker-beneficiaries said the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Cojuangco-Aquinos have been colluding to frustrate land distribution.
Workers too sought Pope Francis’s support for their struggle against violations of their rights to living wage, security of tenure and democratic rights.
The urban poor, represented by Estrelita Bagasbas of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) called on the Pope to echo their demand to stop demolition of urban poor communities.
Piya Malayao of the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp) and Feny Cosico who spoke in behalf of environmental groups have been emboldened by Pope’s statements against environmental destruction. They called on Pope Francis to join their call against large-scale foreign mining and projects they describe as “development aggression.”
Others called on the Pope to help them call for higher state subsidy for social services. France Castro, secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), asked the Pope to enlighten the minds of the nation’s leaders to prioritize education. Meanwhile, Dr. Eleanor Jara of the Council for Health and Development (CHD), called on Pope Francis to tell the Philippine government to “have a heart for the poor who are sick.”
Relatives of victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders also called for Pope’s intervention in their quest for justice.
The People’s Welcome announced they would hold the following activities:
January 16: People’s Welcome March at the foot of Chino Roces bridge (coinciding with the Pope’s visit in Malacanang
January 17: Gathering of survivors of supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan)