Progressive groups barred from welcoming Pope Francis

“Yesterday the crocodiles and leeches in the government welcomed the Pope. Now the ordinary people, the relatives of victims who were disappeared or killed, are being prohibited from welcoming the Pope.”


MANILA – Progressive groups and activists led by the People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope were barred from joining the crowd waiting for Pope Francis on January 16 because of their banners.

The groups, composed of peasant, workers, urban poor, women, and human rights victims and advocates, had converged at the Chino Roces Bridge (former Mendiola Bridge) where they held a short program.

They wanted to proceed to Ayala Bridge to welcome the Pope but had barely marched several meters from Mendiola bridge when they were already barred by the police.

Policemen block members of progressive groups from getting near the Pope. (Photo by Fred Dabu/
Policemen block members of progressive groups from getting near the Pope. (Photo by Fred Dabu/

As head of Vatican City, the Pope gave a state visit to President Aquino in Malacañang Palace, from where the Pontiff took the Pope Mobile to bless the crowd waiting along the route up to the Manila Cathedral, where he led a Holy Mass.

During the negotiation, the police said they were just following orders. Police Senior Supt. Lawrence Coop of the Regional Public Safety Battalion told the group that they cannot join the crowd welcoming the Pope because their placards were “against.”

Former Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Liza Maza asked, “Against whom? Against the Pope?”

Coop did not answer. Among the groups’ banner read, “Let us all unite with the Pope to struggle for land peace and justice”, “Welcome Pope Francis! Hear the cry of the poor and the oppressed! Stand with us for justice and peace!”

“Yesterday the crocodiles and leeches in the government welcomed the Pope. Now the ordinary people, the relatives of victims of human rights violations, the disappeared and were killed are here to welcome the Pope and we are being prohibited,” Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante International said to the police. Crocodiles and leeches are used as metaphors for corrupt government officials.

“Brothers, what you are doing is against our purpose for a joyous welcome of the Pope. Some people there also have placards, but why were they allowed to come near the Pope? These placards are expressions of our welcome for the Pope,” said Father Ben Alforque, convener of People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope.

Meanwhile, some have individually managed to find a way to Ayala Bridge to catch a glimpse of the Pope, like the leader of the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), Estrelita Bagasbas. “I really looked for a place where I really can see the Pope and I did,” said Bagasbas.

She said she was really mad after the police blocked them from going to Ayala Bridge. “I was really angry. I never thought of my health condition I was just really mad at the police because of what they did. We were treated like flies. We are not garbage to hide from the Pope,” Bagasbas told in an interview.

And when the Pope passed by, she was able to wave to him and felt exhilarated. “My heart felt some relief,” Bagasbas said.

‘The poor’s real conditions’

Elmer Dayson, 62, a farmer in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija went to Manila to send to the Pope their message. “We just want to convey our message to the Pope the real condition of farmers in Central Luzon. That there is continuing land grabbing of the corporations in connivance with the government through the Department of Agrarian Reform,” Dayson told

He said in spite of the past land reform programs, such as the Presidential Decree 27 under Pres. Ferdinand Marcos in the 70s, nor under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of Pres. Aquino’s mother, Cory Aquino. He said their lands they were tilling was never distributed to them and pioneering tenants like him never had a land of their own.

“The lands that were up for distribution were fenced by the politicians and the rich in our province.”
He added that land grabbing made farmers suffer from poverty as their income has not been on a regular basis. With no land to till, he said, they were forced to take irregular jobs such as construction.

“While it is great that the Pope will be welcomed with much celebration and joy, he himself has said that the true joy is being in solidarity with the poor and being with them in their struggles,” said Alforque.

‘The Pope clamor for peace’

Alforque said in the program that Pope Francis advocates peace. Proof of this is when the Pope invited Israeli and Palestinian Presidents to come to the Vatican and pray for the sake of peace. He also joined the call to stop the attacks on Syria for the sake of peace and humankind.

The Pope also played a key role in the release of the “Cuban 5,”the five Cuban political prisoners detained in the United States.

Alforque said the Pope will understand why there is no peace in the Philippines. “He said in a country where there is globalization and widespread capitalism, there is a wide gap between the few rich and the poor majority. He said as long as there is inequality there will be no justice.”

He said, for Pope Francis, peace is not brought about by war. The Pope said even if the citizens keep quiet because of the repression of the ruling class, there is no peace.

“Is it not possible for the Pope can be the broker of peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines?”

“So let us show the Pope our clamor for justice so he can see that there is no peace here in our country,” Alforque said. (

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