Feeling 'unblessed': Vendors evicted over papal visit
MANILA, Philippines—Many Filipinos feel blessed by the much anticipated visit of Pope Francis to the country, but vendors of Luneta Park and Quirino Grandstand, the site of the papal mass on Sunday, January 18, feel the exact opposite.
The National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) of the Department of Tourism (DOT), through its Executive Director Elizabeth H. Espino, has issued a memorandum evicting all vendors of Luneta effective Sunday, January 11.
This is in accordance with the directives of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Presidential Security Group (PSG) in implementing the security plan for the papal visit.
From January 16 to 18, all establishments and offices within the park will be closed. The PNP, PSG, and the Vigilant Security Agency (VSA) will take the lead in the clearing operation and ensuring that the park and the grandstand will be safe and ready for the Sunday papal mass.
Members of the Peoples Democratic Hawkers and Vendors Alliance, Inc (PDHVAI) questioned the memorandum and insisted that the government is using the papal visit as an excuse to permanently expel them from the park and deprive them of livelihood.
“We are not a threat to the Pope. The vendors of Luneta Park unite and we insist to stay inside the park because we, the poor, are the primary reason why the Pope is visiting the country,” said Danilo Depositar, president of PDHVAI. (READ: Pope Francis known as champion of poor)
"For the government, we are an eyesore to the Pope and they are using his visit as an excuse. They are hiding the real situation of the Filipino masses,” Depositar added.
The government has laid out a detailed security plan to protect the Pope, as well as the faithful. President Benigno Aquino III himself is said to be on top of plans to ensure the Pope's and the public's safety throughout the 5-day visit.
'Different from 1995 papal visit'
Erenio Ayon Sr, 59, said that the vendors have "lucked out" in relation to the papal visit, apparently referring to the revenues they stand to lose due to their eviction.
Ayon has been a vendor in Luneta for decades. He recalled Pope John Paul II's second visit to the Philippines in 1995, and compared it with the forthcoming visit of the new pope.
“It was different. That event was joyful. Thousands of people, mostly were youths, came to Luneta to celebrate the World Youth Day and welcome Pope John Paul II. No vendor was prohibited inside the park and we were given a chance to get good business opportunity,” he said.
Now, he said, vendors have been ordered to "vacate" the entire area for security purposes but Ayon thinks it is too much.
“The PNP and PSG will clear the park for possible bomb or explosives. I think the government is doing its job but they are over acting. We are willing to take a week rest from trading but they should give us alternatives on how to earn money,” he said.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is offering affected vendors cash-for-work for the duration of their eviction from the Luneta. The DSWD will pay each person P340.00 (US$7.57*) per day to sweep the streets in the surrounding area and within the Luneta and Quirino grandstand during the papal visit. The names of the vendors and their family members should be registered with the DSWD-NCR.
The vendors' concern is what happens to them after the papal visit. They fear that their eviction would become permanent.
“It is not clear if NDPC will allow us to go back to our posts once we leave Luneta....If they will hinder us from earning money through vending inside the park, our families will die," said 37-year-old Felomina Abraham, a coffee and cigarette vendor.
Abraham said that because of the actions of the government, the Pope appears to be far from the reach of the poor.
“We are unfortunate. We are too small and too poor to talk to the Pope and ask him to help us deal with this government. I think the Pope is just for the rich families only, for politicians and those who can afford to live a day without worrying about what to cook or where to find food to give to their children for dinner,” she said.
*$1 = P44.9