Manila: The government on Friday admitted rounding up dozens of destitute people from the streets of Metro Manila and temporarily billeting them to a resort south of the capital.

In radio interviews, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman said her department gathered poor and homeless people — including entire families — and took them to a resort in Batangas to take them off the streets, document them and provide them with assistance they would require so that they can live productively.

She denied the activity was undertaken to shield the presence of a number of homeless people from the eyes of Pope Francis — who is known for his sympathy towards the poor — during the Pontiff’s January 15-19 visit to the country.

“The local government units took families so they would be registered under the government’s conditional cash transfer programme, be provided with orientation, so that they and their children be given the opportunity to study under the alternative learning system programme,” she said.

Soliman was reacting to reports that ten busloads of homeless people were taken to the Chateau Royale Resort in Nasugbu, Batangas on January 14, a day before the Pope’s arrival in the Philippines.

According to a report by radio station dzMM, the social welfare department booked 70 rooms for poor and homeless families living in the cities of Pasay, Manila and Parañaque. They had stayed there for five days.

Incidentally, these same suburbs are areas where Pope Francis passed during his visit.

Efforts by the government to keep the poor and destitute from the eyes of the public however did not go down well with some legislators who vowed a deeper look into the problem of destitutes.

Kabataan (Youth) Partylist Representative Terry Ridon, said the government is simply “whitewashing” the issue.

“In an effort to look good under the international limelight, the government just swept the problems it cannot solve under the rug. Jailing street children or stashing their families away in a resort speaks volumes of the Aquino administration’s stage-managed style of leadership,” Ridon added.

Earlier, the UK-based Daily Mail Online published a report the day before the Pope started his visit in the Philippines that Manila’s street urchins are being kept from the eyes of the public “to smarten up the capital.”

“Street children as young as five are being caged in brutal detention centres alongside adult criminals in a cynical drive…”, the Daily Mail article said.

According to Ridon, it is “deplorable” for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to spend money under the modified conditional cash transfer programme to whitewash poverty.

“Back when they were asking for funds in Congress, DSWD extolled the supposed benefit that the CCT gives to poor families. Is this the multibillion anti-poverty measure that the government boasts about? No wonder poverty and inequality has — in the Pope’s own words — reached scandalous levels in the country,” Ridon said.