“Look around us and one would see so many people who are homeless. It is high time for the government to look into these corrupt practices, most especially because it is Pope Francis himself who pointed it out.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
RIZAL PARK, Manila — “He wanted to meet the poor. So here we are.”
This is what Pamela Leonardo, 40, said when asked what motivated here to come and hear mass at Quirino Grandstand, where at least six million people attended — the biggest Papal gathering ever, according to Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.
Leonardo and her family were among those who endured the biting cold January rain, to see the Pontiff. They were sheltered under the LRT in Taft Avenue when Bulatlat.com chanced upon them. Even from at least a kilometer away from Pope Francis, the atmosphere was still festive, even electrifying.
Even those who were just watching from the big screens went hysterical every time the Pope waved his hand, as if he was actually in front of them.
When the mass finally began, silence enveloped the people. But in between the silence and the murmurs, one or two people could be heard asking, “Yun payong, po! Yun payong po, (Your umbrella!)” as the umbrellas were blocking their view.
Many came with their Sto. Niño, the child image of the Jesus Christ, which was celebrating its feast day.
“It is impossible not to feel his presence even when you are so far away from him. It is like the Lord has descended from the heavens,” a devout Catholic Bernadet Santiago, 61, said.
Santiago, along with her neighbors, left the Parish of Kristong Hari in Commonwealth Quezon City at around 10 pm, Jan. 17. They were among the first to arrive in Quirino Grandstand and endured the rains the longest, too. They shared makeshift raincoats and sat closely next to each other to keep themselves warm.
“The typhoon did not stop the Pope from visiting us. This is just a little sacrifice to give back to our Pope,” she said.
If it were not Pope Francis himself speaking, Leonardo said those kind words would mean nothing.
“Isn’t that what we hear from politicians every time they are campaigning for election?” she told Bulatlat.com. But coming from the Pontiff, the statements become sharp weapons against the conscience of traditional politicians.
In his speech in Malacañang, Pope Francis called on Philippine leaders to “reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child in the life of the community.”
Robert Erinco, for his part, said it was the Pope’s pronouncements on corruption that really hit him.
“Come to think of it, many are impoverished, while the few who are rich are getting richer. This should serve ‘crocodiles’ a lesson. They should learn to love the poor,” Erinco said.
Citing the recent anomaly in the government cornerstone poverty reduction program Conditional Cash Transfer, Erinco said that much has to be done for the poor.
“Look around us and one would see so many people who are homeless,” he said, “It is high time for the government to look into these corrupt practices, most especially because it is Pope Francis himself who pointed it out.”
Erinco said the government may keep saying that the economy has improved. But the ordinary Filipinos’ daily fare has not.
For Yolanda survivors
Relatives of victims of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 were also among those who flocked to the Quirino Grandstand.
Ruby Quitorio, 49, recalled how many survivors did not receive assistance from the government, despite the influx of donations from both here and abroad.
“If you do not wear yellow, then you will not get any,” Quitorio said, making an apparent reference to Aquino’s political color.
Pope Francis, during his homily in Tacloban Airport, said that as soon as he saw the devastation brought by Typhoon Yolanda, “I felt that I had to be here and on those very days I decided to come here.”
“I am here with you. A little bit late, I have to say, but I am here,” he added.
Dionisio Bendoy, 56, said 15 of his nephews and nieces were among those missing from the typhoon. Watching the Pope’s message for the Yolanda survivors in the news later that night, he was comforted, even as his family is still pining for their loved ones whose fate remains uncertain.
“I really saw his sincerity,” he added.
Pray for the country
Bendoy said the social economic crisis here in the Philippines is deeply rooted that no matter how hard he works, a jeepney driver like him would still find it hard to have a decent livelihood.
Just recently, he added, the jeepney fare was rolled back by P1 due to the decreased price of oil.
“But what about the prices of goods? It has yet to go down. It is not right,” Bendoy said.
He added that Pope Francis’ kind words and prayers for the poor is among the many reasons that many Filipinos came to gather in Quirino Grandstand. Such pronouncements, he added, could hardly be uttered, let alone be done, by this government.
“I am very thankful that he is here and that he saw the conditions of the people. I am really happy,” Bendoy said.
Erlinda Ruallo, 52, said the Filipino people has found an ally in Pope Francis.
Asked if she thinks the government would heed his advice, she said, “Maybe. Or maybe not. But I am more inclined to believe that majority of them will not. But hopefully there are people in this government who would be religious enough to heed the Pope’s calls.”