An international human rights group has hit the government for its move to "beautify" the city and hide Manila's slum areas as bigwigs arrived for the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) annual meeting.
“By blocking off struggling families behind a fence, the Philippine government is sending the message that dire poverty can just be ignored,” Jessica Evans, senior international financial institution advocate at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.
HRW said the government has built a fence, with tarpaulins promoting tourism and the ADB meeting, on the bridge along the highway that runs from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to the convention center, where the bank’s 45th annual meeting of its board of governors is being held.
The group added said that ironically, the meeting brings together over 4,000 delegates, including ministers of finance and development, central bankers, private sector representatives, civil society activists, and journalists to discuss a broad range of issues linked to the ADB’s mission to reduce poverty.
“Instead of trying to hide the poor, the Philippine government should be pressing the bank to tackle poverty head on,” Evans said, pointing out that ADB aims for an Asia and Pacific free from poverty.
HRW also cited an Associated Press (AP) report in which the Aquino government was defending its decision to build the fence.
“Any country will do a little fixing up before a guest comes,” Presidential Press Secretary Ramon Carandang told AP.
Likewise, Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, which built the fence, reportedly argued that the government needs to show that Metro Manila is orderly.
“I see nothing wrong with beautifying our surroundings. We are not trying to keep the poor out of the picture,” Tolentino said.
However, the human rights group said that when they interviewed residents of the slum area, the poor expressed their concern that the fence was intended to hide them.
One of the residents even revealed to HRW that a local government official instructed their family to stay under the bridge and to avoid loitering on the streets as it was “very embarrassing.”
The residents added that they chose not to complain because they fear demolition.
“The theme of the ADB’s annual meeting is the importance of inclusive growth. But the very poor, as this incident shows, have been shunted out of sight. Let’s hope that they are not shunted out of mind,” Evans said.