Activists organized a Holy Week protest march in the Philippine capital on Monday drawing attention to the suffering the that urban poor are burdened with. Hundreds of Filipinos from slum communities joined the April 10 procession to the presidential palace in Manila to condemn the government's "anti-poor policies." In what is called the “Calvary of the poor”, protesters carried crosses symbolizing issues that burden the poor, such as lack of housing, killing and human rights abuses, in a dramatization of the passion of Jesus Christ on Monday of Holy Week. "Promises made by the government should not remain as promises," said Gloria Arellano, spokeswoman of the urban poor group Kadamay.
President Rodrigo Duterte last week announced that he would provide free housing for the poor and distribute land to landless peasants as part of the government's peace initiatives with communist rebels. The Philippines concluded last week another round of peace negotiations in The Netherlands aimed at ending almost five decades of communist insurgency. Arellano, however, said a lot of Duterte's campaign promises, including wage hikes for workers and an end to labor contracting, remain unfulfilled.
During Monday’s march, protesters noted similarities between Jesus' suffering and the Filipino people's "continuing Calvary." "Poor Filipinos must continue to pressure the government to address the concerns of the homeless," said Arellano. "Instead of crucifying or shaming the poor, we call for solidarity with them in our prayers and our actions," she added. Aside from their call for free mass housing, urban poor groups said, "there is still so much to do" to address the plight of poor Filipinos.
Arellano explained that forced migration to cities is rooted in the problem of landlessness. "Implementing genuine land reform is a big step in combating poverty," she added. Tribal groups, meanwhile, called for a stop to attacks in tribal communities resulting in the evacuation of hundreds of families to town centers. A joint statement by 60 tribal leaders from the southern region of Mindanao read, "We were forced to leave our communities and abandon our fields.” “Now, we have nothing to eat and our children are hungry," she added.
Among issues raised by the protesters during the "Calvary of the Poor" included the spate of killings of suspected drug users and peddlers, the proposal to revive capital punishment in the country, the lowering of the age of criminal liability for minors, the proliferation of fake news, and climate change, among others.
In his Palm Sunday homily, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila called on Catholics to find and welcome Christ in the person of the poor and the oppressed. (Source: UCAN)