Small vendors have been evicted from Luneta Park in Manila a few days before the arrival of Pope Francis in the Philippines. The pope is scheduled to hold a mass in Luneta, the country’s premier freedom park.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church will be in the Philippines from January 15 to 19. His visit is expected to draw millions of people in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, which is the largest Catholic-dominated nation in Asia.
Luneta has around 350 vendors, many of whom had been in the park for more than 10 years. Most of the street vendors sell food items and drinks.
Last week, the vendors were told to evacuate the park in preparation for the papal visit. The National Parks Development Committee claimed that this was a directive from the police and the presidential palace as part of the security arrangements for the arrival of the pope.
The vendors protested the eviction notice and asserted that they are not a threat to the pope:
We love the Pope. We will not harm him. We are not terrorists.
Gerry Serue, spokesperson for the Kilusan Para Sa Disenteng Kabuhayan (Movement for Decent Livelihood), criticized authorities for using the pope’s name to destroy the livelihood of the poor:
Pope Francis is known for his affinity with the masses and his being critical on issues of dignity and rights of the underprivileged, but now they are using his name to remove us from the places of our livelihood.
He also invoked the theme of the papal visit, “Mercy and Compassion”, to defend the right of the vendors to remain at the park:
We know that the Pope does not want this to happen. The theme of his visit is Mercy and Compassion, where is the mercy and compassion in what the local government officials are doing?
Some vendors also questioned if commercial food stalls will replace them in the park. They noticed that McDonald’s is one of the sponsors of the tarpaulins printed by the Catholic Church. Former legislator Teddy Casino asked if McDonald’s food kiosks will be allowed in the park:
Sa #PopeFrancisPH mass sa Luneta bawal ang street vendors pero pwede ang McDo kiosk?
— Teddy Casiño (@teddycasino) January 9, 2015
During the #PopeFrancisPH mass at Luneta, street vendors are banned but not McDo kiosk?
Vendors are worried that they will lose their livelihood during the pope's visit. Many also fear that the eviction order will be implemented permanently since local authorities have been trying to ban vendors from the park for many years already.
Catholic Church officials acknowledged the petition of the vendors, but they said the issue should be resolved by the local government.