MANILA, Philippines – Delegates attending an international conference in the Philippines capital may not see what they came to discuss: abject poverty.
A makeshift, temporary wall has been erected across a bridge on a road from the airport to downtown Manila that hides a sprawling slum along a garbage-strewn creek.
Presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang defended the wall's installation, saying Thursday "any country will do a little fixing up before a guest comes."
He expressed hope that this week's annual meeting of Asian Development Bank Board of Governors, which includes finance ministers and senior officials from 67 member states, will show the Philippines is open for business. The lending institition, which is headquartered in its own walled compound in Manila, aims to cut poverty in the Asia-Pacific region.
"We need to show our visitors that Metro Manila is orderly. We owe it to ourselves," said metropolital Manila chief Francis Tolentino.
"I see nothing wrong with beautifying our surroundings. We are not trying to keep the poor out of the picture," he said.
There was no immediate comment from ADB.
The Philippine Communist Party recalled that former first lady Imelda Marcos — notorious for her ostentatious lifestyle — was ridiculed for trying to hide squatter colonies. She erected similar whitewashed walls along the route of foreign visitors to the Miss Universe pageant held in Manila in 1974, and other international events.
"The government should face reality. If they don't, how will they know the problem, how will they solve the problem," said Renato Reyes, secretary general of the largest left-wing group Bayan. "By covering the truth, they lose the energy or intention to resolve the problem."
About a third of Manila's 12 million residents live in slums, and a third of 94 million Filipinos live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day. Overall, more than half the population in Asia remains poor.