Philippines hit for 'hiding' poor at prestige event

Rights groups and unions slammed the Philippines Friday after it erected advertising hoardings that hid slum housing from delegates attending a conference on solving poverty in Asia.

The giant boards were put up beside a road taking 4,300 delegates from Manila airport to the Asian Development Bank meeting that began on Wednesday, blocking the view of an open sewer and shanties.

The boards advertised Philippine tourist attractions as well as the high-level meeting, which proclaimed as its theme "inclusive" growth for Asia, home to some 902 million of the world's poor according to the bank.

The government said it was merely trying to put its "best foot forward" but New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised the boards, saying it sent the message that dire poverty can just be ignored.

"Instead of trying to hide the poor, the Philippine government should be pressing the bank to tackle poverty head on," said Jessica Evans, the group's senior international financial institution advocate.

Union leader Josua Mata, of the Alliance of Progressive Labour-Centro, told AFP the attempt to wall off the poverty was "embarrassing" and the government should turn its focus to creating jobs and building resettlement sites.

President Benigno Aquino's office insisted the effort was not an attempt to hide poverty, which the government says affects a fourth of the population of 95 million.

"It's but natural to fix it (the city) up a bit and I don't think we're violating any human right by trying to put our best foot forward," presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang told reporters.

"We're not trying to whitewash poverty, it's very real," another spokesman, Abigail Valte, said.

Carandang said the government was spending 39 billion pesos ($907 million) this year in cash handouts to help three million poor families to escape poverty. The ADB lent the government $400 million in 2010 for the programme.

ADB external relations director Ann Quon defended the hosts.

"We do not think it is the host country's intention to paper over poverty in the Philippines," Quon said.

"In fact, the government has placed poverty reduction at the centre of its development agenda."

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