The protest march
last Monday called by the urban poor alliance KADAMAY, to denounce a rash
of violent demolitions of urban poor communities in Metro Manila, was
quite daunting, what with the sweltering heat under the noonday sun. Nonetheless,
my activist instincts impelled me to walk with the diminutive but fiery
urban poor leader, Ka Mameng Deunida who, at 80-something, remains at the
forefront of their uphill struggle.
What struck me
immediately was that many of the rallyists were scrawny women who had even
scrawnier babies, toddlers and pre-teens in tow. Even
the leaders were mostly women, a testament not so much to women’s
liberation it seems, but to the extent of desperation that had taken hold
of their households and was forcing the mothers to take a stand.
placards showed that things hadn’t changed much since I began as an
activist organizing in urban poor communities some 40 years ago, except
that it had obviously gone from bad to worse. The demands remained to be
“No to demolitions! Yes to jobs, decent wages, affordable housing,
education and health care!” and a fairly new one “Stop urban
“Noynoy” Aquino III had signed a 10-Point Covenant with the Urban Poor as
a presidential candidate and had promised an end to forced evictions. According
to the pro-Aquino Urban Poor Advocates, Mr. Aquino was also committed to
“decent relocation” that meant “relocation with quality housing, adequate
basic services and sustainable livelihood support.”
The return to the practice of forced
evictions under the Aquino watch jolted many urban poor communities back
to the harsh reality that after elections, they were back to being
“eyesores” and “hazards to public safety”.
Six months into his
term, Mr. Aquino was forced to grant a four-month moratorium on
demolitions after the valiant defense by residents of their sprawling
urban poor settlement in North Triangle, Quezon City. Their
homes were being wrecked by the National Housing Authority to give way to
a public-private-partnership with a real property developer, Ayala Land,
whose owners had supported Mr. Aquino’s presidential bid.
The urban poor have
shown that pushed to the wall, they can and will fight back. Stopping
the demolition teams by sheer street fighting is a valuable lesson that
the urban poor have learned instinctively. As
they learn about the roots of their poverty and insecure existence in the
cities, their true empowerment begins.
Last April, DILG
Secretary Jesse Robredo filed a report to Mr. Aquino on the problem of
“informal settlers”, using the more politically-correct term in place of
the pejorative one, “squatters”, that is still in use by government, mass
media and private property owners.
To his credit, the
report forthrightly acknowledges the extent of the problem – 556,526
families, whose total members comprise 25% of the projected 11.5 million
population in the National Capital Region for 2010 (NSO).
It also candidly
states that the “current and projected government shelter programs are
inadequate to fully and effectively address the challenge”. The current
shortfall is a whopping 523,765 units.
The Robredo report
bats for making shelter a top priority of the national government with the
requisite mobilization of financial resources from both the national
government and LGUs. It
highlights the fact that the average Philippine annual expenditure on
housing from 2001-2007 was only .089% of GDP, far below what other
southeast Asian countries were spending, from a high of 2.089 in Singapore
to a low of .383 per cent in Malaysia.
It also calls for
“socially inclusive urban redevelopment schemes” or those that provide
poor, working people, whose labor is necessary to any society, a decent
place to live.
This translates to
a policy wherein “on-site housing solutions shall be exhausted first
before considering in-city resettlement, then near-city resettlement and
as a last resource, off-city resettlement.” And
in order to accomplish on-site or in-city resettlement, the report
advocates medium-rise or high-rise buildings to increase density of the
population using a “vertical solution”.
A critical point is
underscored: while initial capital outlay for such vertical housing is
higher than current estimates of off-city relocation, most planners fail
to take into account the latter’s attendant social and economic costs.
additional government costs in providing basic services (eg water systems,
schools, hospitals); costs to the urban poor such as loss of livelihood or
hiked transportation expense to commute to and from work or school; and
separation of breadwinners from their families because livelihood
opportunities are absent in relocation sites.
government has a habit of dislocating slum dwellers from their already
difficult and precarious living conditions only to throw them out into the
streets or cart them off to unlivable, far-away relocations sites, hidden
from view. That way, they
don’t have to bother about any added costs to the government. Moreover,
who cares about how the urban poor fare.
The Robredo report,
though a welcome departure from previous anti-people government approaches
to the “challenge” posed by the urban poor, still fails to address the
“push” and “pull” factors underlying the relentless mass migration of
rural folk to the cities and the exacerbation of urban poverty and blight
as a consequence.
In an earlier
column, I tried to summarize these factors; to wit: “The
underlying causes of this ever increasing rural to urban exodus are deeply
rooted in landlessness (farmers dispossessed, evicted from land they till
by land grabbers, land conversion, etc.); entrenched rural poverty and
agricultural backwardness (aggravated by neoliberal policies of import
liberalization and deregulation, e.g. the removal of agricultural
subsidies); landlord and state suppression of peasant struggles against
feudal oppression and exploitation; and the continuously deteriorating and
overall stultifying living conditions in the countryside.” (See “No
titles”, Streetwise 30 September 2011.)
This month the
Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-economic Reforms (RWC-SER) of the
Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines
(NDFP) meet again to thresh out the provisions of a bilateral agreement
that, if inked, could lay the basis for a negotiated political settlement
of the armed conflict that has been raging for more than four decades.
The plight of the
urban poor is squarely addressed in a fundamental and thoroughgoing way by
the NDFP in its proposals for a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic
The NDFP calls for
abolishing land monopoly in the rural areas and redistributing land to the
tillers for free; establishing rural industries and supporting
agricultural production in order to squarely address the rural poverty
that drives mass migration to urban centers.
industrialization on the other hand is recognized as “the key to a modern
and diversified industrial economy” that can ensure livelihoods for the
people, guarantee the satisfaction of their basic needs, bring about rapid
and sustained economic growth and achieve economic independence from
unwanted foreign domination. In
this way decent jobs and other livelihood sources are generated for a
burgeoning population, greater social wealth is created and government
resources are beefed up as well to be used for the common good.
The Robredo report
has been sitting on Mr. Aquino’s table unacted upon for more than two
heartless demolitions are back with a vengeance; so too, the people’s
growing resistance. #
3-4 June 2011