In the Miserable Depths of Poverty

As 2008 nears its end, many Filipinos conclude that their dire plight got unbearably worse this year. More and more urban poor families speak with anguish about their impoverished state while adamantly stressing the need for “radical change”.



A new year is commencing. Looking back at the year almost gone by, the urban poor see the bleak path they struggled to travel on. The year 2008 is just the same as the past years, only worse, they say. They have been constantly pushed beyond the margins of humane living, always in danger of losing their homes and livelihood. Politically, they have been further silenced as cases of “repression” among their ranks remain. Neglected by the state, they demand the abolition of the prevailing system.

The urban poor population of the country has now hit 30 million based on data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). A considerable percentage of them reside in the slums of Metro Manila. The number of urban poor families is significant considering that the population of the country is 89 million.

According to the document Lagutin ang Tanikala ng Kahirapan (Break the Chain of Poverty) prepared by the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay or Mutual Help Association of the Poor), workers and “semi-proletarians” (workers doing seasonal odd jobs) comprise the urban poor population. They “suffer from extreme poverty” caused by the lack of gainful employment. They make a living out of their dismal wages and meager earnings, which fall way too short compared to the soaring cost of living in and outside Metro Manila.

Based on the study of the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), a family of six (the size of the average Filipino family) needs, at the very least, P858 ($17.96 at the Dec. 12 exchange rate of $1:P47.78) everyday for food and other expenses. In the National Capital Region, an average worker earns only P345.00-P382.00 ($7.22-7.99) while workers in other regions earn less.

Children collect garbage in a slum area in Tondo Manila. (Photo by Aubrey Makilan)

Worse is the case of vendors, drivers of pedicabs, tricycles and other modes of transportation, workers in dumpsites and other semi-proletarians. For instance, scavengers in the dumpsite of Payatas who collect garbage which can still be of use like pet bottles, iron and papers, earn only P150 ($3.14) or less a day after working for nine hours. Aling Julieta, an ambulant vendor along España Street in Sampaloc, Manila, earns the same amount for working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, schoolchildren in urban poor communities comprise a significant number in the alarming number of drop-outs in primary and secondary schools. Most of them have to stop going to school to work and help their parents augment their meager family income.

While most of the urban poor reside in far-off relocation sites, tenement houses and communities around industrial areas, some end up living in “dangerous areas” like dumpsites, bridges, along railroad tracks and river banks where social services are beyond their reach. Diseases like dengue, hepatitis and tuberculosis are prevalent among the urban poor as health and sanitation conditions in these areas are bad.

They experience extreme hunger and destitution, which drive some of them into committing anti-social activities, from petty to more serious crimes.

Most of them came from different provinces during the latter part of the 1940s. Their farmlands were grabbed and they were forced to evacuate to the cities in search of employment. During the second half of the 1940s, thousands of people from the countryside occupied the shorelines of Tondo, riverside of Pasig and areas of Intramuros.

The urban poor numbered less than 100,000 in 1956, 2.5 million in 1996 and now they number 30 million.

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