Contemplating Poverty

Infrastracture development and massive displacement

While Katuparan ang Paradise Heights, though on the verge of collapse, are still made of concrete, the shanties around Tondo are built through the fragile ingenuity of its occupants. Houses nailed under the bridge are an ordinary spectacle in Tondo. Under Bridge 1 of Road 10, which connects Tondo and Navotas, Riza Gamilla, 34, and her family have been living for some years now. Her children’s ages are between six and 13. They built their home along that of their neighbors by attaching piles and pieces of scrap wood beneath the concrete bridge. During high tide, the water rises to their houses but they manage to keep themselves dry.

There are news, says Riza, that their shanties will be demolished in April for yet another road widening project. Under the government’s Medium Term Development Plan, the hastening of infrastructure projects is considered to be a requisite in developing the country. Even the present resiliency plan, supposedly designed to address the impact of the global financial crisis on the already ailing local economy, prioritizes construction of roads, bridges, extension of the present transit lines, among other infrastructure projects.

Riza and her family are just among those who will be displaced by the construction of these government projects. For instance, the completion of C-5 road, planned to be extended from Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City to Letre in Caloocan, is bound to displace thousands of residents of these cities. So far, 200,000 residents of Culiat, Pansol, Tandang Sora and other barangays in Quezon City have been evicted from their homes and displaced from their sources of livelihood, according to the report of GWP. Meanwhile, some 80,000 families in the regions of Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and NCR have been displaced because of the North and SouthRail linkage under the Philippine National Railways Modernization and Rehabilitation Project.

Separated from Katuparan by a dead river, the buildings of Paradise Heights is also fast deteriorating . (Photo by Anthony Stabile)

These inconsiderate demolitions that take place under the current administration had the country labeled by the Geneva-based Center for Housing Rights and Eviction as the third worst country when it comes to “rampant” demolitions and “inhumane” situation in relocation sites.

Living way beyond the margins

According to the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), a family of six living in the NCR needs at least P900 ($18.53 at the current exchange rate of $1=P48.565) a day to survive. Meanwhile, a regular worker receives a minimum wage of P382 ($7.865). This already presents a clear disparity between the needs and the capacity of the people.

The case of the residents of Smokey Mountain, Katuparan and Paradise Heights are worse. Since most of its residents are doing odd jobs and other irregular paying jobs, they have to keep tightening their belts. A significant percentage of the residents are scavengers whose earnings recently plunged at a very low rate. The scavengers themselves felt the impact of the crisis with the falling prices of recyclable garbage. According to Edgar Nunez, a long-time scavenger, there was a continued drop in the prices of recyclable garbage since November last year. Iron, for example, which could be sold before at P300 ($6.177) per kilo is now being bought at only P150 ($3.088).

Their families have to suffer because of this. Annabelle has to tighten the family budget everyday. His husband, a “push-cart boy”, now only earns P150 ($3.088) from collecting garbage all day. This earning is to be divided for food and fare. Because their earning is insufficient even for their daily needs, they find it hard to save up for their monthly utility bills and their housing amortization.

Meanwhile, Marlene Enaje of Katuparan, 48, has seven children. Her husband Oscar, 44, is a carpenter who gets work only through contracts. Even during the times that Oscar has work, he only receives P350 ($7.206) a day. A child of the couple had to stop going to school at the Navotas Polytechnic College because they could no longer afford his tuition.

According to the National Statistics and Coordination Board (NSCB), 33 out of 100 Filipinos are poor in 2006. The recent economic downturn has caused the statistics to aggravate. Self-rated poverty rate still remains high in 2009, says the Social Weather Station (SWS). The results of the survey of the SWS revealed that an estimated 4.3 million households experienced involuntary hunger in the last quarter of 2008.

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