Homeless But Not Worthless: Disaster Victims Want Sustainable Rehabilitation


Greenland, Tanim ni Abraham, Tumana and Paltok extension are four of the lowest lying villages on the banks of a creek in Barangay Silangan in Quezon City, which became a swollen, raging river when Ondoy’s rains poured at an unprecedented volume late last September. The waters swept away houses, crops, pets, plants, and about a hundred villagers themselves. Many of the reported missing up to this day are feared to have drowned. Where the people’s houses had been, only toilet bowls remained, having been the only cemented fixture in the houses.

Ofelia Cuyugan (Photo by Marya salamat / bulatlat.com)

“It was summer when we first came here years ago,” Rolando Cuyugan, 44, told Bulatlat. With his wife Ofelia, he bought rights to build a house there because it was affordable to them. And as the banks of the creek that flowed in the middle of the villages were planted with vegetables by the people residing there, “it was really lovely to look at.” With their three children, they took to planting radish and corn in Tumana. Cuyugan sold most of the produce- he was an ambulant vendor, like many of the residents in those low-lying villages.

Greenland, Tanim ni Abraham and Tumana got such descriptive names because the people who lived there were planting vegetables and corn that they eat and sell.

“When we bought rights to live there, no one told us that it could be like that,” said Cuyugan. People of the local government saw them going up and down the street of Barangay Silangan to their village with construction materials, “but they didn’t discuss the likelihood of this disaster happening,” Cuyugan said, referring to the rampaging flood that killed many and rendered them homeless.

Now they are faced with a dilemma similar to choosing between death and the deep blue sea. Should they forget the traumatic disaster and go back to where they had been previously washed out, or should they let themselves be swept away to government’s little-known, ill-prepared relocation sites?

Even before they were rescued off their submerged villages, the government has blamed the approximately 80,000 poor families for the unprecedented flooding in Metro Manila. As with the other urban poor living in areas near rivers creeks and bridges, those from Quezon City’s Barangay Silangan were prohibited from returning to the sites of their former homes, so they were forced to stay in evacuation centers.

Fifty-nine families of these new homeless had negotiated with a priest to build a temporary shelter on a private vacant lot in San Vicente, Bagong Silangan. Another 65 families remained in the evacuation center at the barangay’s basketball court. The government promises to relocate them.

As of this writing, the new homeless are being made to line up near the barangay hall and wait for their names to be called for relocation. A yellow government-owned bus awaits outside, with a small truck in tow for the people’s meager belongings.

“Our leaders in the barangay told us that if we were given a place in the relocation site, we should just grab it,” Renato Morales, 40, told Bulatlat.

Concerned groups have cautioned the government that the poor are not the only ones at fault in the disaster that happened. Architects, geologists and urban planners said it is not just the poor setting up houses in waterways that are to blame for the flooding, but also deforested and quarried mountains around Metro Manila, cabinet and city officials conniving with developers to violate sensible planning rules and city officials who ignored the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 law, which mandates each city to set aside land for social housing.

But no, as far as the governmnt is concerned, the poor are to blame and they should be grateful the government is even trying to relocate them.

Band-aid Solution

“We don’t know how it is in the relocation site and the living conditions there,” said many in Filipino even as they jostled and strained to hear their names called in the loudspeaker. On top of the congestion and degrading insecurity of living in the evacuation center for who knows how long, they fear news of approaching typhoons. All these are making them more desperate to leave and grab for the promised relocation.

But it is actually a “forced relocation,” observed Renato Morales, 40. “The government doesn’t even want us to see where we’re being relocated. We are just being herded to the unknown.”

Families awaiting relocation are not fully aware of the system of payment that would be required from them once they avail of the housing in relocation areas. It was the members of Gabriela among the affected who explained about the payment.

At first glance, they said, P200 per month ($4.20 at an exchange rate of $1=P47.57) for the first five years and P700 ($14.71) for the succeeding five years, seem affordable. But even that may be hard to fulfill if they could not find jobs in those areas. As it is, most of them do not have regular jobs. What they earn they must stretch for food until they get another job and earn again. In the case of the vegetable and corn farmers and vendors, they are unsure of the livelihood they could eke out at the relocation site.

“Without a blueprint for rehabilitation or clear plan, this relocation is just a band-aid solution,” said Emmi de Jesus, vice-chair of Gabriela. “You cannot just haul off people to new sleeping quarters, or to relocation areas without providing social services and livelihood for the people,” she said.

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