“The government wants to project itself as compassionate and humane because it provides these relocation sites, but it will not admit that there are so many things that are wrong in these sites and people do not benefit from being forced to live there.” – Gabriela Women’s Party
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus is appalled over the the sorry conditions of urban poor residents and relocatees in Southville B and C in Rodriguez, Rizal. In a privileged speech in the House or Representatives, she criticized the national and local government’s policies on relocating urban poor residents and saying that it is “unjust, uncaring and inhumane.”
Last February, Gabriela Women’s Party, Gabriela and Akap-Bata party-list held a fact-finding mission in the said relocation site to investigate the situation faced by residents. The groups said they wanted to go to the bottom of reports they received that residents continued to leave the site and return to the areas where they originally lived despite the local government of Quezon City’s demolition operations.
“We wanted to find out if there was truth to the claims of the local government that the residents have been provided with decent housing and that they had access to basic services such as schools and health centers. It’s a most baffling phenomenon that relocatees never stay for long in the relocation site despite the assertion of the local government that they are better off in their new communities than in their old ones,” de Jesus said.
According to de Jesus, they discovered that the relocatees in Rodriguez, Rizal face similar conditions as those by other relocatees living in Calauan, Laguna; and in Towervilla, San Jose del Monte where Gabriela had also conducted fact-finding missions.
“The residents in the relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal have problems with water supply and electricity. There is also no school nearby for the children. The biggest problem, however, is the severe lack of employment opportunities. It is unemployment that make it most difficult for residents to start new and improved lives,” she said.
Intermittent supy of expensive electricity
Based on the groups’ findings, while there is electricity in Southville B, the payment system made it hard for residents to afford it. The relocation site utilizes a sub-meter system run by the Baque Corporation, which, in turn, is in charge of the main or mother meter.
“Residents complain that the Baque Corporation exacts exorbitant fees, and often households are charged up to P600 ($13.95) a month even when they hardly consumed any electricity. Residents hardly have any appliances, so it was upsetting for the mothers to be forced to pay so much for electricity they didn’t use. In the meantime, if and when the residents did use electricity, the supply became erratic. Those who could afford to pay also had to have their supplies cut off when the Baque Corpration said others didn’t pay their own bills. The company said it could not afford to subsidize other residents when they couldn’t pay,” she said.
In the meantime, De Jesus also reported how the water in the relocation site is not safe for drinking and how children have already fallen ill when they tried to drink it. Residents have been forced to shell out money for drinking water, paying P25 ($0.58) for every container.
No space in schools, no teachers either
Prior to agreeing to be relocated, the residents were told by the QC government that there is a school in the relocation site and that there are already teachers there.
“While it is true that there is an elementary and a high school in Southville, the schools are not prepared to accept and accommodate transferees among the relocatees. There are no seats, tables, school rooms or teachers for the relocatees. We have seen that 100-150 students are forced to fit inside one classroom, and the students have to bring their own chairs to school,” De Jesus said.
De Jesus also explained that students from San Juan and Tatalon are unable to transfer schools because the academic year is almost finished. There are parents who forged agreements with some teachers that their children will attend school only twice or thrice a week or only when there are exams: this is because the parents are hard put to shoulder their children’s transportation and other daily expenses.
“We have talked to one mother who has been finding it most difficult to sleep at night because she is very worried about whether or not her three children will be able to graduate this March,” she said. “We have reason to believe that this is not an isolated case and that there are many, similar others wherein children are forced to drop out of school because of the difficult circumstances they face because their families were forced to relocate suddenly and to places far from where their parents have employments or means of income.”
Health services at a high cost
It was also discovered during the fact-finding mission that the health centers in the relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal fail miserably to address the needs of the residents. The centers are only equipped to provide the most basic of first aid, and while there are nearby health clinics, these are privately run and their services are too expensive for the residents to access,” she said.
“It’s doubly difficult for the residents when they fall ill because the health centers cannot provide medical help beyond first aid. The Amang Rodriguez General Hospital and the East Avenue Medical Center are too far for the residents. There are no ambulances on stand-by should there be emergencies.”
De Jesus and Gabriela Women’s Party also took issue regarding the ownership arrangements. The lawmaker discovered that the residents were told that the houses were theirs and that they could pay for it for 25 to 30 years. Residents do not have to pay during the first year, but after that they would have to pay at least P200 ( $4.65) to as much as P80 ($18.60) a month.
“This would be easy if all of the residents had means of steady income, but the fact is most, if not everyone, has no employment and those who are employed are hardly earning enough,” she said. ” How can a person pay rent or pay for electricity and water when he’s jobless? Or if he’s not earning enough because all his money goes to fares and the basic needs of his family? Unemployment of residents in the relocation sites is a very important issue that the government should address.”
De Jesus also exposed the residents’ complaints that many of them were forced to sign housing contracts. She said the residents were not even given a chance to read and go through the contracts before they were rushed into signing them.
“When we asked them why they didn’t assert their rights to read the contract first, they answered that they already felt too defeated: their houses had already been destroyed, their clothes and other belongings were scattered on the street, and they were all but eaten up by worry over what would happen to their children,” she said.
Residents of Southville C are also often worried that their houses would be flooded the next time a typhoon comes. “The government says that it’s destroying many urban poor communities because these were in danger zones; but it hasn’t done anything to address the reports that many of the relocation sites are actually flood- prone,” she said.
An uncaring government
Finally, De Jesus pointed out how difficult it is for residents who still have jobs to shoulder the daily transportation costs.
“Rodriguez, Rizal is very far from where they work in Quezon City, San Juan, Makati or Manila.It might be easy to get rides to commute, but it’s not easy for them to come up with the money for fare. Those who work in Litex or San Juan need almost P150 ($3.49) a day for fare, but they earn only P300 ($6.98) daily. Half of their daily income is already spent on fares, and the rest has to be divided for other household expenses,” she said.
In closing, the lawmakers said the national and local government units should address all these issues she brought up before it continues to enforce its relocation policies.
“People are being stripped of their dignity. Many of them have been reduced to penury and mendicancy. They are rendered hopeless because all their options have been taken from them. They’re being denied opportunities to improve their lives and the lives of their children. The government wants to project itself as compassionate and humane because it provides these relocation sites, but it will not admit that there are so many things that are wrong in these sites and people do not benefit from being forced to live there.Their children have no school, the residents have no work,” she said.
“The Aquino government should consider what future generations of Filipinos will say about it. Our children will insist that they experienced neither succor nor care from the government.”
According to data from the National Housing Authority (NHA), there are already 1,345,907 families of informal settlers in the entire country. These figures, observers say, can only grow because of the government’s policy of eviction and relocation to unsuitable areas.