They are being moved from one place to another; they have no stable jobs or sources of livelihood. Now, even basic social services are being denied from them.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – After the fire that razed their homes in Tondo, Manila, all Neng Palconit, 41, could think of was to find a safe place for their family. She applied right away for the relocation site being offered, which she realized later on, was the biggest and the worst decision she ever made.
“We lost our jobs when we moved to the relocation site after the fire burned down our homes. Shortly after that, we, again, lost whatever was left to us in a flood during the monsoon rain last year,” Palconit told Bulatlat.com.
Palconit never joined protest actions before. But when officials of the National Housing Authority told them to go back to their flooded homes after the monsoon rains in August 2012, the residents refused. They held several protest actions, which included a rally in front of the NHA’s office in Quezon City. This made her realize the importance of collective action when pushing and fighting for one’s rights.
The residents won and they were allowed to stay in the homes they occupied. These are located relatively in front of the village, which were not affected by the flood. Palconit also sees their victory as beneficial to other urban poor communities about to be demolished because the NHA would have to build new houses.
So on March 23, she and other residents from Kasiglahan Village, the relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal where they were transferred, joined a bigger protest — the people’s calvary. They marched from one government office to another, demanding for the scrapping of anti-poor policies that are, Palconit said, legalizing the violation of their basic rights and needs.
For Palconit and other urban poor families, relying solely on laws and policies, which the government claims would benefit them, means waiting in vain. Even the Magna Carta for the Poor, which was not passed into law when Aquino vetoed it, the urban poor group said, would not put a dent on the widespread, debilitating poverty thatd many Filipinos are going through.
Demolition and dire conditions in relocation sites
Residents of Payatas in Quezon City said they know for real how their lives are not improving, in fact, even worsening, when the government flaunts statistics that purportedly show that the economy is improving. ?
“We were wondering why they (the local government) would want to set up a housing program there when we are poor and we would not be able to afford it?” Charlie Gumabao, 49, a resident of Payatas, told Bulatlat.com in Filipino.
Gumabao, among hundreds of families residing in Area B of Payatas, was initially told that their homes will be demolished to give way to an extension of the school building. But they later on found out that the Quezon City local government will build a housing program, which, they dubbed as “Bistekville – 5.”
“Most of the residents do not have stable jobs. Plus, one needs to be a member of Pag-ibig to avail of the houses,” he said.
Gumabao considers himself as luckier compared to his neighbors who mostly earn by scavenging garbage at the Payatas landfill. As a truck driver, he earns about $4.5 a day, a far cry from the minimum wage here in Metro Manila.
Naturally, he said, residents are opposing the project. “This is where we grew up and eventually had our own family. We already have our own house, no matter how humble it may look like for some people. If (the local government) is sincere in helping us, what we yearn for is a job.”
Those who cannot avail of the project, Gumabao said, were told that they would need to transfer to a relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal. However, Palconit, a resident of Kasiglahan Village, a big relocation site in Rodriguez, said their lives became all the more difficult when they moved there.
Palconit said nothing is left from the daily salary amounting to $10.65, which her husband earns as a security guard. Most of it, she added, would go to his fare from going to and from his workplace. Today, they have to stretch a weekly budget of $22.5 to cover their food and send their children to school.
She also decried the high electricity and water rates that New San Juan Builders, a private real estate company working with the National Housing Authority on the relocation site, is charging them. On February, she was among the residents who held a protest action in front of New San Juan Builders office in Quezon City when it cut off their electricity supply.
“Please be more open-minded and look into the conditions of the people on the ground. Don’t just stay in your airconditioned offices,” Palcunit urged public officials.
In Cabuyao, Laguna, urban poor dwellers who were relocated there are experiencing the same thing. On March 29, Good Friday, residents of Southville 1, another relocation site of the National Housing Authority, held their own “calvary protest.”
“Aquino is implementing various policies that aim to repress the likes of Christ, who strive for a better life for the people. Among the problems that the urban poor from Southern Tagalog are facing is the lack of jobs and homes,” Andrew Arante, secretary general of Kadamay – Southern Tagalog, said.
About 30,000 families are living in Southville, one of the seven big relocation sites found in the region. They also suffer the same problems that Palcunit and the others experience, such as living far from hospitals and schools. Many families also lost their livelihood when they moved to the relocation site.
Magna Carta for the poor
On March 25, Aquino vetoed the proposed Magna Carta for the Poor. He said in a report that the government has no funds to implement the provisions of the law.
“In other words, I can choose to be popular. I can sign this law and look good to the public. But we know that the government cannot meet its provisions,” Aquino told reporters in an event in Pasay City.
The Magna Carta for the Poor mandates various government agencies to do its tasks in addressing and providing homes, food, jobs, education and health services for poor Filipino people.
His decision to veto the law was criticized by its principal author, Cebu Rep. Rachel Marguerite del Mar, who told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the law would have “been a strong signal that the government is seriously addressing concerns of those who have less in life, not the posturing or rhetoric but with a specific law.”
Urban poor group Kadamay, in its statement, said that not passing the Magna Carta for the Poor “only reveals what the priorities of the Aquino administration are.” But, even if it was passed, they said, it would not affect the lives of the poor majority.
“Even if passed, the Magna Carta of the Poor will be futile for as long as the Aquino administration pursues its anti-poor programs based on policies dictated by neoliberal globalization such as privatization, deregulation and liberalization,” Gloria Arellano, national president of Kadamay, said.
Arellano said if the government is admitting that it has no sufficient funds to spend for housing programs, “why then is it pursuing massive demolition of homes of more than half a million informal settler families in Metro Manila under his term?”
She added that the urban poor do not need the housing budget stated in the Magna Carta for Poor, which was pegged at $57.5 million. Instead, she said, this money could be allocated to provide the poor with employment and livelihood.
But under Aquino, Kadamay deemed that stable jobs and sources of livelihood are elusive.
For two weeks now, the National Park Development Committee of the Department of Tourism has been demolishing the stalls of vendors at Rizal Park. The People’s Democratic Vendors and Hawkers Alliance – Kadamay, in its statement, said that around 200 vendors are about to lose their livelihood now that even the said park is also being privatized by the Aquino administration.
Health also being privatized
During the people’s calvary protest last March 23, protesters began their march at the Philippine Orthopedic Center, one of the 26 government hospitals that would be privatized under President Aquino. Last week was the deadline of the filing of application for bidders who are interested to join its privatization dubbed as the Modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center.
“It is expected that the bidding process of the POC will continue in the coming days,” Kadamay said, adding that the privatization of other hospitals will follow after the Philippine Orthopedic Center.
“Thousands of poor patients will die now that the government is turning its back on the people by denying them of health services,” Kadamay added.
“The biggest calvary that Filipinos are facing is the imperialist control of the United States in the country,” Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan People’s Network for Environment said, as protesters reached the US embassy along Roxas Boulevard in Manila.
Bautista said the US aims to plunder the country’s natural resources. “But Filipinos will not allow this to happen. They will fight,” he said, citing the tribal war that indigenous peoples are waging against mining companies and the armed struggle being carried out by the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“The continuing privatization through Aquino’s PPP (public private partnership) and other pro-foreign policies such as deregulation and liberalization is proof that the poor living conditions that 32 million urban poor Filipinos are experiencing will intensify,” Kadamay said in its statement.
Eradication of poverty not possible under Aquino
According to urban poor group Kadamay, the eradication of extreme poverty is impossible under the Aquino administration. Eradication of poverty is among the Millennium Development Goals, which should be achieved by 2015.
“Even with the lies that the Aquino administration is spreading in the mainstream media, such as the straight path and the economic growth, it cannot hide the poor living conditions that many Filipinos are going through,” Kadamay said in a statement.
The Philippines ranked 114th out of the 187 member-countries of the United Nations based on the human development index, a 2013 United Nations Development Program report read. Gloria Arellano, president of Kadamay, said it is impossible to “reduce extreme poverty because the Aquino administration is not doing anything to address it.”
“In fact, Aquino is continuing anti-poor policies such as privatization of public services for the interest of foreign and local businessmen while showing lack of interest in generating jobs and implementing genuine agrarian reform,” Arellano said.
This, she added, has made many Filipinos vulnerable to both natural and man-made disasters. These include the flooding in many provinces of Mindanao and the widespread demolition of homes in urban areas to give way to foreign-owned businesses.