“The houses look good. But we do not have livelihood there. We have electricity and water but we do not have money to pay our bills.” – Purita Dayao
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Part one of two reports
Part 2: From danger zones to a death zone
NORTH TRIANGLE, Quezon City — Purita Dayao, 49, was sitting on a makeshift bed, waiting for her rice to cook. Her family’s shanty, where three is a crowd, could hardly stand an unforgiving wind.
But Dayao would rather live in North Triangle than spend one more day at the relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal, where they were forcibly transferred two years ago.
“The houses look good. But we do not have livelihood there. We have electricity and water but we do not have money to pay our bills,” Dayao told Bulatlat.com, during an exposure trip of the participants of the 17th Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop.
Dayao is not new to moving from one place to another for survival. She first moved from Dumaguete to Manila in 1988, due to the lack of livelihood. She raised all her seven children in North Triangle until a fire razed her house back in 2011, forcing her to accept the long-standing offer of the National Housing Authority to resettle in San Isidro, one of the government’s relocation areas in Rodriguez, Rizal.
Dayao understands that her family could only stay in North Triangle for as long as the residents remain vigilant in their struggle to fight for their homes. Residents have to fight against government policies, which they consider as anti-poor.
Executive Order No. 670 or the Rationalizing and Speeding up the Development of East and North Triangles and the Veterans Memorial Area in Quezon City, signed under former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004, has paved the way for the eviction of thousands of urban poor families in North Triangle.
The said project, better known as the Quezon City Central Business District, covers about 256 hectares and will supposedly put Quezon City at the forefront of foreign investments. Its biggest investor, the Ayala Land Corporation, one of country’s largest real estate companies, has signed an agreement with the National Housing Authority to develop 29.1 hectares at an estimated cost of $500 million.
The situation of residents of North Triangle, however, is a microcosm of the conditions of urban poor dwellers in Metro Manila, who have been long been demanding that the government provides jobs and social services, but are getting eviction notices instead.
Article 2 of United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development, of which the Philippine government is a signatory, stipulates that, “the human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development.”
“States should undertake, at the national level, all necessary measures for the realization of the right to development and should ensure, inter alia, equality for opportunity for all their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of income,” the United Nations’ Declaration on the Right to Development read.
But under President Aquino alone, some 14,000 families residing in urban poor communities are facing eviction to give way to so-called development projects. This includes the Quezon City Central Business District, National Government Center, and in Vitas, Manila.
In 2011, Aquino announced during an ASEAN meeting that he is also planning to relocate 560,000 families to 1.5 million hectares of land in an effort to decongest Metro Manila. Public Works secretary Rogelio Singson, too, was quoted as saying that he received instructions from the president to remove homes sitting along waterways and blast their homes if necessary. He, however, retracted the statement a few days later.
Many residents of urban poor communities, like in North Triangle, chose to stay and fight, citing the lack of available sources of livelihood in relocation areas.
Dayao, having been used to a life of relocating, was optimistic her life would improve when she accepted the government’s offer to be resettled back in 2011. She was surprised to find out that there would hardly be a source of livelihood for her and her husband, a jeepney driver who earns roughly $7 to $14 a day.
As a result, Dayao was forced to leave behind some of their children in Montalban while she and her husband returned to North Triangle to work. They now live in a shanty, just beside a vacant lot where their house used to sit, because they were no longer allowed to construct a new house.
“Officials of the NHA come regularly to check if we are building permanent structures. That is not allowed,” she said.
Defining ‘danger areas’
Urban poor communities, however, need also to assert their right to shelter and livelihood amid threats to have their homes demolished to supposedly save their lives and mitigate the perennial flooding in Metro Manila.
The Aquino government claims that the problem of flooding in Metro Manila would be resolved by clearing waterways of homes of urban poor families. But critics believe that this is just another tactic to give way to privatization projects.
Even the North Triangle area, the planned site of the Quezon City Business District, is being categorized by the government as a “danger zone.” Residents do not believe it.
Ricky Indicio, 45, said residents were told that their homes need to be demolished because it is sitting next to a small creek. It is, he said, supposedly part of the waterways Aquino wanted to clear.
But having lived in North Triangle for the past 30 years, Indicio belied government claims that their community is among those considered as “danger areas.”
Sherlita Gimena, 45, another resident, agreed with Indicio. “During Typhoon Ondoy, the flood water here was only knee-level. During last year’s heavy monsoon rains, it was only gutter-deep. This is not a danger zone,” she said.
Indicio added that it is not even clear how the government defines a “danger zone.”
Urban poor groups said there are no clearly defined criteria being used by the government in classifying a danger zone. In Payatas, a community located several minutes away from North Triangle, residents said so-called “danger zones” are man-made.
John Valencia said the garbage of mountain visible just behind their community used to be filled with plants and trees. And while the dumpsite has brought livelihood to residents, from scavenging garbage to working as truck drivers, the dump site would soon cause their displacement.
“The dumpsite is getting bigger and is getting nearer our community. They covered the creek with stones. Now, even the slightest rain causes flooding in our community. They want to make it appear that we are now living in a danger zone,” he said.
Valencia was relocated from Project 8, Quezon City in 1988 and was promised by local government officials that they could live there, “forever.”
“But now they are forcing us to leave,” he said.
Valencia said flooding was never a problem in their community since 1988 — not even when Typhoon Ondoy and during the heavy monsoon rains last year — until now.
“It is possible that they are the ones who are killing us,” Valencia said.
No jobs, no livelihood
Carlito Badion, secretary general of urban poor group Kadamay, said displacing urban poor families from their homes would not just result in families moving from one house to another but possibly even losing their source of livelihood. As it is now, Badion said, with the meager income urban poor families earn, they already confront a “daily disaster” of not being able to provide for their basic needs.
Relocation sites have long been criticized for the lack in sources of livelihood. This, according to urban poor groups, remains as the main reason why urban poor families do not want to be relocated there. Many residents in urban poor communities are either employed as workers earning the minimum wage or even less, or are part of the informal sector being pedicab drivers or vendors.
Mario Berza, 57, one of the residents hurt during an attempt to demolish their community last July 1, 2013, told Bulatlat.com in a previous report that he is ready to barricade their community again should the police attempt to evict them from their homes.
As a pedicab driver, Berza plies Agham Road and nearby streets and earns about $7 to $11 a day. His income is hardly enough to cover for his family’s needs. “There are no sources of livelihood, no hospital and no work available at relocation sites. We do not want to live there,” he said.
Cristina Barnaja, 45, said she, too, could possibly lose her source of livelihood if her family is relocated to Rodriquez, Rizal. Barnaja, earns a living by sewing rags. For every 22 pieces of rags, she earns P34 ($0.8).
“This is how we live by. I do not know what to do if I lose this,” she said, adding that their clients would not bother to buy the rags from far-flung relocation sites.
Indicio said residents were the ones who contributed to the development of their community. The wet market inside North Triangle, he added, was a product of the residents’ initiatives.
“We were asking the city and village officials to help us develop the market. But we were told that all we have to do is to clean up our stalls. But the floor is not paved so it is muddy whenever it rains. No matter how hard we try to clean it, it still looks dirty,” Indicio said.
He added that when they pressed village officials to have the market road cemented, they were told that vendors should pitch in for the cost because the government has no funds for what they were proposing. “We held a campaign ‘Tapat mo, Semento mo’ and the road was eventually cemented without the government’s help,” he said.
“Since the road was cemented, more people were encouraged to buy in the market,” he added.
Indicio sells vegetables in the market and, when he is lucky, would earn as much as $14 a day. “Now they want to take that away from us,” he said.
No laws to protect urban poor?
In the face of what urban poor families decry as disasters they need to confront everyday, progressive groups said there are no laws that would serve the interest of the urban poor. The Republic Act 7279 or the Urban Poor Development and Housing Act, which would supposedly push for the welfare of the urban poor, has, according to critics, paved the way for more demolitions.
On Mar. 23, 2012, residents of urban poor communities and members of progressive groups marched to the Supreme Court and asked the high court to look into certain provisions of the UDHA that states that demolition shall be discouraged unless “persons or entities occupy danger areas such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage damps, riverbanks, shorelines, and other public places such as sidewalks, roads, parks and playgrounds” and if “government infrastructure projects with available funding are to be implemented.”
In their petition, the groups asked the high court to declare the provisions unconstitutional as these are used to evict “underprivileged and homeless citizens without any court order to that effect” when the “Bill of Rights provides that no person shall be deprived of their life, liberty, or property without due process of law nor shall be denied equal protection of the law.”
As of writing, the Supreme Court has yet to issue a decision on the petition.
Anakpawis Partylist, for its part, filed House Resolution No. 120, to call on the government to issue a moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions.
“The government just wants to sweep them out of danger zones and transfer them to death zones where there are no livelihood opportunities, jobs, social services and further expose them to calamities such as earthquakes and flooding,” Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap said. “While the government has no concrete plans for informal settlers, no demolition should take place in communities.”
Hicap added that Congress is just one of the arenas where the urban poor could bring their fight. “Organizing and making their organization stronger is the most decisive force in our efforts to defend our homes from demolition.”
This report is a finalist for Best Workshop Output in the 17th Graciano Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication.