“We are expecting that these attacks against the welfare of the urban poor would continue this 2014. But we will continue to push and fight for our rights, for our livelihood and for decent pay.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Attacks against the urban poor have remained rampant in 2013, in the name of so-called development, according to urban poor group Kadamay.
“During the first half of 2013, urban poor communities experienced rampant threats of demolition of their homes. Toward the end of the year, the threats relatively became lesser. But the attacks against the rights of urban poor families continued in various ways,” Gloria Arellano, chairperson of Kadamay, told Bulatlat.com.
Arellano said that aside from demolition, urban poor and rights advocates also struggled against privatization of basic social services under President Aquino’s centerpiece program public private partnerships, and the infamous pork barrel scandal.
“We are expecting that these attacks against the welfare of the urban poor would continue this 2014. But we will continue to push and fight for our rights, for our livelihood and for decent pay,” she added.
The following are the issues that the urban poor faced in 2013.
1. Quezon City Central Business District
Residents of North Triangle faced several waves of demolitions under President Aquino. In 2013, they continued to urge Aquino to rescind the Quezon City Central Business District project, a 256-hectare project that would supposedly put the city at the forefront of foreign investments, but their efforts were met with more threats of demolitions and arrests.
The initial aggressive demolitions of homes was undertaken under the guise of a 11.3-meter road-widening project affecting families residing along Agham Road at North Triangle. Those who opposed it, both residents and their supporters, were arrested and charges were filed against them. Charges of indirect assault were filed against community leaders Estrelieta Bagasbas and Jocy Lopez, Kadamay’s Badion and Arnolfo Anoos of the All UP Workers Union and subpoenas were issued against them in August after they participated in the barricade of the community.
Just before the year ended, 13 workers of the Manila Seedling Bank and two residents were arrested on Dec. 9 in a scuffle with the police. A 14-year-old girl was among those who was arrested but was freed days later.
Kadamay, in its statement, said protesters were trying to get inside the Manila Seedling Bank premises, which was closed that day reportedly due to unpaid taxes amounting to $1.3 million. Badion, in an interview, said the closing down of the Manila Seedling Bank is among the schemes of the government to clear the land allotted for the QCCBD project. In a related case, the government hospital the Philippine Children’s Medical Hospital received an eviction notice if they failed to cough up money to pay for their taxes.
“Three years of people’s resistance to the QCCBD should bring it back to its drawing board,” Lopez, chairperson of Kadamay – North Triangle, said.
2. Demolition along ‘danger zones’
In 2013, the Aquino administration made several pronouncements about relocating families residing along “danger zones,” referring to those whose homes sit along waterways. It would, the government claims, solve the perennial problem of flooding in Metro Manila.
Aquino, in his fourth State of the Nation Address, said “in addition to the lack of adequate drainage, certain structures were built, obstructing the drainage system, a situation compounded by the trash of those living around it. To solve this problem, we are coordinating with our LGUs to safely and successfully relocate our informal settlers.”
Geologist Ricarido Saturay, in a previous Bulatlat.com report, however, challenged government claims saying that there is no evidence that would support the idea that relocating families residing along waterways would solve the flooding problem in Metro Manila. He categorized the flooding that usually occurs in Metro Manila as street-level flooding, which means that run-off flood waters easily rise not because of congested waterways but because of the poor drainage system.
“Even if the government manages to make the waterways as wide as one kilometer and as deep as 10 meters, if there is street-level flooding, everything would be useless,” Saturay said.
For families affected by the said relocation opposed the project.
“We are living in what they call as ‘squatters area’ because we cannot afford to pay the monthly rent of apartments and condominium units. If we could, do you think we would live here? They are only saying these things to us because they have the money,” Nida Naños, a resident of Sitio Militar in Quezon City, whose home sit along one of the tributaries of San Juan River, said.
Naños added, “we are demanding for on-site relocation. If the government truly cares for our safety, they should focus their resources on the river — make it deeper and clean.”
3. Relocating to ‘death zones’
Several Bulatlat.com interviews with relocatees, however, belied government claims that moving to a relocation site would keep them safe.
“They told us that we were living in danger zones and that we needed to move out. But they brought us to a more dangerous zone,” Magdalena dela Cruz, 74, said.
She and her husband Sulpicio used to live in Balara, Quezon City but were moved to a relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal. But during heavy monsoon rains in August 2012, the couple had to wade through floodwaters to safe areas.
Saturay said relocatees are facing more hazards in relocation sites than where they used to live. He added that residents became even more vulnerable because of the reported lack of social services in far-flung relocation sites.
Butch Arcon, 43, a resident of Road 10 in Tondo, Manila who agreed to be relocated to Batya, in Bocaue, Bulacan, said he had to go back to Manila to sell dried fish. He only returns to his family at the relocation site to bring home money for them.
“It was better when we were still living here. I want to go back but we do not have a house here anymore. We agreed to have our home demolished,” Arcon said.
4. Privatization of hospitals
Arellano said urban poor and rights advocates struggled against the privatization of hospitals. They held protest actions in front of hospitals such as the Philippine Orthopedic Center, one of the 26 government hospitals that the Aquino administration is planning to privatize.
“The government is passing on their responsibility to provide services to private companies. As a result, the people are suffering. They promised that basic services such as electricity and water would be more accessible and affordable when privatized. But we know now that it did not. Rates have increased. The same thing will happen once these hospitals are privatized,” she said.
Arellano added that even now, with hospitals yet to be privatized, the urban poor could no longer afford expenses such as laboratory tests. Even at the Philippine General Hospital, one of the biggest government hospitals in the country, these tests are not for free.
The privatization of government hospitals, she said, would result in death to those who are sick and cannot afford to pay hospital fees.
5. The pork barrel scam
Arellano said the urban poor are likewise affected by corruption scandals such as the pork barrel scam. As it is, the urban poor hardly receive social services from the government because the funds meant for this are being pocketed by government officials.
“Government corruption is an act of terrorism against our poor and our children,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said on its pastoral letter.
Arellano said the pork barrel scam does not begin and end with Janet Napoles and the legislators who were charged. The Aquino government’s Disbursement Acceleration Program, which, she added, gave President Aquino sole discretion over the supposed savings of government agencies, is also a source of corruption.
“The people have the right to know where public funds are going,” she said.
Bagasbas, a leader from North Triangle, said the urban poor are calling for the abolition of the pork barrel system.
“We are against the pork barrel system. We are not benefiting from it. The government should instead spend public funds for social services and the generation of jobs,” Bagasbas told Bulatlat.com.