“Aquino has opened the country’s economy for the benefit of big foreign businesses. He would even give them tax incentives. But we, Filipinos, are not getting the same. What would happen to us?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — It has been four years or roughly the time when President Aquino was newly elected, when the plight of kuliglig drivers in Manila was first reported in the media. The police violently dispersed their protest action. For Ferdinand Picarro, one of the affected drivers, nothing has changed; their lives have even worsened.
Attacks on the urban poor seem to be coming from nearly everywhere, Picarro related. His home, which sits next to a river, could be demolished anytime. His neighbors who agreed to be relocated have returned to their community, citing lack of sources of livelihood in government relocation areas. It will be harder if they get sick because medical services are inaccessible to the poor, with government hospitals being privatized.
Just before President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address, Picarro joined urban poor leaders who gave the president a failing mark for his “failure to end chronic poverty in the country.”
Carlito Badion, secretary general of urban poor group Kadamay, said Aquino failed to implement genuine agrarian reform and to create jobs for millions of unemployed Filipinos, “despite the promise of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to bolster the economy.”
“All their claims are lies. How could he even dare compare the money the public lost to the DAP to a parking space?” Picarro said, referring to the recent televised speech of President Aquino on the controversial government spending, which the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional.
“Whose lives were saved? Not ours,” he added.
Threats to livelihood
Picarro said plying the streets of Manila with his kuliglig unit is a livelihood that many in urban poor communities found productive in the face of worsening unemployment in the country.
“What right do they have to take away our livelihood when they did not hand this to us?” he said, referring to a city ordinance that ordered for the “phasing out” of kuliglig units plying in the metro.
He said one of the victories of the kuliglig drivers’ campaign to defend their livelihood was securing the word of then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim that the city government would shoulder the cost of motorcycles to replace their kuliglig units. They, however, received none from now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, forcing them to cough up P8,500 ($193) as downpayment and P3,800 ($86) as monthly amortization for the motorcycles that would replace the kuliglig.
“It is an added burden to us. That amortization could have been spent on our food,” Picarro said.
Police and other traffic officials would also flag them down. “We have to pay at least P1,500 ($34) to get the kuliglig units they confiscated.”
“We were told by the local government to apply for a transportation route. But we would have to pay for so much. It is no longer worth it because around 46 roads, including Legarda, Recto, P. Noval and Abad Santos, where there are many passengers, are not accessible to kuliglig or tricycles,” Picarro said.
If they ply the streets where they are not allowed — at the risk of getting caught by traffic officials — they could earn as much as P800 to P900 ($18 to $20) per day. Otherwise, he said, kuliglig drivers only earn P250 ($5.70) and, at times, even lower.
In its statement, Kadamay-Metro Manila said urban poor families had ingeniously come up with sources of livelihood to survive as the government continues to fail to provide decent employment.
Annie Calzita, 36, one of the vendors at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in Pasay City, has been in and out of jail – not for crimes but simply because she was vending and trying to earn a decent living.
“They demolished our stalls because they consider us as an eyesore,” Calzita said in a protest action in Mendiola last June 25, adding that unlike big food chain restaurants, “we do not have capital to fund our business.”
In Padre Faura in Manila, vendors are also being barred by the police. Marissa Bartolome, 52, one of the vendors, said they are like playing hide and seek with the police. “If you are unlucky, your goods would be confiscated. All of it,” she told Bulatlat.com.
Bartolome said she has been a vendor for nearly 30 years now. She sells bread, candies and softdrinks, earning about P300 ($6.80) a day.
“When I was younger, I used to work in textile factories in Cavite. But for the past 30 years, this has been my main livelihood. I am already old and would not be accepted in those kinds of work,” she said.
“Aquino has opened the country’s economy for the benefit of big foreign businesses. He would even give them tax incentives. But we, Filipinos, are not getting the same. What would happen to us?” Calzita said.
Lack of services
Kadamay-Metro Manila noted that among the government’s anti-poor policies is the proposed privatization of public hospitals such as the Philippine Orthopedic Center, Tala Hospital, Philippine General Hospital and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center.
The urban poor group said it is a big blow to the public health system, which already lacks government funding. “They are no longer funding these hospitals. Worse, they want to totally deprive the poor of hospital services,” the group said.
Even the housing projects in government relocation sites for informal settlers have turned into a business, said Kadamay.
In an earlier statement, Montalban Relocatees Alliance (MRA) said that since 2011 the Department of Budget and Management provided P10 billion ($227 million) annually to fund government relocation programs. So far, the group said that the government disbursed P27 billion ($613.6 million) from funds dubbed as the Informal Settlers Fund.
The group said that despite being subsidized with public funds, informal settlers need to pay a monthly amortization for a housing unit priced at P500,000 ($11 thousand) when the actual cost is only P80,000 ($1,800).
“Does our monthly payment go back to the national treasury or to the pockets of low-cost housing capitalist like Gerry Acuzar?” Mercy Merilles, spokesperson of MRA, said in a previous Bulatlat.com report. Acuzar is the owner of New San Jose Builders, the contractor of Kasiglahan Village, and brother-in-law of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.
Last June 25, relocatees staged a ‘black ribbon protest’ action in front of the National Housing Authority’s office in Kasiglahan Village. They assailed the supposed construction of a medium rise building in Camarin, Caloocan for the informal settlers affected by the Quezon City Central Business District. The said fund, amounting to P450 million, was disbursed in 2011.
Jennue Espacio, a former resident of North Triangle who agreed to be relocated in Southville 8 in Rodriguez, Rizal, said relocatees are revolted that they were “thrown away” to far-fetched relocation sites when there are supposedly funds allocated for in-city housing programs.
Urban poor groups have long criticized the lack of jobs and basic social services in relocation sites.
“Instead of getting the much needed services, the government and big businessmen are getting profits from the plight of the urban poor,” Gina Bola of the MRA said.
In a statement, Diamond Kalaw, leader of the vendors group Manininda Laban sa Ebiksyon at Pang-aabuso, said that Aquino must be impeached not merely for the alleged corrupt practices but also “for being a perennial anti-poor leader.”
Poverty, she added, has worsened despite bright promises that DAP was supposed to bring economic growth to the Filipino people.
“Only Aquino’s ouster from his post can bring a brighter future to our children,” Kalaw said, adding that the people need a government that truly stands for their rights and welfare.