“What we need are jobs and houses, not coffins.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — Prima Ragora, 48, has been living in Lolomboy, Bocaue, Bulacan for the past nine years. She and her family hoped to have a better life in Luzon after they left Leyte province where her husband used to earn only P100 ($2) a day in the farm.
But life has only become more difficult, she said. Her husband only earns P350 to P400 ($7 to $8) a day as a construction worker. Worse, they are now being threatened of eviction, as talks are rife in their village that the land they have squatted on is up for sale.
Ragora’s case shows the continuing migration of poor peasants from their rural homes to urban centers, where they make do with unstable jobs and lack of housing, some resorting to criminal and anti-social activities to survive. Lately, the urban poor have been under siege under President Duterte’s war on drugs, in which some 2,000 drug suspects had been slain in police operations and vigilante killings.
These are issues that Ragora and other members of her community hoped to address, as they joined the first-ever Lakbayan ng mga Maralita (Protest caravan of the Urban Poor) led by the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) on Dec. 5 and 6.
Thousands of Lakbayanis joined the two-day activity, with the majority coming from Bulacan and Rizal. They were also joined by other urban poor from Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela and members of other sectors.
On Dec. 5, the caravan staged a protest at the National Housing Authority in Quezon City, followed by a protest at Chino Roces bridge (former Mendiola bridge) near the Malacañang Palace on Dec. 6, to condemn the war on drugs and the continuing counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.
Kadamay lamented that even after a series of dialogues with the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), the National Housing Authority and once with President Duterte, the government has not taken significant steps to address their concerns.
The Lakbayan’s calls range from immediate up to long-term solutions to address the urban poor’s problems: free mass housing for the poor, setting a P750 ($15) national minimum daily wage for workers in the private sector and P16, 000 ($321) monthly wage in the public sector, end to contractualization and the creation of sustainable job opportunities, end to Oplan Bayanihan and the killings resulting from the war on drugs, and national industrialization and genuine land reform as concrete steps toward ending poverty.
Utilize idle homes
Ragora said they joined the Lakbayan to add voice to those who clamor for free mass housing. She said they found out that there are unutilized or vacant homes in Bulacan that the government can provide for those who do not have permanent homes.
Carlito Badion, Kadamay secretary general said there are homes in relocation sites in Bulacan that are idle, including thousands of empty units in a housing village for the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. There are also around 6,000 to 8,000 housing units in St. Martha relocation site in Bocaue, Bulacan that are also not being utilized.
Ragora’s 11 children are all grown up, most of them are already working. But even so, she said, they still struggle everyday to live. She said free housing would be a big help to ease their difficult life.
The same goes for Imelda Medalla, 51, also from Bulacan, who pays P3,500 ($70) a year for the land where her house is built. She became more worried after an agent went to their house last week, informing them that the land is up for sale. She said guard houses were already constructed, securing the land.
Like Ragora, Medalla’s three children are all grown up, but, she said, it is a struggle to make ends meet. Her husband farms near their area and earns P200 ($4) a day. “We don’t know where to go if the project pushes through,” she said.
Zenaida Tome, 37, from Caloocan City rents a house for P2,500 ($50) a month. Like many urban poor, she is a vendor who earns P500 ($10) to P300 ($6) a day. She has four children, two of whom, 15 and seven years old, are students. She said sometimes her children go to school without a single centavo, or fail to pass a project because they could not afford the cost.
Tome told Bulatlat that her home in Caloocan City was demolished, three years ago. She was not among the families who were given a housing unit in a relocation site because village officials claimed her papers were lost.
“We are here today to call on President Duterte to let us have the idle homes in relocation sites. This would truly help the urban poor’s dire condition,” she said.
End Oplan Bayanihan, killings
On top of these problems comes Duterte’s war on drugs, which treats the drug problem primarily as a criminality issue, instead of addressing its roots in poverty. Kadamay feared that anti-drug operations – dubbed Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel – could “crossover” into the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan “which has largely been used to silence, liquidate and torture critics of the government.”
In Bulacan, five peasant activists were arrested and detained on false charges of possession of illegal drugs.
Just last November, Kadamay-Malabon leader Jose Marie Brondial and local Gabriela chairperson Rechel Bañola survived a strafing attack by two men, one of whom was identified as Rogelio Sinobo, who fired shots at their headquarters in Catmon, Malabon. The gunmen also attempted to break into the headquarters, but quickly fled when they saw approaching village officials.
The group said that two men on a motorcycle were also asking the locals for Madelaine Cajipo, the vice-chairperson of Kadamay-Malabon.
The group has been active in fighting the demolition attempts in Catmon for years. The group said the Malabon government, along with the National Housing Authority and other agencies, has been pushing the eviction of hundreds of families to make way, ironically, for a Community Mortgage Program Housing Area.
In Pangarap Village, North Caloocan, Kadamay informal settlers’ homes were razed by a fire started by suspected elements of the military.
“There is no difference between Oplan Tokhang of Duterte and Oplan Bayanihan of President Aquino as both intend to kill people, including those fighting for their rights. What we need are jobs and houses, not coffins,” Estrelieta Bagasbas, Kadamay vice chairman said during the protest in Mendiola.
Fighting for rights
Martial law activist Danilo Dela Fuente of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) encouraged the urban poor to strengthen their ranks and organize to fight for their rights.
Dela Fuente cited the formation of Zoto or Zone One Tondo Organization in the 70s under the regime of deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. He said 30,000 members fought the demolition in urban poor communities, with the line “no relocation, no demolition.” Marcos was then compelled to construct relocation sites in Malabon, Caloocan, Sapang Palay in Bulacan and Dasmariñas in Cavite. However, he said relocatees who were not able to pay their mortgage continue to be evicted.
Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno chairperson said the change promised by the Duterte administration has not come, as they see no effort to end contractualization and implement genuine land reform. He said neoliberal policies pinning the majority to worsening poverty still continues.