Under existing policies and government priorities, there seems to be no safe place for displaced poor of Metro Manila. They have been deprived of the right to city, to adequate housing, and to decent life. Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco) has again brought to the fore the government’s criminal neglect.
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By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Since 2003, Rosie Payot and her family have experienced flooding at the slightest rain and at least four typhoons and monsoon rains, including the recent Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco), which left their house buried in deep flood.
This is far from the safe and sound home they were promised when they were forcibly displaced from their house in San Andres, Manila, following a fire, and to give way to a road-widening project.
Like any resident in Kasiglahan village in Rodriguez, Rizal, Payot left not only her house but also their livelihood when they were relocated. They used to sell noodles in the nearby Sta. Ana market, where she earned about $10 a day, augmenting her husband’s income who works as a tinsmith.
In the government relocation site, however, Payot has had no source of income. Her husband has been forced to stay in Manila to continue working, and would only go home on weekends. She said that it does not help that they are almost always “back to zero” whenever their home is submerged in flood.
Over the years, Kasiglahan village has proven to be an even more dangerous place for the Manila’s poor on two counts: its vulnerability to natural hazards and the absence of livelihood.
Increased vulnerability in relocation areas
In the pretext of bringing them to a safer community, urban poor are forced to give up their home in the city and are forcibly displaced in far-flung relocation sites where they are further exposed to natural hazards and have no livelihood. As such, when typhoons like Ulysses come into the picture, their vulnerability increases.
“If they were sincere in putting us in a better place, they would not have sent us there,” Payot, who has six children, told Bulatlat in a phone interview.
In 2012, a part of Kasiglahan village was submerged in flood water due to monsoon rains. Residents swam for two hours to get to the village entrance, which would normally be a half an hour walk, holding on to walls of rows of houses. Other residents who chose to stay in the houses were stranded for seven hours on their roofs.
Residents never returned to their homes and, instead, occupied the new housing units that were not affected by the flooding. This after long negotiations with the National Housing Authority, which initially wanted the families to return to the housing units they were provided. Two years later, however, more housing units were nearly wiped out after Typhoon Mario brought raging flood, affecting at least 2,000 households.
As early as 2004, a study by Urban Poverty Morphology Series revealed that Kasiglahan Village is not suitable for a socialized housing project, citing its vulnerability to flooding and earthquake.
In a phone interview with Bulatlat, University of the Philippines associate professor and urban poor rights advocate Chester Arcilla said, “Disasters exist because the government is relocating its people in far-flung communities because these are low-priced lands, even if they are not suitable for houses.”
Arcilla lamented that urban poor families are not only deprived of their right to the city but were also taken advantage of twice – when the urban poor community they built in the city is demolished for the highest bidder and when they are made to pay for houses in far-flung relocation sites.
Houses in Kasiglahan village are not for free. The two-story house that the Payot is residing in is worth $3,400. They were supposed to pay $4 a month, with incremental increases every five years, which Payot could not afford. She said that if the government is serious about fulfilling their right to adequate housing, it must be coupled with protecting the environment and providing them with decent-paying work and livelihood.
Adequate housing, per the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, is part of the recognized right to an adequate standard of living. Both of these the Philippine government is a signatory to. While the United Nations acknowledges that the right to housing may not be realized immediately, there is immediate obligation to take steps that are deliberate and targeted to respect, protect, and fulfill the people’s right.
In the Philippines, there are several government agencies that deal with housing.
The Republic Act No. 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 – is often criticized for being the blueprint of demolishing urban poor communities. It has, in effect, legalized demolition.
Two years ago, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11201 to create the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development. The law merged existing government bodies on housing and urban development to ensure that underprivileged and homeless have access to adequate housing, in cooperation with the private sector.
However, Arcilla said government’s profit-generating framework on housing services remains the same, particularly on who will have the last say on access to land.
“Right to adequate housing can only be fulfilled if in providing those in need with shelter will not deprive them of their other rights – to development, access to education and social services, and a sense of security,” Arcilla said.
Given the recurring problems that Kasiglahan village is encountering, Arcilla said the government should halt its off-city relocation programs and launch a comprehensive review of how residents are faring. Government, he said, can also improve the lives of Kasiglahan residents through the provision of early warning systems and technical mitigation infrastructure such as better drainage system and construction of a flood wall for the community. Government, too, can review how it can renationalize land for a better and more inclusive land-use.