Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume III,  Number 46              December 21 - 27, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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No Jobs, No Homes, No Water
Urban poor see no hope under Gloria

Despite the many promises they got from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the poor in the city have remained jobless and homeless. Government services such as safe water, electricity and health allocations hardly reach their communities and as if adding insult to injury, their shanties are ripped down and their only means to survive is snatched from them. 


A native Muslim from the province of Marawi, Mindanao, Nasser Sulayman, 39, is your typical vendor along the streets of Pasig City Market. As a young boy, he and his family migrated to the island-province of Bohol to look for a better source of income.  But living in the countryside, where poor peasants are denied of land to till, proved to be difficult.  After a few years, Nasser and his family migrated to Manila, only to find out that urban living was harsh and unfriendly to the poor. 

Urban migration

Migration in urban centers intensified in 1946 when some 23,000 individuals traveled to the Tondo Foreshoreland and Intramuros in Manila and occupied them. It was also around this time that people also started to fill up the riverside of Pasig. The lack of income opportunities in the countryside has swelled the number of urban poor to 96,000 individuals in 1956, 283,000 in 1963, and 1.6 million in 415 communities in 1978.  In 1996, the number of urban poor ballooned to more than 2.5 million individuals or 432,450 families. 

The number of urban poor in the Philippines has reached the four million mark under the Arroyo presidency. Government statistics show that of the 1.25 million families living in what is commonly called as squatter areas, 261,717 of them live in danger zones (riverside, bayside, under bridges, along the railways, beside the airport); 426,517 in government-owned lands; and 299,122 in private lands. 

In the National Capital Region (or Metro-Manila) alone, there are a total of 716,165 families living in urban poor communities, 94,358 of whom live in danger areas, 321,566 in government-owned lands and 136,450 in private lands. 

No jobs

Malacañang’s pronouncements of growth in the gross national product mean nothing to the urban poor who remain jobless under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. 

Gabriel Alon, secretary-general of the urban poor organization Kadamay, said “the worsening joblessness is one of the hallmarks of the Arroyo presidency.” 

From 2002 to 2003, the National Statistics Office reported that unemployment grew by 1.5 percent, from 11.2 to 12.7 percent, which translates into 534,000 lost jobs.  In total, there are 4.348 million jobless Filipinos.

For the same period, the NSO said underemployment increased by 3.7 percent, from 17.1 to 20.8 percent, or roughly 1.05 million more underemployed individuals. 

The government’s inability to create jobs for thriving Filipinos has forced many families and individuals to fend for their own.  For example, there are about a million street vendors in Metro Manila and 3.5 million nationwide.  However, their means of survival is now penalized under the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) thrust to clear the sidewalks. 

In Metro Manila, about 20,000 vendors have had their products snatched from them by MMDA men.  It usually costs them around P50 to P100 to get their products back – but most of the vendors attest that their products are no longer complete when returned. “Ninanakaw ng mga MMDA ang mga paninda namin (MMDA personnel steal our products),” said Nelia, a sidewalk vendor in the Pasig City Public Market.

No homes

The National Housing Authority (NHA) statistics show there are 8,294 homeless families nationwide, 2,133 of them in Metro Manila. (Independent estimates register a higher figure.) It pegs the total housing need in 2003 at 269,905.

Leona Zarsuela, vice-chairperson of Kadamay, scores the government’s housing program as a “sham,” catering to the middle class, not the urban poor.  She said that these mass housing projects were only carried-over projects from the short-lived Estrada administration and that the Macapagal-Arroyo administration has not built a single project during its three-year term. 

The usual government housing project is a five-storey building. A tenant has to pay a monthly rent of P300 for the first year, P400 for the second year, P500 for the third year, P600 for the fourth year and P700 from the fifth to the tenth year. 

From then on, a tenant has to pay P1,200/month for 15 years until he is able to own the unit. By then, the unit shall cost around half a million pesos. Outright purchase of a unit costs P190,000.

The cost of living is now pegged at P538 a day in Metro Manila, an amount the urban poor could hardly meet. Zarsuela says virtually none of them could afford to avail of the government’s housing project. 

With this predicament, urban poor families are forced to build their shanties on government or private lands or along the river, railway or airport and other danger areas. In the name of government modernization programs, however, urban poor communities are demolished.  Last Nov. 27 alone, police authorities demolished shanties at the Payatas dump leaving one dweller killed and several others injured. 

Meanwhile, the railroad modernization of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) is expected to dislocate about 10 million urban poor living along the PNR tracks. 

Alon clarified that while Kadamay supports modernization, the government should take into account the millions of urban poor dwellers that would be affected by the government’s projects. He said relocation areas with proper social services should be provided.

Insufficient social services

The Macapagal-Arroyo administration has also failed to deliver sufficient social services to the poor, says Kadamay. It has done nothing over the continuing rise in the prices of basic goods and petroleum products.

In the government’s recent attack to the urban poor, the Purchased Power Adjustment continues to be charged albeit hidden under various names in the revised billing system of the Meralco and other utility companies.  Power rates remain high while many urban poor dwellings remain without electric power.  Out of 11 million households nationwide, only four million of them use electricity, 1.5 million of which are in NCR. 

Education on the other hand remains a privilege and not a right. The NSO says about 4.8 million youth are out of school while the number of government scholars have gone down to 40,294 from 44,876.  Meanwhile, the shortage in the number of teachers is 50,000 while the shortage in the number of classrooms is 40,000. 

The national health budget is very low at P12.981 billion which means the health budget for every individual is a measly P0.60 centavos – an amount not even enough to buy a paracetamol tablet. 

In addition, out of the 11 million households nationwide, six million households acquire potable water from deep wells or rivers. Around two million tap water from legal water connections while in the NCR, less than a million households have legal water connection. 

This condition makes the urban poor vulnerable to such diseases as cholera, malaria and dengue, especially among infants and children. Statistics show that almost three million children aged five and below are malnourished. 

With their worsening condition, the urban poor clearly have no hope under the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency or thereafter.  Kadamay chairperson Carmen Deunida vowed to campaign against Macapagal-Arroyo’s candidacy in the May elections in 2004.  Bulatlat.com

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