This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (www.bulatlat.com).
Vol. VI, No. 47, Dec. 31, 2006-Jan. 6, 2007


 

URBAN POOR YEARENDER

Railway Evictees
Dumped and Neglected

(Second of Two Parts)

Christine Jen would have celebrated her first birthday on Dec. 31 if she did not succumb to diarrhea. Her death brings to seven the number of children who died from a preventable disease at the Southville Relocation Center.

BY DABET CASTANEDA
Bulatlat

CABUYAO, Laguna – Old and used clothes clutter the rough cement floor of the house of Nelda Silbihan, 46 years old. The house is empty except for the clothes and a single plastic chair just beside the door. “Pasensya na magulo pa ang bahay,” (The house is in disarray, I hope you don’t mind) she said while explaining that just three days ago, on Dec 19, her granddaughter Christine Jen was laid to rest.

Christine Jen would have celebrated her first birthday on Dec. 31 if she did not succumb to diarrhea. Her death brings to seven the number of children who died from a preventable disease here at the Southville Relocation Center.

Southville, a pet project of Vice President and Housing Secretary Noli de Castro, is a 55-hectare relocation center for evictees affected by the modernization of the Philippine National Railways called the North South Rail Linkage Project. Opened for occupancy in January, this is now home to almost 7,000 families whose houses along the railways of Makati, Manila and Cabuyao were demolished.

It is located in the middle of an agricultural land and just beside a former garbage dumpsite.

It is the third of three relocation centers opened for occupancy since 2005. Two relocation centers, Towerville and Northville IV, are located in the province of Bulacan. A fourth relocation center will be opened in Imus, Cavite in 2007.

Health hazard

News broke out in September about children getting sick of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease in Southville, prompting Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to declare a “dengue outbreak” in the area. The Department of Health (DoH) documented 11 dengue cases and three deaths as of the first week of November. The Ecological Waste Coalition, on the other hand, documented 18 individuals afflicted, six of whom died.

On Nov. 16, Duque announced that the outbreak was “under control.” But dengue remained a killer disease in the area. In fact, residents here said two of their neighbors, who were sick with dengue, were rushed to the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila on Dec. 21.

In a Dec. 5 statement, COHRE said the poor drainage system in the housing project and its proximity to the garbage dump pose health risks to the neighborhood. The Ecological Waste Coalition said residents of the Southville relocation site are exposed to ‘high levels of contaminants that are released through dump fires, landfill gas migration and surface and underground leachate migration.

After the dengue outbreak, Duque requested an additional P11 million from the National Housing Authority to build a health center in Southville. Five health centers have been built but residents here said no doctors, nurses or even midwives were assigned. “Minsan lang sila nandyan pag nagmi-mission,” (They only come when they conduct medical missions) Silbihan said.

Duque said the additional fund would also be allotted for the expenses of patients who would be referred to hospitals outside the relocation site. Silbihan, however, attested that her granddaughter did not receive any help from the DoH or the health centers when the child suffered from diarrhea. She said she even had to borrow a neighbor’s mobile phone and had it pawned for P900 ($18.29 at an exchange rate of $1=P49.195) to be able to pay for laboratory services.

Children also developed skin diseases which their parents attribute to the filthy water from the deep wells.  

Far from work

In the same statement COHRE said it is extremely difficult for families there to earn a living being located so far from Metro Manila. In its research on the three relocation centers in Bulacan and Cabuyao, COHRE revealed that 70 percent of relocatees go back to the city to live and work during the week and return to their families on weekends. A significant proportion of their income is spent on transport.

The COHRE study also said more than 70 percent of families in Southville have a family member who works in Manila.

Joel Alvarez, 35, works as a driver in Makati City. He said he spends a minimum of P80 ($1.62) a day for transportation alone so he decided to leave his family in Southville and rented a space near his work. He goes home on weekends.

Due to the dengue outbreak, Alvarez decided to bring his family in Cavite, a neighboring province, until the outbreak subsides. “Iniwas ko lang yung mga anak ko na mahawa,” (I had to bring my family away so that my children would not get sick.) he said.

Notices of eviction

However, Alvarez’ good intentions were misinterpreted by local officials of the National Housing Authority (NHA). He said he received two notices from the NHA in October and December telling him to vacate his house (Lot 108 Block 62) because he and his family were not occupying it.

Alvarez’ problem is not an isolated case. Bulatlat saw at least 10 houses with the same notices posted on the walls. To avoid eviction, three of the houses had letters from the occupants posted on the doors explaining to local NHA officials that they are working in Makati City on weekdays but go home in Southville during weekends.

Inadequate services

In the three relocation sites, all of which have been visited by Bulatlat, residents do not have access to electricity and potable water.  A five gallon container of potable water costs P35 ($0.71) while residents pay another P35-P50 ($0.71 to $1.01) a day for use of the generator for 12 hours supply of electricity starting at 6 p.m. Others just depend on “jumpers” or illegal power connections.

In its report, COHRE said it also visited the three relocation sites and found the schools and health services inadequate. For example in Southville, COHRE said 2,000 children attend school that is partially housed in tents. There is no water for the two small toilets and children must pay for drinking water. The teachers work in three four-hour shifts to cope with the sheer volume of pupils and lack of facilities.

During Bulatlat’s visit to Northville IV in January, at least 16 families were still living in tents. Daisy Mariñas, community relations chief of NHA-Bulacan Task Force North Rail, admitted there is no budget yet for decent houses for these families categorized as “uncensused” ― families who lived along the railways but were not at their homes when NHA conducted its survey in July 2004.

She said there are 110 “uncensused” families in Balagtas alone. Of these, 65 families still live along the railways because there are no more lots allotted for them.

Because of the depressing conditions experienced by thousands of relocatees, the government has received flak from local and international groups supporting the cause of the urban poor. COHRE said the right to adequate housing is, in fact, enshrined in an extensive body of international law, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The Government of the Philippines has ratified the ICESCR, COHRE said, and the right to adequate housing is protected both in the Constitution and the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992. The plight of the displaced urban poor in the country is seen by President Arroyo’s critics as one more glaring example of how she has bartered away the life and well-being of a sector most in need in exchange for the questionable benefits of modernization.Bulatlat

RP is 2006 Housing Rights Violator (First of two parts)

 

© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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