The “current practice and implementation of demolition of urban poor communities is gravely inhuman, unjust and oppressive in the eyes of God and civil society.” – Church People – Urban Poor Solidarity
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Bishops and church workers called on President Aquino to impose a nationwide moratorium on the demolition of homes of urban poor, especially those living along waterways.
“Relocation is really needed. But what we are looking into is if the relocation program is for the betterment of the relocatees,” Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez told the media while checking on the conditions of the residents residing along a river in Sitio Militar, Quezon City.
Sitio Militar is one of the communities along the Dario River, one of the tributaries of San Juan River. Though residents have yet to receive an official notice of eviction, those residing along the river fear that their homes would soon be demolished.
Nida Naños, one of the residents, said the National Housing Authority has already conducted a “tagging” of their homes. She said this should serve as a warning for an impending demolition. Some of the residents were also summoned to attend a meeting at the Urban Poor Affairs Office of the Quezon City local government, where they were told that they can avail of housing programs but they have to be members of social security funds such as Pag-ibig and the Social Security System.
Naños said her husband, like many other residents in their community, earns by selling pineapples and watermelons along the streets of Quezon City. They are not members of these social security funds.
A statement by the Church People – Urban Poor Solidarity, an ecumenical partnership for social justice and solidarity with the poor, read the “current practice and implementation of demolition of urban poor communities is gravely inhuman, unjust and oppressive in the eyes of God and civil society.”
The group said the church “cannot turn away from the disturbing reality of the urban poor, whose shacks had been forcibly dismantled after which they are just being left by the side of the road, without shelter, money, food and care.”
“(Urban poor) are the most oppressed today and victims of unacceptable violence and the church is obliged in faith and in charity to take side with them in order to insist, claim and defend their God given right to live with basic necessities and dignity as human beings,” the Church People – Urban Poor Solidarity said.
Fr. Kristoffenson Alea CSsR, for his part, said the church needs to be closer to the poor just like what Pope Francis said in his recent pronouncements.
Aside from the church people, Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap filed House Resolution 120, seeking a nationwide moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions of urban poor communities until current dire conditions in relocation areas – such as lack of jobs and livelihood and access to social services – are addressed by the government.
In a press conference held by church people and leaders of urban poor communities, Jane Morallas, a resident of Smokey Mountain, belied reports that urban poor families are being “spoiled” by the government.
“Can you consider us spoiled when we earn a living from garbage?” she said, “Are we considered ‘squatters’ when we, too, are Filipinos?”
Bishop Elmer of Bolocon of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines said they are actively helping residents of Smokey Mountains and that he has personally witnessed the impoverished conditions of the residents.
Bolocon said the government demolished houses of the urban poor and transferred them to a Batya, a relocation area in the province of Bulacan. “No doubt the relocation site looks beautiful. But all there is are houses. There are no livelihoods available,” he added.
“In our experience, they would always return to the city to find work,” Bolocan said, urging the government to push for on-site development of the homes of urban poor communities instead.
Listen to the urban poor
Homes of residents residing along waterways are being demolished by the government under the pretense that it would resolve the perennial flooding in Metro Manila and reduce the risks residents confront.
But Roger Cuntapay, a resident of West Kamias in Quezon City, said the demolition of their homes would hardly put a dent in resolving the problem. He said the government should instead focus its resources in constructing flood control facilities.
Another community, in Bagong Silangan, Quezon City, is also facing threats of demolition. The community is known for the heavy flooding they faced during Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. Nancy Abarido, a resident, said during the press conference that they have already submitted a proposal to the local government to address the problem of flooding in their area but they were still told that their homes need to be demolished. She fears that the local government did not even look into their proposal.
Fr. Alea said the government never listened to the wisdom of ordinary people. Indigenous peoples, for one, would tell the government not to cut down trees but it still allows it. The same goes to workers, farmers, and now the urban poor dwellers.
He urged government officials to live in slum areas so they could better understand the sentiments of the urban poor.
Bishop Iñiguez, after hearing the statement of urban poor communities, said he is happy to have been informed of their situation, adding that these could not be found in government reports. He said the church would side with the urban poor and all the children of God.
Don’t favor big businesses
The church as also called on the Aquino administration to stop favoring big businesses through Public Private Partnership projects over the rights and welfare of urban poor families, adding that the government is “back to the time of savagery where the economically strong make prey of the economically destitute.”
Anakpawis Partylist, in a previous Bulatlat.com report, said there are about 50 public private partnership programs that the Aquino administration is pushing. This includes the North Bay Boulevard Business Park, National Government Center, Quezon City Socialized Housing Program (Bistekville), National Bilibid Prison, Manila-Cavite Coastal Road Reclamation Project, Quezon City Central Business District, among others.
Hicap said these so-called development projects result in the widespread demolition of homes of urban poor families.
Naños, during the press conference with church people, said the government is also pushing for demolition so that it could earn from the housing projects. The government, too, she said, would earn from the construction of buildings and big grocery chains once an area is cleared of urban poor families.
Address roots of the problems
The Church People – Urban Poor Solidarity said in their statement that the demolition of urban poor communities and eventually their displacement to off-city relocation areas have brought more hardships to the affected families.
“The off-city provision of relocation sites for the urban poor is not viable since they don’t have work opportunities there. With this situation, the urban poor are forced to return to their former source of livelihood available in the cities,” the group said in a statement, adding that families, without a regular and decent income, have no capacity to pay for the monthly amortization of these housing programs.
They added that relocatees are being “burdened by the high cost of transportation and thereby diminishing the economic benefit for the families.”
“Instead of unjustified and fruitless violent demolitions that add to and aggravate more problems than diminish them, we call on the government to address the roots of poverty, unemployment and lack of basic social services,” the Church People – Urban Poor Solidarity said.