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

Volume 3,  Number 34              September 28 - October 4, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Countdown Begins for Bagong Lupa’s Settlers
(Last of two parts)

Kami ang nagpundar ng barangay na ito. Kung kailan matigas na ang lupa dito, aangkinin nila at babalewalain kami?” (We founded this village. Just when we have developed this place now they want to claim it and just ignore us?).

By Zelda DT Soriano

After living for almost 20 years on a community they themselves built from a dump, residents of Barangay Bagong Lupa (or new land village) in Port Area, Manila – all 6,000 families - fear for the day they would be forced to leave. Their suspicions that portions of their village were deliberately set on fire twice within a year to make way for some projects are not at all groundless. For one, many of them cannot afford the rent for a housing project promised last March by President Macapagal-Arroyo.

Besides, non-residents are being allowed to live in the new huts. As the president also promised, a commercial complex has also been planned on an area gutted by the fire thus threatening to permanently displace fire victims who used to live there.

Fifty-six year-old Roger A. del Valle, known to be the first settler on a garbage heap, Isla Buga, which years later became Bagong Lupa, says that after the second fire struck last March he began to feel being a stranger. He says in the vernacular, "I cannot explain…but I have this gut feeling that I am losing a piece of something" he thought he owned.

For Mang Roger and fellow villagers, government's promise of decent housing for the fire victims sounds like an omen. If given a choice, they would rather the government leave them alone. They want to rebuild their houses and live on the same lot that they developed before the fires dashed their future.

Fire victim Gerardo Lucero says: "Kapag pinakialaman nila kami, parang lumalabas na hindi sa amin ang lupa dahil sila ang magdedesisyon kung saan kami ilalagay. Kung magbabayad kami ng aming bagong pwesto, lalo lang nagpapatunay na nawalan kami ng lupa" (If they [government] interfered, it would only appear we don’t own the land because they are the ones who decide where we should be relocated. Paying for the relocation lot would only show we don’t own the land).

Kami ang nagpundar ng barangay na ito,” Lucero adds. “Kung kailan matigas na ang lupa dito, aangkinin nila at babalewalain kami?” (We founded this village. Just when we have developed this place they want to claim it now and just ignore us?).


Asked about his opinion on the issue, retired Justice Artemio G. Tuquero, who is now dean of the Manuel L. Quezon School of Law in Manila, says that the garbage land - technically a public land - is government property. But the city government, he points out, is morally bound to prioritize its disposition to long-time residents of the area.

A local urban poor group, Kabalikat, says that the former garbage land is wide enough to provide a medium-size lot for every family in Bagong Lupa.

Architect Deogracias Tablan, director of the city government housing project in Baseco, guarantees that the Bagong Lupa residents will be prioritized in the housing project. But he warns that some housing units will be open for occupation by non-Baseco residents as well.

The Urban Land Reform Law says that dwellers of public land for more than 10 years and who have invested some money and labor in developing it have the right of ownership through land reform awards. The law, however, does not specify rules on reforming land made by accretion or by both natural and man-made reclamation.

But first, Bagong Lupa’s poor have to grapple with two immediate threats to their lives. Particularly for the fire victims, they will have to pay for the new huts and lots provided them – within the same land they had developed - under the Manila city government’s housing project. Next, urban poor NGOs say that housing units being built on Bagong Lupa may actually be unsafe.

Early last year, President Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 145, declaring 52 hectares of Bagong Lupa "open for disposition to its actual occupants." In the proclamation, the area refers to the land bounded in the north by the Pasig River, in the south by the South Harbor, in the west by Manila Bay, and in the east by the Baseco compound (now a PCGG property) – subject however to a final survey.

The project is now part of government's “South Harbor Development Plan.”

Part of the Proclamation reads: "All lands disposed of under this proclamation shall not be subject to alienation and encumbrances for a term of 10 years from the issuance of the title in case of sale, or execution of contract in case of lease, nor shall they become liable to the satisfaction of any debt contracted prior to the expiration of said project; but the improvements on the land my be mortgaged to qualified persons, associations or corporations."

Also, Macapagal-Arroyo has authorized the release of P5 million to buy 500 pre-built bamboo houses that the beneficiaries can use either as temporary or permanent dwelling. But here’s the clincher: Every occupant will have to cough out P15,000 for the house payable for 15 years.

On the other hand, the Manila government’s Baseco Development Project will be implemented in four phases: 1) self-help construction for the fire victims; 2) formal housing construction through community mortgage program and individual housing loans; 3) rental housing programs through lease arrangement for homelots, medium-rise buildings and container van technology; and 4) medium- to high-rise housing.

In all phases, beneficiaries have to pay for the lot and unit. The actual prices and terms of payment are yet to be disclosed by the city government, however.


Residents belonging to Kabalikat are worried that like other past and ongoing government mass housing projects, any payment scheme to rent or own a shelter unit would be unaffordable for the urban poor considering their unstable income. Most of them, in fact, are jobless.

Government census reveals that 97 percent of Baseco residents – including those at Bagong Lupa – earn less than P10,000 a month or about less than P150-P300 per day which is way below P500 worth of daily needs for a family of six to live decently, based on independent estimates. The actual average income of the families will not afford them of applying for a housing loan.

Barangay chair Lumactod says that most fire victims now live in the government-provided nipa huts while some have built temporary units out of materials given by city officials on lots assigned each family. Only about a hundred families are waiting for similar government assistance.

Lumactod’s claims appear to be only part of the truth. Research by the church-based Urban Poor Association (UPA) shows that most fire victims have actually built makeshift huts without government help. But because of new hardships, some families have left their huts to live with their kin in other parts of Bagong Lupa.

Lumactod also reveals that many fire victims have not been actually assisted by government for lack of funds. An evacuee, Emelita Gasa, who has been living with her family in a shanty behind a government agency office in Bagong Lupa, confirms that some city authorities had told them to wait as the transfer assistance and housing project are yet to be funded. The Gasa family has been waiting for more than a year now.

A community organizer in Bagong Lupa, Cita Vendiola, says that only those who can afford to pay the government-supplied huts among the first batch of evacuees got their immediate lot assignment. "Meron pa ngang nakakuha ng lot assignment na hindi fire victim o kaya ay hindi taga-Baseco dahil nagkataong may kakayahan silang

magbayad" (Some who were not even fire victims or residents of Baseco have gotten lot assignments because they have money), she says.

Carmen Deunida, a prominent urban poor leader and chair of Kadamay, is not at all surprised with the plight of Bagong Lupa’s residents. "Laging ganyan ang problema at laging ganyan ang solusyon ng gobyerno" (That’s always been the problem – and that’s also been government’s solution).

Kadamay records show that most government housing projects in Metro Manila and elsewhere do not benefit the urban poor at all. Many housing units remain unoccupied or, if occupied, are being abandoned by their intended beneficiaries for lack of money for rent.


Aside from the urban poor's lack of money, another problem is that many housing projects – including those in Baseco – may not be habitable at all. Reclaimed lands, says UPA coordinator Anañeza Aban, are vulnerable to constant flooding and unstable foundation resulting in tragedies like the dumpslide at Payatas, Quezon City in 1999. Especially at relocation projects in garbage mountains, the presence of methyl gas generated by dumps could cause fire, she adds.

The Baseco government housing project also runs counter to government rules on housing sites. Resolution 521 of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), enacted in 1992 to implement Republic Act 7279 or the Urban Development Housing Act, provides that suitable sites for socialized housing "shall not require excessive leveling, cutting and filling" and "environmentally-critical areas, as in flood-prone or earthquake zones or areas near rivers and canals shall be avoided."

Random interviews among residents confirm that parts of Bagong Lupa are indeed submerged during high tide and that flooding especially during rainy months is waist-deep.

More alarmingly, Lumactod reveals, since 1990 the land in Baseco has constricted with portions apparently submerged by bay waves. “Dalawang bloke na ng kabahayan ang inalis sa bandang dulo ng isla dahil nga sa wala nang lupa" (Two blocks of houses by the bay have relocated because of this).

A research on Baseco by the Ateneo-based Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) reveals that among other concerns, the environmental hazards posed by the nature and structural origin of Bagong Lupa should be addressed immediately by the government.


In a separate study, UPA is critical about the design of medium- and high-rise buildings that the government is also planning to put up for the urban poor of Bagong Lupa. The NGO cites as an example the Vitas medium-rise resettlement building beside a slaughter plant at the former Smokey Mountain dump in Tondo, Manila.

Because of inadequate government funds and the lack of money of the resettled families in Vitas, UPA's coordinator Aban explains, "the whole place is now dilapidated and stinking." The inhuman condition in Vitas is not what worries her most, however. As what happened in Vitas, residents would be forced to relocate years later since the buildings will become unsafe by then, she says.

"If the city government pursues the (construction of) medium- to high-rise buildings in Baseco, residents will suffer the same inhuman conditions and insecurity of Vitas dwellers," Aban warns.

In time, Baseco's urban poor, will be homeless again, even while the number of urban poor could triple a few years from now, she says.                          

Urban poor’s rights

But beyond the unaffordability and the risks facing the Baseco housing project, Kadamay is not convinced that providing housing for the poor will solve the problem of homelessness not just in Metro Manila but in many parts of the country.

"In the first place," says Deunida, Baseco's poor "should not be placed atop garbage and mud." "The urban poor have a right to a safe, clean and peaceful environment," she stresses.

Homelessness, she says, is a social problem "that is deeply-rooted," adding that the problem is brought about by "an undemocratic set-up" where "few rich families control vast lands while the many who are poor cramp in stinking garbage lands."

For Mang Roger and his fellow villagers who claim to have discovered and founded Isla Buga, however, there is no place other than the piece of land where their homes now stand. They have come a long way and have gone through unimaginable hardships in making "their" island habitable, Isla Buga’s “discoverer” says.

All risks considered, Bagong Lupa is better for them than having no shelter at all. Bulatlat.com

Bagong Lupa: The Village Built from Garbage (First of two parts)

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