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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
RP is 2006 Housing Rights
(First of two
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© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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