Thursday, April 13, 2006

Calvary of the Urban Poor 2006: An invitation to the way of the cross

For Immediate Release on April 14, 2006

Calvary of the Urban Poor 2006: An invitation to the way of the cross

The Philippines is Southeast Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation with a rich cultural heritage. For Filipinos, the observance of Lent and the Holy Week is a time of atonement and sacrifice. The observance is characterized by the chanting of the passion of Christ. Other penitents carry wooden crosses to ask for forgiveness of sins committed, to fulfill religious vows or to express gratitude for favors granted. The reenactment of Kalbaryo (Christ’s passion on the way to the cross) as practiced each year with the staging of the Stations of the Cross continues to be a source of spiritual journey, a continuing tradition of faith.

The Urban Poor Associates, a non-government organization that helps poor families facing evictions, have brought a little twist to these traditions by commemorating a yearly rally called “Kalbaryo ng Maralitang Tagalungsod” (Calvary of the Urban Poor). The first urban poor calvary in 1987 was held around the City of Manila, stopping at several urban poor communities and culminated on top of Smokey Mountain, the man-made dumpsite which became the symbol of deterioration and crass poverty of the country.

This year, however, the protest rally was confined within the government’s shabby relocation site nicely named Southville Housing Project in Cabuyao, Laguna to press the government to immediately address the concerns of the evicted families. Hundreds of poor families dislocated by the Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project (NSLP) held their Kalbaryo April 14, 2006 (Good Friday) to show their sufferings to the rest of the country and protest the worsening poverty, violence and oppression.

The procession led by singers and 7 men each bear the 7 crosses of the poor families. The 7 crosses symbolized evicted families problems on potable water, electricity, education, livelihood, food, transportation and health. They were followed by costumed Jesus Christ, Roman soldiers and Virgin Mary. Prayers, songs and reflection were led by 2 priests. Urban poor, especially children, reenacted the Kalbaryo.

The Kalbaryo started at 9:00 AM with the staging of the Stations of the Cross in Block 41, 44, 46, 63 and 57. It ended around 11:00 AM at the foot of a fast growing dumpsite, a few meters from the relocation site. The main theme of this year’s Kalbaryo is “Paanyaya sa Daan ng Krus” (Invitation to the Way of the Cross).

The government’s ambition is to remove poor families along the Northrail and Southrail tracks. An estimated 150,000 to 180,000 families will be displaced – a truly record breaking feat in our poor nation’s history of displacements. Some 21,000 families (18,000 on the Northrail and 3,000 on the Southrail) have already been displaced. However, many families are very dissatisfied with the government’s relocation plans and the methods it uses to get people to move to the relocation site.

Metro Manila, with estimated 62% of its population as poor, is a warren of people with nowhere to live. Slum dwellers living in extreme poverty exist either along the railroad tracks, under the bridges, along the drainage or canals, along the sidewalks with their carts, cemetery and other places where poor people have found refuge.

The forcible evictions and violent demolitions being practiced by the government contradicts its human rights commitment and pro-poor rhetoric. While there is political chaos, here is the real picture of Manila,” Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales said during a dialogue among poor railway families and government agencies last March 6. He described the poverty situation in Metro Manila as chilling and scary.

To Denis Murphy, executive director of the Urban Poor Associates, poverty is "the squatter mother whose hut has been torn down by the government for reasons she cannot understand. That night, she sits amid the ruins of her home, listening to her children coughing in the dark. She doesn't know what will happen the next day, but she fears it will be worse than what happened that day."

Railway families from Makati City refuse to be relocated in distant places like Cabuyao because such a move will compromise their livelihood. Hence, the poor people, once relocated, returned to Metro Manila as slum dwellers once more because it is there where they earn income. Another problem is relocation sites have been showcases of failure since they lack adequate basic services. "Lack of resources can never be used to justify a failure to fulfill the government's obligation to provide adequate relocation. Lest the government should abstain from carrying out or otherwise advocating the forced evictions," the UPA said in a statement. "Anti-poor policies and strategies will not obviate the need for further slum creation. If no serious action is taken, such a failure would spell tragedy as the poorest are getting poorer." -30-

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