“It is not the house that counts, nor the comfort of it…it is the life that is at risk - on how we will continue to live without our jobs.”
These are the words uttered by Lola Virginia Bernardo, 65 years old and a grandmother of three. “I’m willing to live anywhere together with my family, just to be assured that we could really survive,” she said.
Lola Virginia had been living as informal settler along the railway tracks of Brgy. 807 in Vito Cruz, Manila since 1998. She is aware that they are illegally residing the place but she has no other choice at that time; either to lie barely on the freezing ground of hi-ways and boulevards, her family have chosen to place their home beside the railway - even if it also means putting their lives at stake.
Her husband died due to a disease called Emphysema the year 2000. Since then, together with her son, granddaughters and a grandson, they faced the dilemma of living in the city.
“Sometimes, I sell vegetables in Paco, Manila. My son advised me to stay at home, to rest due to my old age…but I have to work. Besides, my two granddaughters are studying in elementary and his income will never sustain us all,” Lola Virginia said.
Her son works from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. as an FX driver in Manila enduring the heat during daylight at work to supply their family’s needs. However, although he is working hard, thrice a week, his daily income would still be hard to accommodate them all. That is why Lola Virginia would still want to work to fill that necessity.
But things went wrong when the homes of railway families in Makati City started to be demolished last January. More than 2,000 families were relocated to Cabuyao Laguna. She was informed that the government has a plan to renovate the area (including theirs) to launch a huge project. With this happenings, she was really scared stiff.
“I began to loose hope when I heard that we are going to be displaced to Cabuyao. I couldn’t sleep at night. My close friends who have already got there said that they have so many difficulties. I couldn’t imagine what will happen to us there,” Lola Virginia said in a trembling voice.
Lola Virginia is only one of about an estimated 150,000 to 180,000 urban poor families that will be displaced in different relocation sites from North Rail and South Rail tracks. Some 21,000 families (18,000 along the North Rail and 3,000 along the South Rail) have already been displaced.
This huge displacement of urban poor families and the continuous clearing of Northrail and Southrail in Manila are the effects brought by the Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project (NSLP), a joint project initiated by the Arroyo Administration and the Korean Export-Import Bank. The plan consists of two stages: The Phase 1 which starts from Caloocan along Manila, Makati, Tagiug, Parañaque and Muntinlupa and the Phase 2 which is in Laguna, from San Pedro, along Biñan, Sta. Rosa, Cabuyao and Calamba.
The Phase 1 of the project will span 32 km. from Caloocan City to Alabang in Muntinlupa City. The project, with an approved budget of P27 billion will be interconnected to NorthRail, LRT 1 and 2 and MRT 3. This was seen to load about 187,000 passengers daily with 16 number of station to be served.
The Phase 2 of the project is an advance proposal seen to begin on 2008, which involves 25.90 km. stretching from Alabang, Muntinlupa to Calamba, Laguna. This will affect about 11,000 poor urban families along the railways.
Way back to railway
Aling Josephine Ibardolaza, 45, scans the extended horizon covered by broken bricks. Not anything will be seen standing in both sides of the railways, except for a Balete tree and some people standing distantly - people who have once dwell their lives in the place and hoping to turn back the time to live there again.
Aling Josephine and other poor families were relocated at the Cabuyao resettlement area. And now they are returning to their places in the railways even though they were not allowed by the government to stay there again.
“We have to leave Cabuyao because that is the place of hunger. We already have our houses there but we don’t have jobs to feed ourselves,” said Luz Ibardolaza, one of the relocatees who returned to San Antonio in Makati City.
Luz Ibardolaza, 61, has two daughters and 11 grandchildren. All of them, together with other 20 families, including two babies, are now residing under the bridge of San Antonio beside a polluted canal. There were threats from the MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) that they will be expelled on the said place because the bridge was still covered by the project.
“We would rather choose to live here even it was so dangerous and uncomfortable. The sources of our income were here in the city and we need it for us to survive,” Luz Ibardolaza said.
The family of Ibardolaza works throughout in the streets of Makati and Manila everyday. Most of them are vendors of fishballs, vegetables and fruits while others are just scavenging the trash for them to survive.
A call to remember
One of the great problems faced by the evicted families on the resettlement area is their livelihood, which is the reason why many of them return to the railways. The government did not offer them any means for livelihood. They also stressed that due to far distance of the relocation area from the Cabuyao town proper (which means a need to pay P40 back and forth for their fare), they could do no more but to return in their lost jobs in Makati City.
At first, each displaced family received P50,000 for the building of their own houses - P10,000 for the labor and P40,000 for the housing materials. They have to finish building their houses in 10 days because the tent, which they temporarily used as a shelter, will be returned to the National Housing Authority (NHA) after the due date.
But then a problem arises when they started constructing their houses. Lola Luz Ibardolaza said they realized that the money handed to them would be used only for the building of their houses. And since many of them do not have the knowledge to build cement structures, they have to throw the P10,000 for the labor, means, there were no allotted budget for their food.
“We’re penniless at those times. We need to eat that is why we need money. And even though we have something to eat, it was not permanent, we need a job and that is what we couldn’t find there,” said Lola Luz Ibardolaza.
Last April 14, hundreds of urban poor families relocated in Cabuyao, Laguna held a protest rally. The rally was named “Kalbaryo ng Maralitang Tagalungsod” (Calvary of the Urban Poor) to call on the attention of the government, particularly the NHA to address their concerns: Potable water, electricity, education, food, transportation, health and livelihood.
“There is water but it’s not potable; there is no electricity; there stands the school but there were no facilities and teachers; the people could work but there is no job. So how can these people survive? These are the basic needs that every individual needs and the governments’ responsibility to provide,” said Jazel Virtuzio, administration assistant of Urban Poor Associates (UPA). UPA is a non-government organization established to educate poor families in housing rights matters.
It could be remembered that the Arroyo Administration assured the people during her election campaign that she would give 10 million jobs for the poor. However, until now, poor people were still asking if they really heard the said pledge or perhaps it’s just one of their illusions.
“The informal dwellers in the railways were already below the poverty line. They really need help and they are the one who needs much attention. I think the government is really sleeping and needs to be disturbed,” Denis Murphy said, executive director of UPA.
Today, the poor families, especially in the railways are still looking for some way to wake the government, to look over them. Not just to observe them dying, but to help them solve the dilemmas that they are now experiencing.
“We are hoping that the government somehow will see our situation. We are helpless at this time. Just give to the poor people their needs…nothing more,” Luz Ibardolaza said. -30-