Sunday, December 17, 2006




Manila, 18 December 2006. One day after the Church’s massive protest action against Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), over two thousand urban poor people marched along the streets in Manila repeating the question asked by Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: "Do you have a decent place where we can stay?"

Led by giant puppets of Joseph and Mary, urban poor people marched from GOMBURZA Plaza to Padre Burgos Avenue and along the Street of Gen. Luna in Intramuros today beginning 9:00 in the morning. Participants include children, old people, victims of demolitions, scavengers, relocated railroad families, leaders of people’s organization, various non-government organizations, urban poor friends and sympathizers from all over Metro Manila.

Organized by the Urban Poor Associates (UPA) and the Task Force Housing Rights along the Railways (Task Force Riles), the 20th annual celebration of Panunuluyan (Re-enactment of search for an inn) ended at the Manila Cathedral where His Eminence Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales is the main celebrant. But Cardinal Rosales was getting well in a hospital, so mass was concelebrated with Fr. Benito B. Tuazon and 2 other priests from the Manila Archdiocese.

Priests greeted the marchers on the steps of the Cathedral. The marchers also include a donkey and the Blessed Mother in a scavenger’s pushcart.

During the mass, urban poor boys and girls from Baseco act out the Nativity story. The theme of this year’s Panunuluyan is ‘Toward the Church of the Poor’. The Philippine Church has as its goal to be the Church of the Poor.

Fr. Tuazon in the homily expressed Cardinal Rosales’ Christmas message to the poor. "Gustong-gusto niya talaga kayong makapiling, kaya lang di pwede," he said, "Pero sa aking pagkakakilala sa kanya, more or less, alam ko na kung anong gusto niyang sabihin sainyo. Gusto niyang sabihin na mahal na mahal niya kayo."

Fr. Tuazon had been helping railway dwellers that were relocated to the shabby Southville Housing Project in Cabuyao, Laguna since he was a parish priest of St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori in Magallanes until his new appointment July 10 as spiritual director of the Archdiocese’ Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

"Ang mga maralitang tulad nyo ay tinuturing na kayamanan ng Simbahan. Ang tunay na nakakaunawa sa Panunuluyan ay kayo sapagkat alam niyo kung ano ang kahirapang pinagdaanan ng ating Mahal na Birhen, si San Jose at ng ating Panginoong Hesus sa paghahanap ng matitirhan," Fr. Tuazon said.

In the traditional Panunuluyan custom, Filipinos go to houses where they ask for shelter for Mary. They are turned away at each house until they end up at the local church. It compares the suffering of the urban poor people, who are also affected by homelessness, with Joseph and Mary.

Despite Church efforts, the number of homeless people and forced evictions remains high, according to UPA, a non-government organization working with urban poor issues.

“More than one-half of the metropolitan area's 11.3 million people live below the poverty level, and more than 5 million people in Metro Manila do not have decent housing. The poor spend 100 pesos a day on food for families of 5 or 6. This hardly seems enough for a family,” the UPA said in a statement.

Three Catholic Bishops, including Cardinal Rosales, have criticized the government’s eviction practices along the railroad.

“Panunuluyan is the urban poor’s expression of desperation and a sign that government have failed to ensure their housing needs. And yet it is also a sign of hope – that God will touch the hearts of government officials so that these leaders may ‘rule this country righteously and the poor with justice’,” said the Task Force Riles.

Last December 5, the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international non-government organization, named the Philippines as recipients of the group's 2006 Housing Rights Violator Awards. It accused the government of severe human rights violations for systematically violating housing rights and continued failure to abide by local and international legal obligations. -30-

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