Thursday, September 21, 2006




1. Introduction

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) is an independent, international human rights organisation seeking to create conditions in which people of all nations can enjoy access to safe, affordable and secure housing. Together with local partners COHRE works closely with the United Nations (UN) and other international and regional bodies, advocating that governments fulfil their international and national legal obligations to ensure adequate and secure housing for all.

COHRE conducted a fact-finding mission to the Philippines in July 2006, focusing on the evictions and threatened evictions associated with rehabilitation of the Philippines National Railway system. COHRE met with communities affected by relocation as a result of the North South Rail Linkage Project and with local agencies advocating for the rights of those affected. COHRE held discussions with numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government officials and media representatives, to strategise on possible solutions and determine further collaborative actions.

2. COHRE’s involvement in advocacy on the Project

In March 2005 COHRE held a housing rights workshop in Manila with partners from the NGO sector. This led to the formation of the Housing Rights Along the Railway Taskforce. In May 2006 COHRE facilitated an advocacy visit to Geneva by a leading housing rights attorney from Urban Poor Associates (UPA) and the Taskforce. The attorney met with various UN human rights bodies and representatives including the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the assistants to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

COHRE’s recent visit to the Philippines was hosted by the Grassroots Women’s Empowerment Center (GWEC). COHRE worked closely with GWEC and UPA and also met with other members of the taskforce, including the Homeless Peoples Federation of the Philippines (HPFP), Damayan ng Maralitang Pilipinong Api (DAMPA), Institute on Church and Social Issues (ICSI) and Alternative Legal Assistance Center (SALIGAN).

3. Background: rehabilitation of the Philippines National Railway (PNR)

Over the last few decades the Philippines’ national rail system has fallen into a state of disrepair. Today there are only limited operations south of Manila, and operations have completely ceased in provinces north of Manila. The modernisation plan now in place will involve new diesel-fueled trains, the rehabilitation of stations, and the strengthening of tracks and bridges. The aim is to alleviate existing traffic congestion in Metro Manila, to improve transport between the airports and seaports of the Manila-Clark-Subic economic triangle, and to provide easy access to Central and Northern Luzon’s new economic growth areas.

The section of the railway from Bicol to Caloocan is known as the South Manila Commuter Rail (or Southrail) Project. This stretch is funded by a US$50 million loan from the Korean Export and Import Bank. The Caloocan to La Union section is known as the Northrail Project, and is financed by a USD$421 million loan from the Export and Import Bank of China. The Government of the Philippines has pledged USD$82 million to cover the relocation costs of settlers living along the railway.[1]

Large numbers of informal settlers have been living along the railways, some for decades. It is difficult to obtain an exact figure for the total number of families living along the railways who face eviction. According to the UPA, approximately 70,000 families will be affected, of which 27,000 have already been relocated, 20,000 from the Northrail Project and 7,000 from the Southrail Project.

Research has shown that up to 30% of affected families were not present during a recent Government census and therefore have not been included in the relocation programme.[2] The Taskforce together with Church leaders are currently calling for the census to be redone.

There are many problems associated with the relocation process, which NGOs and people’s organisations (POs) are attempting to address. These include lack of information and consultation with affected families, eviction and relocation before the sites are habitable, Government loans that are insufficient for the construction of houses, lack of livelihood opportunities in distant sites, and situating a relocation site adjacent to a garbage site.

Government agencies and NGOs are working together at the municipal level through a coordinating structure called Local Inter Agency Committees (LIAC), chaired by the Mayor of each municipality. The LIAC model is new to this project and still under development. During some discussions, concerns were expressed over a lack of transparency in LIAC formation, representation, and decision-making processes.

4. COHRE’s observations of the relocation process to date

According to the National Housing Authority (NHA), 90% of the 27,000 relocated families moved voluntarily. However, as noted by the Archbishop of Manila in a letter to the Vice President, many evictees claim to have been told by government officials that they would not be allocated a plot at the designated relocation site if they did not volunteer to demolish their house and move immediately.[3] Furthermore, some evictees were asked to sign waivers that relinquish their legal right to a 30 day eviction notice period, and override a court order against demolition. COHRE was provided with a copy of the waiver by both Government officials and NGO staff.

The waiver sets out in point form the legal protections that a person agrees to relinquish upon signing. Having signed the waiver, a resident can be relocated even if:

relocation occurs within the 30-day notice period;
there is bad weather at the time of relocation;
relocation occurs outside permitted hours (8:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m during weekdays);
there is a restraining order from the court against demolition.

These protections are detailed in General Comment No 7 of the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, on what defines a forced eviction. The waiver therefore is in clear violation of international law, as the protections of international law cannot be signed away.

The proposed Relocation Scheme is fraught with inconsistencies. The Government provides each family with a loan (payable in 25-30 years with interest between 6-9% per annum) with varying repayment schemes. It has been documented that loan amounts range from between P25,000 – P200,000 per family.[4] In many cases the loan is not sufficient to construct a house. Large numbers of houses visited by COHRE in Southville, Cabuyao are incomplete with no roofs and dirt floors. UPA research shows that of the approximately 20,000 families already relocated for the Northrail, 70% have finished building their houses and only 50% of these families are actually living in them.[5]

John is a young father who has a half-built house in Southville Cabuyao relocation site. He is in the process of raising the earthen floor, because when it rains, due to poor drainage and the close proximity of the dumpsite, contaminated water enters the floor of his house where his children sleep.

The relocation sites visited by COHRE, Towerville and Northville 4 for the Northrail Project, and Southville for the Southrail Project are all situated approximately 40km from Metro Manila, far from residents’ sources of livelihood. This causes food shortages and hunger, and creates the necessity for many family members to return to the city during the week to earn an income.[6] UPA research found that more than 70% of families in Southville Cabuyao have a family member who works in Metro Manila. It also found that the incidence of hunger in the relocation sites was double that experienced in communities living adjacent to the railway.[7]

Rosa is a women’s leader and a widow who faces eviction from the railway and relocation in the near future. She views the forced move to the distant relocation site as a ‘slow death’ and would not contemplate doing this, as her work and friends are in Manila.

Transportation costs are high in such sites and consume a high proportion of family income. Part of the original relocation package offered by the Government included a three year free travel pass for one family member. However, community members informed COHRE that this system was not functioning, passes had been confiscated, and families are still bearing the cost of commuting between Manila and the relocation sites. An official from the PNR confirmed confiscation of some passes, but stated that those who had violated the conditions (for example given the pass to another family member) would be reissued with another pass.[8]

A lack of basic services such as potable water, electricity, adequate drainage, and health and school facilities is starkly evident at the relocation sites visited. The relocation site at Southville, Cabuyao is adjacent to a garbage site that at the time of COHRE’s visit was still in operation, despite a government order to close it by February 2006.[9] Situating a relocation settlement adjacent to a dumpsite in fact contravenes Republic Act 9003 that prohibits the construction of any establishment within 200 metres of open dumps, controlled dumps or sanitary landfills. The penalty stipulated for contravening this law includes a substantial fine and a possible jail sentence of up to six years.[10]

During heavy rains, flood waters are contaminated by run off from the dumpsite and flood houses in the relocation site for hours on end. According to Manny Calonzo of the EcoWaste Coalition who visited Southville in August 2006, residents are exposed to ‘high levels of contaminants that are released through dump fires, landfill gas migration, surface and underground leachate migration’.[11] Clearly, the dumpsite poses serious health hazards and six infants have died this year of pneumonia, sepsis and diarrhoea.[12]

The health issues posed by lack of safe drinking water and poor drainage and sanitation remain dire. There is no functioning medical clinic at the site, and the nearest hospital is not obliged to accept people from the relocation site. This problem epitomises the difficult issue of municipalities refusing to provide services to newly relocated residents.

There is a small dispensary at the site, run by an NGO, providing basic medicines such as inhalers, antibiotics and vitamins. Several organisations including Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines have called on the Department of Health to send medical and environmental sanitation teams to Southville.[13] The Archbishop of Manila raised grave concern over these matters in a letter to the Vice President on August 21. COHRE was assured in July by the NHA that the dumpsite would be closed.[14] On September 7, Vice President de Castro personally ordered the closure of the dumpsite. COHRE has yet to confirm that the closure has occurred.

Severe flooding in August 2006 prompted affected families to propose to the NHA that immediate measures be taken to alleviate the deplorable conditions.

Dumpsite behind houses. Inadequate drainage results in severe flooding that lasts up to 6 hours.

COHRE supports this urgent request and urges the NHA to promptly initiate the following measures proposed by the affected families:

Replacement of the existing small drainage pipes with larger ones capable of channelling the flood waters;
Construction of a concrete wall between the dumpsite and the adjacent houses;
Construction of a canal to redirect the water away from houses to a nearby creek;
Deepening the drain canals;
Covering the drain canals with concrete to prevent accidents occurring.

5. The way forward: recommendations

The recent State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has potentially serious implications for housing rights on a national scale. With a proposed increase in infrastructure developments such as ports and airports, it is imperative that the Philippines Government include the potential impact on the urban poor, in particular informal settlers, in its planning. Loans for the North South Rail Linkage Project did not include the cost of relocation, meaning that until now the urban poor have borne the brunt of this project. COHRE urges the Philippines Government to consider the impact of large infrastructure projects upon the most marginalised in society, and to respect their rights under both national and international law. Housing Rights Along the Railway Task Force members, together with parish priests in the affected areas, have recently agreed upon a common set of recommendations. COHRE supports the following recommendations:

· That all further relocations are suspended until sites meet international and national housing rights standards.

· That the Government give priority to the provision of basic services including potable water, electricity, and adequate drainage in all relocation sites.

That the Government commits itself to finding suitable alternatives, such as in-city relocation.

COHRE welcomes the constructive and consultative approach taken by the Mayor of Taguig, who has agreed, in cooperation with the NHA, to develop in-city relocation sites.

COHRE calls upon the Government to continue its dialogue with civil society groups, to ensure that all affected people’s aspirations are met and their human rights upheld in the eviction and relocation process.

COHRE calls upon the Government to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing to visit the Philippines to assess the situation and provide appropriate advice.

[1] Quijano, S., Lorenzana, A., 2006, Railway Rehabilitation Project in the Eyes of Different Stakeholders, Urban Poor Associates, Task Force Housing Rights Along the Railways, Cordaid, p.2.
[2] UPA Summary of Quijano, S., Lorenzana, A., 2006, Railway Rehabilitation Project in the Eyes of Different Stakeholders, Urban Poor Associates, Task Force Housing Rights Along the Railways, Cordaid, p.2.
[3] Letter to Vice-President Noli de Castro from Cardinal Rosales, May 12, 2006
[4] Quijano, S., Lorenzana, A., 2006, Railway Rehabilitation Project in the Eyes of Different Stakeholders, Urban Poor Associates, Task Force Housing Rights Along the Railways, Cordaid, p.13.
[5] UPA, Evaluating Resettlement Work on the North and Southrail Projects, May 2006
[6] Ibid
[7] UPA, North and South Rail Research Preliminary Findings June 2006
[8] Meeting with PNR official , July 25 2006
[9] ‘Authority to Close’ issued by Department of Environment and Natural Resources, March 9, 2006.
[10] Pabico, A. ‘Not just placing a roof over people’s heads’, September 8,
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] Ibid
[14] Meeting with NHA Assistant General Manager, July 27, 2006.

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