Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Prophet for the Philippines



A Prophet for the Philippines

by Denis Murphy

[This story hasn't happened yet, although we tell it in the past tense. It may happen any day now, so look out. Forewarned is forearmed. You will hear thunder rumbling.]

The old archbishop walked up and down beside his cathedral as he did every night after dinner. He said his rosary as he walked and was so deep in thought a person would have to bump into him before the archbishop would notice.

An even older man suddenly appeared beside him, seemingly out of nowhere. The man was dressed in the white suit, brown and white shoes and panama hat that gentlemen wore in the 1940s.

"You look terrible, excellency," the man said.

The archbishop knew him. "It could be worse, my friend."

"Is it the poor again?"

"My people just don't care about them."

"We know and we are going to give them one final chance. Remember that favor you kept asking us for?"

"The prophet?"

"We had a hard time finding him, but now we have him. We've chosen you."

"Me? I'm no prophet."

"That's what they always said, isn't it? Don't argue. You are God's prophet for this stiff-necked Filipino people. You are their Amos, Jeremiah, John the Baptist. It's decided."

"Wait a minute. What do I say to them?"

"It's up to you. We don't have any idea. Nothing seems to work with your people, especially those well-off people of yours. Good luck, excellency. You'll need it." The man disappeared in a single whoosh of air.

The archbishop-prophet wondered how he would approach his people. They like statistics and theory. They like serious discussions, but after such talk nothing happens. He was fond of quoting United Nations figures that claimed over 300 Filipino children died each day of malnutrition-related diseases. The children simply didn't have enough food. His audience shook their heads in horror when they heard his sad tale, but when they left the church all was forgotten. Calm, informed discussion wouldn't do it.

He thought for some more time and then decided: if I am a prophet, I'll act like one. A few days later, dressed in ragged pants, rubber slippers and a faded T-shirt advertising soap powder, with his face and arms smeared with dirt, he pushed a kariton to the middle of a bridge over an estero. People living under the bridge had been evicted. When word got around that the scavenger was the archbishop, the crowds gathered.

"The Lord God Almighty says: ‘Once upon a time 57 families lived in darkness under this bridge. Now it's empty. Where have you put my children? Where are my children? Where are the old people? Where is the old blind woman who lived here?' The Lord God says to you: ‘Because you drove them out and threw them in the streets like garbage, and left them homeless in the rain, I will punish this city. Shame on those who ordered the demolition. Shame on all of you who stood by and did nothing. Shame on you police who could have stopped it. Shame, too, on my priests who failed to struggle to stop it.'"

The Archbishop finished and as he pushed his kariton away from the bridge the crowd fell back to let him pass. "Thank you, excellency," an older woman said, but most everyone else was silent. Few looked the archbishop in the eye as he passed. Instead, they worried about him.

The headline in the leading newspaper the next morning was guarded: "Archbishop's Bridge Talk Puzzles Listeners." People calling in to the radio stations worried about the "appropriateness" of the action, or felt his dress and the kariton were "troubling". They noted the archbishop had completely departed from his usual low key manner of speaking. "He sounds so hostile now," a listener to Radio Veritas's Caritas at Maralita said. "I don't think I like him this way."

The archbishop understood the reaction was bad. It didn't do any good to threaten his people.

He was a prophet till he died, so he couldn't stop. He would try another approach, and so on TV the following Sunday night he wore a simple gray clerical shirt with a small wooden cross hanging around his neck. He asked the camera to zoom in close. He wanted to speak in the soft tones he used when talking to his priests who had problems or to old people close to death. It was indeed a soft tone, but thunder rumbled in the background of his words. The close-up would also, though the archbishop didn't realize it, show the kindness and sadness in his eyes.

He talked about two little squatter boys he had passed near a hospital. They were 4 or 5 years old and were sitting on a rubber mat eating cheese curls. Not far away were the kariton where their families lived. When it rained the families pulled blue plastic sheets over themselves and their kariton and settled down low like carabaos in the rain. "The boys talked and shared the bag of cheese curls, passing it back and forth. I waved to them and they waved back. I felt so sad. What will happen to the boys? Will their lives be full of pain and frustration? Then I realized, those two boys were there by the road because God intended us to see them. God is saying to us, ‘you are responsible for them'. Yes, we are also responsible for the mothers nearby building their small wood fires to cook rice, and for all the weak and poor of our city. As God gives these children to us, He also gives Himself. If we refuse them, we refuse Him.

He stopped there and stared into the camera. He prayed his people would take this last chance that God was giving them to amend their ways. He was afraid to think of what would happen otherwise. He heard thunder rumbling.

###

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is upa@pldtdsl.net.


http://www.thepoc.net/index.php/Parokya-Sa-Web/Tinig-ng-Maralita/A-Prophet-for-the-Philippines.html

Urban Poor Group Seek Help of Catholic Bishops




** NEWS RELEASE *** NEWS RELEASE *** NEWS RELEASE **

Urban Poor Group Seek Help of Catholic Bishops

30 July 2009. Various urban poor groups in Metro Manila have asked the help of Catholic Bishops to arrange a meeting with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to discuss the Executive Order 803 creating and directing the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee (MMIAC) to plan, coordinate and implement a comprehensive shelter program for informal settlers.

In a letter to President Arroyo, through Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan of Tuguegarao and Bishop Ramon Villena of Bayombong, the Task Force Anti-Eviction told the president that her advisors have given her bad advice in the matter of MMIAC, especially in making Bayani Fernando and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) the chair of that body.

“For years Bayani Fernando has been perceived as the number one oppressor of the poor. He has evicted thousands of the poorest families (those living under bridges and along esteros, for example), and left them without relocation, literally homeless in the streets, against our own and international law. He has destroyed the goods of poor vendors. Now he is promoted to head the MMIAC which puts him in charge of all aspects of social housing, including evictions, relocation, upgrading and construction. His control over the poor is greatly increased. Poor people say they are deeply offended by this promotion given their oppressor,” the letter read.

“Remove him, Mrs. President. There are many other more capable and humane men and women who can head the MMIAC. Bishops, the Commission on Human Rights, dozens of NGOs, civil society groups and thousands of urban poor people had asked that you not appoint him,” urban poor leaders said.

“The act of promoting Bayani Fernando will greatly increase his control over the poor. We request the president to remove him as the chair of MMIAC. Instead replace him with capable and humane men or women who can head the MMIAC,” said Ted Añana, Deputy Coordinator of the Urban Poor Associates (UPA).

If this is not possible for any number of reasons, people’s organizations and NGOs such as Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Community Organization of the Philippine Enterprise (COPE) Foundation, and UPA, want Chairman Fernando to pledge in public way that he is committed to provide relocation for all evicted families and to seek genuine consultation with the poor.

“We ask that you advise Chairman Fernando to seek genuine consultation with the poor and NGOs, allow people’s participation, and learn from the best experiences of other countries. We ask that this consultation begin with the makeup of the MMIAC. The poor wish there be representatives of the poor and the NGOs,” the letter added.

Urban poor leaders also reminded the president that during their meeting August 1 last year, she gave directives to government agencies so that the 1,400 families from the 11 priority areas evicted by MMDA and now living in the streets be relocated to Montalban at the cost of P300 million.

-30-




TASK FORCE ANTI-EVICTION
c/o URBAN POOR ASSOCIATES
25A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Quezon City
Tels (632) 426 4119/ 7615 Telefax (632) 426 4118
Email: upa@pldtdsl.net



July 10, 2009


H.E. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President, Republic of the Philippines
Office of the President
Malacañang Palace
Manila

Through the kindness of:
Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan and Bishop Ramon Villena


Dear Mrs. President,

Warm greetings from all the urban poor.

We must tell you in all respect that your urban advisors have given you bad advice in the matter of the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee, especially in making Bayani Fernando and the Metro Manila Development Authority the chair of that body (E.O. 803).

For years he has been perceived as the number one oppressor of the poor. He has evicted thousands of the poorest families (those living under bridges and along esteros, for example), and left them without relocation, literally homeless in the streets, against our own and international law. He has destroyed the goods of poor vendors. Now he is promoted to head the MMIAC which puts him in charge of all aspects of social housing, including evictions, relocation, upgrading and construction. His control over the poor is greatly increased. Poor people say they are deeply offended by this promotion given their oppressor.

Remove him, Mrs. President. There are many other more capable and humane men and women who can head the MMIAC. Bishops, the Commission on Human Rights, dozens of NGOs, civil society groups and thousands of urban poor people had asked that you not appoint him.

If it is not possible to do this for any number of reasons, we ask that you require Chairman Fernando, to pledge in a public way that he is committed to providing relocation for all evicted families. The law binding in these matters is well expressed in the Resolution of the CHR recommending a moratorium on evictions and demolitions (CHR (IV) No. A2008-052).

We ask that you order the creation of “The Independent Body, legally responsible for preventing illegal forced evictions” that was recommended to the Philippine Government by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1995. This new body can be located in the CHR.

All other attempts to prevent illegal forced evictions have failed.

We ask that you advise Chairman Fernando to seek genuine consultation with the poor and NGOs, allow people’s participation, and learn from the best experiences of other countries. We ask that this consultation begin with the makeup of the MMIAC. The poor wish there be representatives of the poor and the NGOs.

Can you take action so that the 1,400 families from the 11 priority areas evicted and now living in the streets be relocated to Montalban at the cost of P300 million? You ordered that this be done last year.

We make these requests because the future of our children depends on your decision.

We ask that you please meet with our group to discuss these matters which are very important for us as soon as possible.

We thank you for all the time you have given us. You have had more meetings with the poor than any other president.


Very sincerely,



ROSALINDA TAGHOY
Bacood Ilaya Looban Homeowners Association


ROSALINDA SATURNO
Samahang Nayon ng Balintawak, Inc.


PRESCILDA P. JUANICH
SAPIPA-R10, Navotas


ROLANDO L. SERNA
Market-3 Fishport of Navotas Neighborhood Association


YOLANDA R. OFAGA
Samahang ng mga Residente ng R-10, Navotas


IDA J. CABAZARES
United Group for Progress


JOSE MORALES
Ugnayang Lakas ng Apektadong Pamilya sa Baybaying Ilog-Pasig (ULAP


FRED DAMIAN
Samahang Magkakapitbahay ng Estero dela Reina (SMER)


JOANNE B.
Pasay Estero Informal Settlers Alliance

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