Friday, February 19, 2010

Best and worst of government

Commentary : Best and worst of government

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: February 18, 2010

EVERY DAY IN METRO MANILA WE HAVE numerous examples of the best and worst practices of government. In Navotas, young policemen beat up poor women old enough to be their grandmothers. The women wouldn’t disperse from a barricade they had formed to protect their homes against actions of the Department of Public Works and Highways which they believed were illegal. Lawyers and other government offices agree with the women.

Meanwhile in Baseco, Manila Mayor Fred Lim and Barangay Chair Cristo Hispano have agreed to resettle 300 fire victim families in the most humane and efficient way possible.

Cora Geducos, 61, was one of the women beaten by police in Navotas along the R-10 road that runs along Manila Bay. “He held his shield against my face,” she said of the young policeman who clubbed her, “then he bent down and hit my legs and feet with his club.” She showed me her bandaged toe and the lesions on her arms. “I didn’t think they would do that to us. We were just protecting our homes and our rights as human beings. I feel very sad about what happened. It hurts to think they would do that to old women like myself.”

Sixteen other women showed their wounds, including Angelita Villaruel, Virginia Cantellas, Daisy Jalbuena and Emma Villaruel. Few wanted to give their ages.

Fr. Robert Reyes had led a prayer service in the street at which the men and women of the barricade laughed and cried, hugged one another, listened to the Scripture, prayed and sang “Ama Namin,” which has become the anthem of the oppressed ever since it was sung in the giant rallies that supported Cory Aquino before and after the snap election of 1986.

The women were also water cannoned from a distance of a few feet. The use of water cannons is illegal in such evictions. Water cannons on women!

Usually after big fires the government takes steps to keep the poor from returning to the land they occupied, because it believes it has better use for the land. The fire victims must look for land elsewhere. Mayor Lim, the barangay captain, the local people’s organization, Kabalikat and architects from the Mapua School of Architecture have agreed on something more useful.

They, too, will not allow people to return to the land they occupied, but only until the land has been surveyed and subdivided into lots, and then they can return. The new settlement will have straight roads for ambulance and fire engine access. Access is the biggest problem in most slum fires. The recent fire spread because fire trucks couldn’t get near it.

Second, the mayor and others will ask the Mapua School of Architecture to survey and plan the settlement in consultation with the people.

Third, the restructured area will be the model for the other 6,000 families living in barong-barongs in Baseco. Because the soil is very “risky” and liable to liquefaction in case of an earthquake, houses will be limited to one story. The people involved will work with neighborhood groups, including Muslim organizations and Fr. Cris Sabili and the St. Hannibal Empowerment Center (SHEC).

The fire area has been bulldozed, and now looks like an ancient battle field excavated after the ages. Individual men and women wander about on it, lost in their thoughts. The setting sun sends long shadows of playing children across the scorched ground. The people are content as they line up for relief goods; they don’t have to worry about relocation. That is, all the people except the parents of a little girl who died in the fire.

In Navotas the people live on land designated for the widening of R-10. They agree to move and they qualify in every way for the relocation ordered in the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992. If they receive their relocation allowance, they will move.

The DPWH says it asked the National Housing Authority and other agencies to provide resettlement. When they couldn’t do so, the

DPWH claimed it had done all that was required and went ahead in another questionable way to plan the eviction. Instead of a home, it offered P21,000 to families to move, an alternative not mentioned in the law.

There is a greater willingness now even among the most influential government agencies to ignore the housing and resettlement laws. The government can deal kindly or cruelly with the poor, but there are serious consequences in this life and the next.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

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