Saturday, December 25, 2010

Highblood : Santa in Payatas

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 24, 2010

THIS CHRISTMAS I played Santa Claus, complete with a red and white suit and flowing beard, to 200 poor children in Payatas. It was a walk-on role with very few lines, just “Ho, Ho, Ho,” “Maligayang Pasko” and a few words about the North Pole.

I wanted to be credible to the children and not spoil the party. I was nervous putting on my costume. I was like a matador, I thought, putting on his “suit of lights” while the crowd roars in the arena above.

If Santa sits in the passenger seat near the driver, people see him. Everyone greets him like a pope or Manny Pacquiao. Children run along beside the car. No one seems to think it’s strange to see a grown man dressed as a child’s toy in Manila’s traffic. Our right front door, however, is broken due to an accident. I sat in the rear where no one could see me. We passed through crowds and traffic jams, but no one noticed.

The Payatas Christmas party took place in a smallish covered court on top of what was once a hill of garbage. It is now covered with grass and serves as the compound of the company converting garbage to electricity there. I wondered if it was the same hill of garbage that collapsed 10 years ago. Bodies were recovered, but the local people told me at the time that there were many more bodies, especially those of children, still buried in the garbage. The government denied this, but the people said the children were dead and buried in the garbage, no matter what the government denied. I once wrote a poem about these children:

The garbage hill collapsed,

Burying hundreds of children.

We found them, wiped slime from their faces

And lay them in rows

Arms crossed on their chests.

Later when we looked back,

They were holding tight to one another.

I remembered the dead children as I made my way in among the children at the Christmas party. I think I was a flop. I wished them merry Christmas, but there was no response. I told them about the polar bears who live with Santa up north, but they didn’t seem interested. I tried to get them to sing “Silent Night” in English or Tagalog with the help of the parents. Again, no response. Is it possible they don’t know about polar bears? I looked more closely at the small children right in front of me. Their eyes and mouths were wide open in what looked like amazement. All the time I looked at them they didn’t blink.

I thought I’d innovate a little, so I introduced my wife as Mrs. Santa Claus. I don’t think she was happy about that honor. Finally we gave out chocolate pops.

None of the children rushed to get one, none grabbed for one; one little boy even returned an extra pop. They were definitely interested, but not in songs, animal stories, not even particularly interested in chocolates. I had played my part. If they pelted me with their chocolate bar wrappings, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I was a flop.

“Goodbye, Santa,” Miss Princess and Miss Jing shouted as I got to the covered court entrance. I turned around and the children were all standing, cheering, waving their arms, and shouting,

“Goodbye Santa!”

“Merry Christmas, Santa,” Princess and Jing shouted.

There was another thunderous roar from the little children. I felt so good I almost went back to thank each of them.

I left them feeling better and wandered up the hill to a turn in the road from where I could see all of Payatas and all the way across the National Government Center to the Batasan. I thought of the children who may still be buried underfoot in the garbage. We have to be saddened by their short, sad lives, but surely they will have better Christmas parties than we have here. They’ll have God and His angels and not just an old guy who played Santa for a day.

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

Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 UPA Christmas Party

The Urban Poor Associates and other NGOs celebrated their Christmas Party at the UPA office.



Friday, December 17, 2010

Urban Poor Still Search for Shelter

16 December 2010 (Thursday). Three thousand urban poor people marched from Carlos Palanca St. to Mendiola today repeating the question asked by Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: "Do you have a decent place where we can stay?"

Young urban poor acted as Mary and Joseph led the crowd to Mendiola to remind President Benigno Aquino III that the poor are still searching for shelter. Through Panunuluyan they are knocking on the Palace door, asking the president to grant their request to meet him to discuss their pressing worries and to urge him implement the covenant he signed during the campaign period.

Participants include children, old people, victims of demolitions, scavengers, relocated railroad families, people’s organizations, various non-government organizations, friends and supporters.

The theme of this year’s Panunuluyan is “Si Maria at ang mga Mahihirap ay patuloy na naghahanap ng Matutuluyan”. For more than two decades, urban poor group reenacted the old tradition of Joseph and Mary going from place to place looking for a place to settle in and where Mary can have a baby with the modern problem of homelessness of the people.

The Panunuluyan is sponsored by members of Task Force Anti-Eviction composed of non-government organizations such as Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Community Organization of the Philippine Enterprise (COPE), with the help of various NGOs and people’s organizations.

According to UPA, there are thousand of homeless families in Metro Manila mainly because of forced evictions, illegal demolitions, and other concerns such as lack of access to affordable housing, high cost of living, labor contractualization, rural to urban migration displacements due to armed conflict and graft and corruption.

“We are afraid that the number of homeless people will grow in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas, if the 300,000 families threatened with eviction will consent to be removed without adequate relocation,” said UPA Deputy Coordinator Ted Añana.

UPA demolition monitoring shows that most of the families who will be forcibly evicted are those living along the waterways and estuaries to give way for the rehabilitation of the Pasig River. But urban poor people living along waterways have had been proposing an alternative housing solution. They sought the help of Palafox architects who created a design of housing along the waterways that will not interfere with the cleaning of the river, and the people living on the esteros will have a decent place to dwell in the city.

Añana concluded, “There are many efforts done by the urban poor. But it is just placed in a backseat. We have high hopes that the new administration will consider the proposal of the people and that the president will heed our call to implement the covenant he signed during the campaign period.” -30-

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Panunuluyan ng Maralitang Tagalungsod 2010

We are having our annual Panunuluyan of the Urban Poor again on the morning of December 16, 2010 (Thursday) from 8:00 to 11:00 AM.

Panunuluyan recreates the search of Joseph and Mary for shelter where Jesus might be born. We see this event in the light of the urban poor people’s search for homes, peace and a decent life. The theme of the celebration, “Si Maria at ang mga mahihirap ay patuloy na naghahanap ng Matutuluyan.”

Beginning at 8:00Am, about 3,000 urban poor will march from Carlos Palanca Street (Near Quinta Market) to P. Casal Street and on to Mendiola.

The celebration will be led by 200 urban poor women and men portraying Mama Mary and Joseph. There will be a mobile stage for the reenactment of the search of Joseph and Mary for a place to dwell in.

Urban poor say, “Through this Panunuluyan, we want to show the President that we want to meet with him to discuss our present worries and to push for the covenant he signed during the campaign period to be implemented.”

Photo ops: 200 women will dance and end the dance by holding up the 200 baby dolls, demanding a better life for their children. There will be three walking billboards labeled (1) “Have you forgotten us?” referring to the difficulty they have had meeting the president; (2) The covenant signed by the President and the poor during the campaign period; (3) “We are still here” saying we are still suffering in the slums.

Date: December 16, 2010 (Thursday)

Time: 8:00 to 11:00 AM

Assembly Point: Carlos Palanca St.

Please Cover.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

‘Have you forgotten us, Mr. President?’

By Denis Murphy

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:44:00 12/15/2010

Filed Under: Human Rights, Housing & Urban Planning,Governance, Politics

URBAN POOR groups have written a very sad letter to President Noynoy. It begins, “Have you forgotten us, Mr. President?” and goes on to talk about their failure to get a meeting with the President, despite four months of continuous effort. It is sad because they had expected so much from the President.

During the election campaign the urban poor and then Senator Noynoy signed a covenant in which he promised to treat the urban poor in a just and generous way in matters of eviction, relocation and other urban poor concerns. It was the first time a presidential candidate signed such an agreement with them, the people said. They looked on the covenant as a solemn promise by the President, much more serious than ordinary political gimmickry. Correspondingly, they are surprised and disappointed when the promises are not kept.

They point out that in some matters affecting the urban poor the present government comes out poorly in comparison with the government of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Their prime concerns now are that government follows the law in evicting and relocating poor families, and that it relocates people in-city. The families living on the esteros, for example, whom the government threatens to evict after Christmas, want to be housed on the esteros, but in housing designed by Palafox Associates that mitigates flooding, yet allows the families to keep their jobs, schools and the old neighbors they would lose in distant relocation. The people of Laguna Lake, Manggahan Floodway and Lupang Arenda have similar plans. The families in these places who are liable to relocation total 250,000 families or one million men, women and children.

This may be a very temporary estrangement between the President and the poor. There is a danger, however, in the modern world that presidents are so busy with so many different problems, they may lock themselves away in their presidential offices, and sever on-going close dialogue with the ordinary people who elected them and their social movements. The presidents may consider this a more efficient way to govern, but the chief victims of such lack of dialogue are the major justice issues of the day. Justice is not realized.

When presidents and the ordinary people are close to one another there is a good chance that justice can win out. When they are not united there is little chance of this happening: the president either will not attempt to pass the needed legislation or he will try but fail because the majority of the people, the poor and near poor, do not rally to support him.

Jim Wallis in Sojourners Magazine (November 2010) gives examples of this dynamic from American history. Abraham Lincoln was moved to free slaves by the Abolitionist Movement and by persons, such as, the Afro-American writer and orator Frederick Douglas. Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s was pressured by the labor unions to institute the Social Security System and thereby free ordinary people of a poverty-ridden old age. Wallis also remembers how Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement pushed Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to pass the voting rights legislation and Medicare which looks after the health needs of old people.

These issues—freeing slaves, freeing old people from poverty and sickness, and restoring the right to vote to all people—are clearly central in any understanding of justice and human rights. These are not mere political matters, but are the deep down concerns of what it means to be human. This characteristic accounts for the mass popular support such issues received. Wallis credits the presidents with good faith in these matters, but says they would not have acted without the popular pressure the ordinary people’s movements generated and men like Martin Luther King and his like.

Wallis traces President Barack Obama’s current loss of influence to his decision to remain closeted in the White House, cut off from close communication with ordinary Americans, unlike Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson.

A president needs a movement to help him realize justice and human rights issues. When he feels the ordinary people’s pain and is assured they are behind him and cover his back, then and only then will he act. Presidents are not gamblers.

How will matters work out in the Philippines? Will President Noynoy patch up his relationship with the urban poor and resolve to stay close to the poor of all sectors? Everyone hopes so, especially the poor. Perhaps he can have the meeting the people want.

What are some of the issues today in the Philippines in which the President needs the powerful support of ordinary Filipinos? What are the deep down justice issues comparable to freeing slaves and voting rights? A truly successful land reform program seems to be one. There has been more than enough blood of farmers spilled already. Legislation that would narrow to a significant degree the income gap between rich and poor is another high priority.

Maybe it is not legislation that is needed so much as an attitude in the President and all government people that can be compared to the Catholic Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” For the President this would mean that in all the issues that arise he looks to see how the poor can benefit and how he can give the poor a little extra by way of resources, social services and opportunities. In all matters that come before him, the President will consider how the matter affects the poor, and look after them and make sure other government people do the same.

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

UPA study says incidence of evictions went up

14 December 2010. The number of urban poor families who experienced evictions in the first three months of President Benigno Aquino III administrations’ July-September 2010 increased by 579% percent over the total of a year ago for the same time period, according to a study of Urban Poor Associates’ (UPA).

From July to September 2009, 502 families were evicted in 10 demolition incidents, while in the same period this year, 3,407 families in 10 demolition incidents lost their homes. Six were government lands, 3 were privately claimed while the other lot both claimed by the government and a private individual.

These eviction incidents are considered high for a new administration. When former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over as president in 2001, she declared government would not demolish homes unless in-city relocation was provided. According to some housing officials, it was a de facto moratorium on demolitions, since government did not have any in-city relocation places. Thus, there were no evictions in her first three months in office.

In 2001 and 2002, the families evicted were 2,073 and 1,043 families respectively. She also signed a number of presidential proclamations declaring government lands for socialized housing sites or housing sites for the poor. On December 10, 2002 she issued Executive Order No. 152 that demanded government agencies to secure certificates of compliance before implementing demolitions. This helped lessen the cases of eviction.

However, in the third year of her presidency and onwards PGMA’s administration reversed her anti-eviction policy. The biggest demolition in our country’s history affecting 90,000 families happened along the North-South Rail project. The big majority of the evicted families complained of inadequately prepared relocation sites and joblessness.

The eviction incidents in President Noy-Noy Aquino’s firtst three months in office are considered high especially among the urban poor because he had signed a covenant with them during the campaign period at Del Pan Sports Complex, Tondo, Manila, March 6. The Covenant promised an end to illegal forced evictions and shows a bias for in-city relocation. Such relocations have not been implemented yet. Instead demolitions, some of them violent, continued during his first 100 days.


From January to September 2010, a total of 8,326 families in 31 demolition incidents were evicted from their homes. Some 5,479 families received relocation in Calauan, Laguna; Montalban; Norzagaray, Bulacan; San Isidro Rodriguez; and in Lupang Arenda, Taytay Rizal. The main complaint, however, was that the relocation areas were too far from the city and in places where there are no jobs. Hunger is prevalent in the relocation sites.

There were two violent demolitions in the first 100 days of Pres. Noy-noy Aquino: San Roque II and 7th Street in New Manila, both in Quezon City. The government used the SWAT, firemen and policemen to break up the barricades of the resisting residents.

UPA found that the residents of San Roque clung to the verbal promise of former President Joseph Estrada of on-site development.

The government reasons for demolitions were the cleaning of esteros, implementing the Quezon City business district plan, and expansion of local government facilities.

Government Intervention

President Benigno Aquino III himself ordered the stopping of the San Roque demolition and relocation from the United States where he was attending a UN event.

Secretary of Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo stopped a demolition in Santolan, Pasig, where 2,000 residents would have been victims of an eviction.

“The first three months under the new administration show that the old problems involving violent and illegal demolitions are apt to continue, unless government makes special effort to stop them,” said UPA Deputy Coordinator Ted Añana.

“I hope the Aquino government will tap the various government agencies and local governments to become implementors of housing rights law, instead of violators. The president must also push the Covenant for the welfare of the poor,” he added.

Eviction Threats

Data gathered by UPA shows that there are 350,140 families threatened with eviction in Metro Manila and the surrounding area.

The government must find win-win solutions that will uphold the interest and rights of the poor and allow the necessary infrastructure of the city to be built, urban poor organizations say. Many urban poor groups and housing rights advocates are proposing slum upgrading and on-site development.

Añana conluded, “The President should start with imposing a moratorium on demolitions while they scrutinize and plan the future of the poor.” -30-

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baseco Housing Project - 5:34 minute video documentary

On January 16, 2010 a fire destroyed 242 houses in the northwest corner of Baseco. This area is one of the poorest communities in Metro Manila. Most of the families live on a survival basis.

To watch the video, click here.

Urban Poor Associates (UPA) started to build a new village for the fire victims. Baseco was proclaimed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This gives the poor residents certain ownership rights. Helping the residents build their home will have great impact on their lives, since it will give more ownership rights

KABALIKAT, a people's organization, UPA and the Mapua Institute of Technology College of Architecture surveyed the fire area and subdivided it into family size plots of 24.5 sq.m. They built simple house.

Some 130 fire victims now occupy the subdivided lots. Due to lack of funds, the beneficiaries are provided with a foundation of hollow blocks and dirt fill which raises the house above ordinary flooding levels. They were also given wood, posts, roofing beams and roof.

Through this video, we like to thank the organizations and individuals who helped with the project. We also seek donations to build decent homes for the remaining 112 families.

Thank you.

Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay St., Brgy. Central, Quezon, Phil

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