Tuesday, March 9, 2010

EVICTIONS ARE UP DESPITE 2010 BEING A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION YEAR

Teodoro AƱana
Deputy Coordinator
Urban Poor Associates

Based on Urban Poor Associates’ (UPA) monitoring many demolitions, some of them violent, have taken place in the first weeks of 2010.

From January to February last year UPA monitored only one demolition incident involving 87 families in Sta. Lucia, Pasig City. But during the same period this year 2,500 families have been evicted. If this trend continues for the year, it will go against a commonly held observation that the numbers of evictions and demolitions usually go down during a presidential election year

In the 1998 presidential election, the number of evicted families in Metro Manila went down to 3,882 from 8,067 in 1997 or a decrease of 107%. In the 2004 presidential election some 925 families in Metro Manila were evicted, a steep decline from the number of 4,315 families evicted in 2003 or a decrease of 366%. The reason is quite obvious: politicians do not want to antagonize thousands of urban poor voters. This is a common observation in other Asian countries where politicians consider urban poor communities as vote banks.

Beginning January this year, however, more evictions are happening. Is it because President Arroyo is not running for president? (She is running as a candidate for congress in a Pampanga district). For example, evictions are taking place in communities along the Manggahan Floodway in Pasig City, Road 10 in Navotas City, and C-5 Road in Quezon City. Evictions in the three places will dislocate thousands of urban poor families and potential voters: 4,000 families from R-10 Navotas, 40,000 from C-5 in Quezon City, and 100,000 families from the Manggahan Floodway in Pasig City and Taytay. The president is reported by the media as instructing the DPWH to finish the construction of C-5 Road so that South Luzon Expressway and North Luzon Expressway will be connected before she steps down.

The DPWH offers only financial assistance of P21,000 to a family it evicts; it shows a take it or leave it attitude. This is a departure from their practice under the administration of former President Ramos when DPWH built and managed its own resettlement sites such as those in Bulacan and Cavite. They say they do not have any relocation sites now. The financial offer is contrary to law. Section 28 of the UDHA specifically mentions only in court ordered demolitions can financial assistance be given.

The Manggahan Floodway demolitions are being justified as part of the flood prevention initiatives of the Pasig River and its tributaries, in the light of the Typhoon Ondoy floods. Some of the affected communities have been given security of tenure through President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Presidential Proclamations which declared the place a socialized housing site. The proclamations have been revoked by Executive Order No. 854. People are saying that local politicians and HUDDC want to develop the place for commercial use. The evicted families are being relocated to Calauan in Laguna.

These are projects worth billions of pesos. They are on-going projects and thus are presumed exempted from the election ban on new infrastructure projects. Since corruption is endemic in public works projects many suspect that government officials and politicians want to push through the projects to take advantage of the last months of PGMA’s administration as well as to generate funds for the election campaign.

In Metro Manila most of the evicted families are being relocated to the Calauan Resettlement site. According to a UPA team who visited there, the site can accommodate some 8,759 units of houses. As of February 4, 2010, 3,866 families have been relocated. The Calauan resettlement site used to be a housing project of former President Joseph Estrada for government employees, such as, teachers and policemen. There were very few takers because the place was simply too far from the city, an estimated 120 kilometers if one starts from the Cubao area and lacks basic services, such as, water and electricity. Now government is relocating urban poor families and expects them to stay there. The urban poor say there is no livelihood and no job opportunities in or near the site; basic facilities of water and electricity are still lacking. Many relocatees have gone back to Manila because they do not want to starve in Calauan.

Evicting the urban poor during this election year and relocating them to Calauan, Laguna or somewhere in Bulacan poses other problems for the urban poor. It is now less than three months from the May 10 election and the local Comelec can prohibit them from voting in the municipalities where they are relocated for lack of the required six months residence. Will they be allowed to vote in the city from where they were evicted? Will they be prohibited from voting because they are no longer residents of the city. Since travel is very expensive (it costs nearly P400 for a round trip from Calauan to Manila and back to Calauan), can they accept transportation money from candidates? If not, they say quite a number of them will not be able to vote.

Many urban poor communities want to make the May 10 election meaningful for them and their children. However, some think the evictions are turning out to be a way for politicians to deprive them of their fundamental right to vote and to frustrate their desire for meaningful political change. They are, therefore, asking government, including the COMELEC, to impose a moratorium on demolitions for this year.

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