March 30, 2010
Fifteen young urban poor wearing Christ masks re-enacted the passion and death of Jesus Christ today in Makati city’s business district, a place that the poor consider a symbol of wealth in Metro Manila and where one does not see the worsening problems of poverty, violence, and oppression. With them were members of housing rights organizations including Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), and Community Organization of the Philippine Enterprise Foundation (COPE).
This Lenten season marked the 24th year of Kalbaryo with a theme “What Have You Done to my Brothers and Sisters”? A 24 years of struggle of the urban poor sector against evictions, homelessness, hunger, injustice, joblessness, lack of dignity and powerlessness.
No big changes have happened in the condition of the poor during the 24 years. Through the Kalbaryo the actors delivered a message that Christ is judging us on what we have done to our urban poor brothers and sisters. Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 25) where he is speaking of the hungry, homeless, and persecuted, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me.” Thus, it shows that the suffering of Jesus should remind us of the sufferings of the poor.
“The Kalbaryo of the urban poor started in 1986. Over the years it has taken place in different places: in Leveriza; on top of the old Smokey Mountain; in Cabuyao relocation area; in urban poor places where eviction and oppression are imminent,” said UPA Deputy Coordinator Teodoro Añana. “But this year, massive demolitions are happening in all parts of Metro Manila even when it is a presidential election year. So through this Kalbaryo we want to show images of the sufferings of the poor and Jesus. It is also a non violent democratic way of seeking solutions to the urban poor problems.”
UPA, a non-government organization that focuses on evictions of urban poor people, found out that every hour two urban poor families lost their homes and were evicted from their community. That means in one day 40 families are rendered homeless and in a week, a total of 277 urban poor families made homeless. Most of the eviction cases are done by forcibly and turned violent. Human rights violations during eviction and demolition are not recorded by government agencies.
Last March 22, 2010 the urban poor groups sought the help of Commission on Election (Comelec) to ban demolition during the election period as this could result to the disenfranchisement of thousands of urban poor voters. At 2:00 PM today, the groups ended their Kalbaryo by revisiting the Comelec’s office to follow up on the commission’s response to their petition—appeal for a demolition moratorium. The urban poor group also submitted a letter to Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan, the legal department head of Comelec requesting for a dialog with him to discuss urban poor people’s concern about their suffrage.
Añana concluded, “We believe there can be no solution to the country’s problem unless the poor, who are at least 50% of the population, are involved in the reform process. This can only be concretely done by exercising their right to vote and electing leaders who will change the condition of the urban poor. Because demolition and relocation threaten this reform process, the urban poor sector will never get tired of waiting for Comelec’s action on this matter. They want Comelec’s answer during the Kalbaryo. Only 42 days are left before the May 10 election. What is important is the poor should be involved in all the phases of reform—in voting, planning, in the implementation and in the enjoyment of the good results of reform”
Kalbaryo as a tradition has united the urban and rural poor in seeking to build a society of justice and prosperity for all. Anti-poor policies and strategies are still in existence, hence the continuous creation of slums in urban areas. If no serious action is taken, such tragedy will mean the poorest are getting poorer. The urban poor want a stop to government unjust actions. The Kalbaryo is a gentle way of reminding us of our obligations to our brothers and sisters. -30-