Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our Old People


We see the signs of poverty everywhere in Manila, especially when it is nighttime and raining. There are the little girls selling sampaguita flowers in the traffic. In the rain, their faces float up to the windows of our cars as mermaids did long ago bewitching old sailors. (Are the little girls safe from predators?) Five or six-year old boys hang on to the back of racing jeepneys, so they can beg from passengers when the jeepneys stop. There are 12- and 13-year-old prostitutes in the North Harbor area of Tondo waiting for customers each night. We see whole families pushing karitons of junk or camping out along the side of roads at night, with just a small fire to cook their rice. Stone Age people may have had more of this world’s goods than our scavengers.
The saddest sights of all, however, are the old people begging in the traffic. At the car window is an old woman’s arthritic hand asking for help. Despite her problems her face is warm and maternal. She should be in a dry and comfortable home taking care of babies and telling stories. It’s sad that a government must prioritize either its children or its aged and doesn’t have enough funds to do both.
The above images are just snapshots of poverty, while the Coalition of Services of the Elderly, an NGO, has made a survey of the elderly poor conducted by the elderly poor themselves that shows the very wide extent of poverty among our elderly people.
It wasn’t intended to be a scientific, academic study, but it offers scale—about 4,000 elderly poor people in Metro Manila were interviewed—and it guarantees that the elderly speak their minds since they are talking to their friends and neighbors. The number of responses to each question varies. There may be three slightly different responses to a question that are basically the same answer.
The survey was intended to investigate the situation of the “poorest of the elderly poor,” a phrase used in the law granting the elderly a monthly pension. It is estimated that there are 900,000 to 1,000,000 “poorest of the elderly poor” nationwide. If the elderly poor throughout the country have the same problems as those in Metro Manila, we have a very sad human situation. Will our old poor people live out their lives in poverty?
Food. Some 90 percent or 1,863 of the 2,000 elderly who answered this question said they got their food from their families, but it was never enough. Another 10 percent said they must beg each day for food, or they got their food daily from garbage cans.
There are thousands of elderly people in the country eating out of garbage cans. We might wonder how 60 members of Congress from such a poor country can attend a fight in Las Vegas.
Health. A plurality of answers (1,362 persons) said they had checkups, but could not afford the medicines prescribed; 728 said they were sick, but could not afford the medicines they think they needed for their sickness; 428 others said they were sick, but could not do anything about it.
They are all saying the same thing: they cannot afford the medicines they need.
Support. Some 1,153 elderly people answered that they had no pension; 950 said they had no means of support; 115 said they were dependent on others, or they had to beg and scavenge each day to survive.
This last group included people in their 70s and 80s. The majority (1,643) lived with their families, but they said this is not adequate; 40 said they lived alone. In addition, 94 said they had been abused by their families and 70 said they had been abandoned by their families.
It is clear that big majorities of our poor elderly persons in Metro Manila eat poorly, cannot afford the medicines they need, lack cash in any form, and are not happy with their living quarters.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His e-mail address is upa@pldtdsl.net.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

‘Occupy Wall Street’

By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

 My sister and I went to Wall Street toward the end of September on an overcast day that threatened rain. I wanted to show her the building where I worked for a summer after my freshman year of high school. When we arrived at the head of that narrow street, where the sun seldom shines because it is very narrow and bordered by skyscrapers, we noticed that the police had prepared for a protest march.  They had divided the street into squares with portable metal fences resembling the cattle pens seen in the old Westerns, the wooden corrals where cowboys left their steers after the long drives across the plains.

Steam poured from a consolidated Edison street pipe and drifted in front of the New York Stock Exchange, lending it a sinister appearance. A white police van stood at the intersection of Nassau and Wall Streets to carry off any protesters that might be arrested. There were about 200 gloomy, bored policemen standing around. A big man in a plaid shirt and jeans preached about the need of showing kindness to one another. No one listened to him, except my sister and me. Afterwards he came over and shook hands and wished us a good day.

Then, all at once, the rain and the protesters arrived. Between 200 and 300 people marched along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. Almost as many policemen and policewomen walked with them. They went a few blocks toward the East River and then came back along the sidewalk where we stood. They had drums and shouted slogans, but it was hard to make much noise in such a cavernous and disinterested place. The marchers were mostly young, white males and they looked somewhat scruffy, I thought. They looked, to be honest, like the unemployed young men you might see playing basketball in the parks on weekday afternoons, while most of the city was at work. This was our first glimpse of the Occupy Wall Street group. It was one of their first marches.

The slogans they had on their banners and those they shouted were simplistic: “Close all the Banks,” “The Banks are Paid to Steal Your Money,” “Join us,” “Occupy Wall Street for a Day, for a Week,” “Wake Up.”  The police led them back toward Broadway and Trinity Church and then they were gone. Wall Street went about its business as usual.

 The next day the New York Times reported that the Dow Jones and Standard and Poor indices showed gains.

 A month later the “Occupy Wall Street” group had mushroomed into a worldwide phenomenon. On Oct. 15 I went with my wife Alicia to the park where the protesters stay which is adjacent to Ground Zero. The new memorial building towers over the park which is about the size of a football field. It was packed with 2,000 to 3,000 men and women, young and old, rich and poor, Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Caucasians and others and college and non-college educated people. Another Occupy Wall Street group was protesting in Times Square. The policemen were no longer bored. There were similar protests in 70 American cities, Asia, Europe and Australia.

We met a Hispanic woman who described herself as an “ordinary worker,” who told us she came to the park every day to watch over her 17-year-old daughter who spent day and night at the park when she wasn’t in school. The message of the Occupy Wall Street people was abstract, she said, about banks and mortgages, but it was repeated in anger and that helped her to understand she was being cheated. “We are being treated unfairly. The poor get poorer, the rich get richer. We need to come together to have a voice in how decisions are made.” A recent poll shows 67 percent of Americans agree with her.

The Occupy Wall Street people are able to focus people’s attention on issues that transcend race, class and education. In this case it is the wrongdoing of the finance industry which affects nearly America’s poor or middle class. Secondly, there is a great deal of basic political and economic education in the meetings and actions of the movement. People meet people of other backgrounds; they talk and come to appreciate one another’s problems. They hear different solutions and are free to agree or disagree.

The mood in the park on Oct. 15 was upbeat. People debated, sang and danced. Some walked around holding signs. The group seemed open to many solutions, including credit unions, that old staple of Church social action in the Philippines. We heard people debate the pros and cons of climate change, the relationship between unions and capitalism, and the usefulness of Che Guevarra for the Occupy Wall Street group.

Young Afro-Americans were often the voice of moderation in these discussions. One of them, for example, told the Guevarra admirer, “We will deal with our problems with the people we have here and now and with the institutions we have. We don’t need Che.” We didn’t hear anyone talk about changing the system, but of making it work for the good of all.

We found the building where I had worked years ago. There is still no marker recalling my summer there. I operated a ditto machine which was the size and shape of the bulky body scan machines used in our hospitals. Now the same work is done by personal copiers the size of a shoe.

Whether Occupy Wall Street is needed or not in the Philippines remains to be seen. We surely need its ability to bring the very poor workers and better-off middle class people together. We can also use its great emphasis on education.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Choosing someone for canonization

Commentary By: Denis Murphy Philippine Daily Inquirer 9:03 pm | Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 Most often we don’t know why the Church chooses one holy person for canonization and not another. We don’t know why Pope John Paul II was beatified and not Pope John XXIII whom all the world loved or the wise and humble Paul VI. Most people would probably say anyone of the three could have been chosen. Choices are made for strategic and political (Church politics) reasons, in addition to heroic personal sanctity. There are many people today living truly saintly lives, but only a handful from each generation are set on the road to sainthood. To be canonized a person must have personal sanctity and fit in with the Church’s strategies and priorities for evangelization. The person must be seen as relevant to the problems of the people of the day. To appreciate how this process works let us attempt to choose someone for canonization. But first, it should be clear we are not talking about a person’s face-to-face relationship with God. This relationship at its highest is described in Deuteronomy as being God’s “intimate friend.” We are talking, instead, about the person’s public work in our society. We are talking of a lay person, because for the Church this is the age of the laity. This current policy is due not only to the dwindling numbers of priests, but to the demands of the age that were apparent even before the great outflow of priests in the 1960s-1980s. Our candidate will be a man, not a woman. I apologize to our women, but they are still problematic for many Churchmen. The man chosen will symbolize the laity’s mission to transform the world. He will show in his life how lay people can, in the eyes of the Church, transform the world’s politics, economics, science, practice of justice, educational systems and the other institutions that govern us. The person is not under the authority of the Church, but he recognizes the need for the help of the historical wisdom of the Church to enrich and purify the institutions of the world. He is open to the Gospel, especially to its concerns for the poor, women and the downtrodden. He will not be seen as someone worried about internal Church matters, but rather one who is totally concerned with the transformation of society. Where in Philippine society is such a man? If pushed to respond many might point to Nandy Pacheco. Remember we are not choosing here the man we think is best suited for sainthood, but rather the one we think the Church might choose as an example of the lay people it seeks for its work in the world. The Church might select Nandy because of his work on the Gunless Society and Ang Kapatiran Political Party. The Social Teaching of the Church is the foundation of Ang Kapatiran’s platform. The party was publicly supported by some bishops, though Nandy was disappointed that more bishops didn’t do so. The party didn’t do well in the last presidential election, but Nandy is not giving up. The Church doesn’t necessarily look for winners in society. It has in fact a fondness for losers. Ang Kapatiran’s relatively poor showing in the election may reflect the Church’s loss of esteem among ordinary people in recent years due to its perceived over-closeness to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the sex scandals around the world and the Church’s absence from the main justice struggles. It hasn’t been seen lately as a crusading force in society. Individual bishops and dioceses have been so seen, but not most. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword: those lay people who have success in their reform role in the world because of the esteem the ordinary people have for the Church may suffer if that support weakens. Lay people will have to learn to live and work with a Church that is increasingly cautious, and less in tune with the younger generation. The lay people may be seen in the role of grown children looking after their elderly parents. They will need patience and understanding in that role. Nandy has not stopped because of setbacks. Neither has his Ang Kapatiran Party. He has, however, shown an inclination to put his efforts into a radical conversion of the human heart, since that is required before people can accept the reforms that are demanded in politics and other arenas of secular life. Nandy is now organizing a movement that, he hopes, will change the hearts of Filipinos and enable them to accept the needed changes in the country’s socio-economic and political structures. This movement urges people to accept Jesus’ peace. This is the peace Jesus entrusted to his Apostles on the evening of his Resurrection. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said twice to them (John 20:19-23). These words were the polite greeting Jewish people offered one another in older days, but his use of the phrase carried much more than a simple greeting. In it Jesus conveyed to the Apostles all the blessings of His Kingdom—all the wisdom, humor, courage, perseverance and simple kindness they would need in spreading His message throughout the world. This peace is ours, Nandy points out, if we accept it wholeheartedly. We should “accept” this peace of Jesus rather than “seek it,” since Jesus has already offered it to us in the Gospel. Knowing Nandy, I think he might prefer a big victory for his party at the polls to canonization. Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is upa@pldtdsl.net.

Monday, September 12, 2011

UPA Study Says Evictions Lessen

News Release September 12, 2011 In the first eight months of 2011 the number of urban poor families who experienced eviction lessened somewhat, according to a study of Urban Poor Associates’ (UPA). From January to August 2010, 8201 families were evicted in 29 demolition incidents. In the same period for this year, 7060 families in 14 demolition incidents lost their homes. Eight of this year’s evictions were on government lands, three were privately owned while the others were on lots along esteros. All 14 of the 2011 eviction incidents were considered illegal because they did not meet the legal requirements for evictions of the Urban Development and Housing Act. Evictions in San Juan, Navotas, Makati and Pasig turned violent. The number of cases in 2011 went down to 14, compared to 29 demolition incidents in 2010, but larger urban poor areas were demolished. UPA pointed out that if we compared President Noy-Noy Aquino’s first complete year in office, June 2010- June 2011, we find he had many more evictions than former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had on average per year in her term. These eviction episodes are considered high because President Aquino signed a covenant with the urban poor during the election campaign at Del Pan Sports Complex, Tondo, Manila, March 6. The Covenant promised an end to illegal forced evictions and showed a bias for in-city relocation. Such in city-relocations have not been implemented yet. Instead demolitions have been increasing. The government’s reasons for demolitions were the cleaning of esteros and expansion of government facilities. Fire From January to May 2011, a total of 12 fires broke out in urban poor areas which affected 9,849 families. Three out of twelve fires were believed by the people to have been done intentionally to force them out of places where they have lived for more than 15 years. They thought the government used fire because it is the easiest way to remove people. The majority of families who lost their homes were not allowed to return. Most of the fire sites were privately owned. Five of the communities were on government land. A total of 6,114 families or 62 percent of the total number of affected families were not allowed to return to their homes while communities in Satima, Las pinas, Brgy. Culiat, Quezon City and Malabon City are now negotiating with the private owners to purchase the land they lived on before the fires through the Community Mortgage Program (CMP). Navotas, Quezon City and Makati declared fire areas as danger zones. This prevents the people from going back to the fire site. Navotas passed a Resolution No.2011-36 on March 4, 2011 that the area in that city is a danger zone. Quezon City declared an area a danger zone because of “congestion and condition of structures.” The Makati government can pronounce an area a danger zone if the area has a minimum of five fires blaze. The areas were cleared of all residents. These moves of the City governments were strongly opposed by the fire victims. In Laperal Compound, Makati, the clearing operation turned violent. Molotov bombs and rocks were thrown by residents at Task Force Laperal. Makati was criticized by residents for enforcing a demolition though the lot is privately owned and there had been no court order. A child died in the staging area because of pneumonia. Only 25% of the 2700 families who lost their homes were relocated to Montalban. Families in Navotas and Quezon City also resisted clearing operations. Most of them chose to stay in their original places than be relocated far from their jobs. Government Intervention Secretary of Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo put holds on demolitions in San Juan and Makati, which were not respected. UPA Spiritual Director Fr. Robert Reyes said, “The president should do more to stop illegal evictions or else eviction will continue to rise.” Data gathered by UPA shows that there are 300,000 families still 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,” Fr. Reyes concluded. -30-

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

‘All are responsible’

Commentary By: Denis Murphy 3:12 am | Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 For decades our social research has dealt predominantly with poor people, namely, farmers, urban poor, tribal people, street children and others. We sought to know why they failed to progress more rapidly in society. We have learned many lessons no doubt, of which the most important is that in order to have a more equal sharing of wealth and a decent life for all, we must allow for poor people’s participation in the decision-making that affects their lives. Programs were started based on this insight and had some success, but there have been few substantial changes in income distribution and equality. We know more about the urban poor now than we did 40 years ago when systematic organizing of poor people began in Tondo. We know more, but the people there now have the same problems as people had back then. They still need decent jobs and housing. We have come to realize more clearly that lack of progress by the poor is not primarily their fault, but rather it is because their efforts to shape their future run smack into the interests of the rich and powerful. The fault is not in the poor, but in the elite, that they are underlings, if we may be allowed to mangle a line of Shakespeare. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel said when asked who was responsible for the Holocaust: “A few are guilty; all are responsible.” Do the rich see themselves simply responsible as others in the country or do they see themselves as guilty? We know how much poor families spend for recreation, including beer and cigarettes—only about P400-P500 per month—but we have no idea how much a rich family spends on its recreation. We know from research a great deal about poor people’s hopes, fears and goals in life, but almost nothing about those of rich people. As a result we are far from understanding our society. If Bill Clinton were a sociologist working here in Metro Manila, he’d be repealing in that inelegant way he has, “It’s the elite, stupid!” Before interviewers flood the rich subdivisions, I want to ask some general questions that have been with me for years. First, I would like to know how our well-off people react when they see old women begging or small girls tapping on their car windows to sell sampaguita flowers late at night. I am sure they feel the compassion all humans feel at such sights, but do they feel responsible as rich and influential persons for what is wrong in the society that they and their co-wealthy peers control? Do they feel responsible when they read that among Southeast Asian countries the greatest income inequality is in the Philippines? (Stratbase, Inquirer, July 22) Another question concerns our very slow rate of economic growth as a nation. Why has economic growth trailed far behind that of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore? Corruption is not the answer. Corruption exists everywhere, but other elites have been able to manage their countries’ economic affairs far better than ours. We would like, therefore, to ask the elite why this is so. Other elites may take care of themselves in shady ways, but they still find ways to benefit all the people of their countries. Why can’t our elite do the same? I’m sure many people would like to know how it is that a Christian country is the most unjust among Southeast Asian countries, judged by its very poor distribution of wealth. Is Catholicism a less powerful influence to acting justly and caring for one another than Buddhism, Islam, or even Marxist ideology? Catholicism has the most carefully worked out social teaching among all the religions, yet it seems less effective in moving the rich and powerful to act justly. A country where 80 percent of the population is Catholic should be doing better in matters of social justice. The word “elite” is an abstraction. Do our powerful people see themselves as an elite, that is, as a governing group or class, or do they see themselves simply as fragmented and competing rich families? Are these families opponents in day to day matters, but able to come together in times of crises to protect their common interests? Is there hope that they will see that inequality of income can lead to political instability? Maybe research among the very rich will provide answers. Let’s hope so. Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is upa@pldtdsl.net.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do we have to learn to live with slums?

Do we have to learn to live with slums? Watch Paul Mason's film from the Philippines in full
Manila, Philippines: The rich elite in cities across the world want to clear the slums which are now home to a billion people. But many of those who live in shanty towns like that which lines the banks of the San Miguel canal, do not want to leave. Why?

I had come to the Philippines to explore a theory but, as always, reality got in the way.

I was standing on the bridge over the Estero de San Miguel, a slum in the capital Manila.

My host was architect Felino Palafox and he had spread his blueprints across the parapet of the bridge and we were poring over them, with some street kids clambering around us. Palafox was making a big splash with the locals his Star Trek-style traditional Philippines shirt.

Find out more

Slums 101 will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 16 August 2011 at 20:00 BST
You can watch Paul's film for Newsnight in full on BBC Two that evening at 22:30 BST
More about Slums 101
More from Newsnight
The sweep of the slum was pretty horrible - a curve of water, shacks on both sides, multicoloured plastic rubbish inches deep in the water, and now and then the sound of something hitting the water as somebody used the "wrap and throw" method of sewage disposal into the Estero itself.

I needed the bathroom myself, so somebody guided me into a shop - a kiosk really - on the bridge. I clambered down a ladder and then, suddenly, I was in a place whose existence had not really occurred to me. Because if the slum is built right up to the waterway, on stilts, how do you get through it?

The answer was a tunnel. Four feet (1.2m) wide, about 5ft 7in (170cm) high (I learned this painfully as I am 5ft 7.5in (171.4cm)) and 600m (1968ft) long.

Twelve hundred families live off that tunnel - about 6,000 people. Such is the population density that I realised immediately what the women cradling their kids and swaying absentmindedly in the half light were doing - the same as me, waiting for the toilet.

Lack of hope
When I came out I was, as Dennis Murphy said to me afterwards, "stoked". Dennis is an ex-Jesuit priest who runs an NGO in Estero de San Miguel that has helped the slum-dwellers organise themselves.

"You were hyper, manic," he told me later.

That was because whenever you enter a slum your spirits do not so much droop as plummet. A fall, with a long "aargh" such as that emitted by the Wily Coyote when The Road Runner gets him to go over a cliff.

The Balderas family live in a single 8ft square room
You suddenly become aware physically - even though you have seen this stuff many times before - of that thing no modern human being wants, limitation, boundedness, a lack of hope.

After two minutes down the tunnel I stormed up the ladder and told my crew to stop filming Palafox. Nice though his scheme development plan was, it was on paper. Down in the tunnel was a reality that, despite being in Manila's slums for days, we had not properly seen.

Mena Cinco, the barangay captain - a kind of local councillor with the authority of a tribal chieftain - led me down again.

We met Rotsi and her family - mum, dad "a driver for a Chinese family", an unspecified family guest, a daughter doing her homework and a toddler. Five people in one-and-a-half rooms.

"We've been here 20 years," Rotsi told me.

Population explosion
Next door Oliver Balderas was snoozing with his kids, who were eating ice cream. There was a cartoon on the television and mum was also having a nap - it was about 32C and heavy with humidity.

Click to play

Why Philippines slum clearance is creating new problems
They came to the door. Mr Balderas is a construction worker earning about $3.50 (£2.13) a day. The family moved to Estero de San Miguel from a conflict area 10 years ago.

The room - about 8ft (2.4m) square, and like all of the Estero, built of wood and floored with lino - is their entire dwelling space.

Manila is undergoing a population explosion. Of the around 60 people-an-hour estimated to be arriving here, about half are coming as migrants from the collapsing agriculture sector, and half are born here - so there are kids everywhere.

These kids sing a song about the inevitability of poverty and their determination to overcome it.

Total rethink
With the sky glowering when I got out of the tunnel, I was no longer in any mood to go on giving the theory the benefit of the doubt.

My instant reaction was this: "There's a theory that says basically slums are here to stay, that they're cohesive, sustainable - green even.

"I can see the social cohesion bit, but as for green, well, (my nostrils flare at the river smell).

"And I can't help thinking the whole theory is a bit of a cop out because why - when in the 19th Century they cleared out places like this in one generation do we, in an era of globalisation, tolerate them?"

Mena Cinco is one of the slums' official leaders
If I came out of the Estero de San Miguel "stoked", it was because it challenged my trendy notions, learned from the 2003 UN Habitat report and interviews with various experts, and re-awakened the inner Edwardian-era social reform nostrums my grandparents taught me about slums, which is that they have to be cleared.

But then I went back into the San Miguel by night, with Mena still trying to educate me about the social cohesion, and I was forced to rethink it all again.

I met business graduates, found an internet cafe, met the volunteer police force and got offered the chance to eat a boiled egg with a chicken embryo. I said I would rather jump in the canal naked, and the local women invite me to do just that.

Then, over a beer with ex-Father Dennis, discussing our mutual experiences with the Salesians and the Jesuits, I discovered what one billion people on the planet have discovered - slums are not so bad.

They have changed from the Dickensian hell holes of our imagination. Through education and communications technology people are making life bearable for themselves - and of course providing the modern mega-city with an indispensable workforce of cheap labour.

The result is we have to confront a question that would have appalled the 19th Century pioneers of city design - do we have to live with slums forever?

I do not know the answer to that question - but I now understand the question.

Somewhere between the theories of the architects and NGOs and the rigid clearance doctrines of Prada-clad Filipino millionaires, and the night on the streets with the local cops and the day in the countryside with people whose main ambition in life is to live in a Manila slum… I have gone beyond the theory and experienced the reality.

Join Paul Mason on Tuesday 16 August at 20:00 BST on BBC Radio Four, on Newsnight at 22:30BST on BBC Two, and on BBC World TV's Our World slot on 26/27 August, and on the BBC World Service's One Planet on 19 and 26 August to experience it for yourself.

And for more background read Paul's New Statesman article here


Want to know what to do about slum dwellers? Try listening to them

Poverty Matters Blog
The Filipino government wants to move half a million Manila slum dwellers back to the countryside. Yet they left for a reason

The Filipino government claims it would cost about a third of the national budget to rehouse Manila's slum dwellers. Photograph: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images
If you have access to BBC output, I strongly recommend a programme and article about slums, aired on radio and television last week. You will be taken on a tour of a slum in Manila, learn about some of the people who live there, and hear what experts think about the future of slums.

Slums are without doubt a huge development issue. According to the programme, as many as a billion people live in them today, a number set to double by 2050. Manila is growing by 60 people an hour, making it the fastest growing city on the planet. In comparison, Indian cities are growing by about 40 people an hour, while London's rate is seven people an hour.

Anyone who has worked with people living in slums will recognise the vivacity and can-do attitude that pervades the programme (which is not to romanticise very difficult, dirty and often violent conditions).

Their programme offered many lessons, but I particularly heeded the one my colleague Claire Melamed constantly highlights – the importance of listening to poor people about what they want. It is unusual to get such a long look at the lives of slum dwellers from their own perspective.

The main issue is the insecurity of land – they have no right to be where they are. The Filipino government wants to move half a million slum dwellers back to the countryside.

But there are good reasons people have left the land they have lived on for generations to seek a better life in precarious wooden shacks next to rubbish tips. A combination of conflict, climate change (slum dwellers claim there are more typhoons and floods in rural areas) and chronic poverty makes life in the countryside unbearable. There are no jobs. Meanwhile, in the slum, we hear of people graduating from university and seeing real prospects for the next generation.

The only sustainable way to repopulate the countryside is to provide opportunities there. In the programme, we hear of guards being placed around evicted slums to prevent previous occupants returning. Rather than move people on, the slums can be slowly formalised, with public goods provided. This has happened in many cities. In others, the slums were just demolished.

There are always reasons to move people off their land, and usually "development", that most treacherous of terms, is one of them. But there is a rule I apply to these kinds of actions: if the solution prescribed by a politician or "philanthropist" also happens to be in their own private interest, be sceptical. (Which does not mean some solutions are not win-win, especially in the long term.)

Housing aside, it is the intangibles associated with a life built up over decades that are lost when people leave their land, whether in cities or countryside. Remove them to another part of the country and they are dependent on others, with no political voice or organisation.

The Filipino government estimates the cost of rehousing slum dwellers in Manila at about a third of the national budget; it is cheaper to ship them off to the countryside. This coming from a government that, the UNDP suggested in 2007, loses $2 billion of its budget to corruption annually. Those creaming off this money are the same hypocrites claiming it is too expensive to house poor people better.

Slum dwellers are organising themselves to defend against government aggression and what they believe is the threat of arson. "We will barricade, we will fight for our freedom and security of tenures," says one community leader.

Their fight has strong precedents. All over the world, as urbanisation has gathered pace, country people have arrived in cities. They have set up their shacks (black plastic bags strung up on sticks) and slowly converted them into more acceptable living quarters, buying a few bricks every month, volunteering at the school, pressuring the local council to provide running water. With the international media spotlight on them, they have a greater chance of success. Governments can get away with less than they used to now.

It is a hopeful story, but one curious aspect of humanity seems to be its ability to pull together in a crisis, only to fall apart when things become more comfortable. I remember a visit I made to families in the south of Bogota who had lived through the process of urbanisation. They looked back on that period of coping and difficulty with nostalgia. That was when there was a community, they said – not like now. Today, all the kids are out for themselves and drugs have become a problem. It was the struggle for better living conditions that brought them together.

Paul Mason, the reporter on the BBC programme, ended on a more optimistic note. Citing British slum history as a precedent, he suggested that the generation of kids sloshing around the wet slum may one day take what they have learned about organisation and cohesion into the wider world.


Monday, August 22, 2011

A trip to Cavite

By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

We left Project 4, Quezon City, very early that Sunday morning to attend a funeral in Cavite. We saw many impressive infrastructure projects along the way, but they left us wondering about their long-range usefulness and their skewed sense of the common good.

We were on Edsa just before dawn when the flyovers, elevated railroad and underpasses began emerging from the night. They were more impressive than ever as they loomed up. It was easy to be awed by their size and the great engineering skill it took to weave railroad, flyovers and tunnels into smooth working harmonies.

The trouble is, however, that such infrastructure doesn’t work. It will never end our traffic problems, because there are simply too many vehicles and not enough road space. We will continue to use our money unwisely unless we find a way to limit the number of cars.

We drove to the end of Edsa and on to the reclaimed land area off Pasay and Parañaque. Turning left to Macapagal Boulevard (which already has potholes that can injure a car’s chassis), we headed south.
The sheer size of the reclaimed area is breathtaking when compared with the size of our urban poor homes. In one survey done of 800 families in Parola, Manila, we found the average floor area for a family was 13 sq m, but many families had only 8 sq m. Here the idle reclaimed land stretches away as far as the eye can see.

The buildings now standing include the Mall of Asia and clusters of condos. There is a Catholic church and a mosque with poor families camped around it. The newspapers report that hundreds of hectares of this land will be given to gambling casinos and support services. Society must ask: Are Pagcor’s gambling casinos, and more malls and condos the best use our society can find for one of Metro Manila’s last truly large and empty areas? What of the poor? Is there no place for them on this reclaimed land? It would seem so. Government has tried to remove the only poor people on the land at present, the Muslim families around the mosque.

Why can’t some hectares be devoted to fields where poor children can run and play on grass, something most poor children have never experienced? Can 10 percent of the idle land be given to housing the poor? People should ask if gambling casinos are a good way to lessen corruption. They would seem to guarantee that corruption increases in society.

We drove on to the Coastal Road and eventually came to the latest section of the road that is built over water. It is over the water because fishermen and their wives with the help of Urban Poor Associates protested to the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank that the road they were then planning would run straight through the fishing villages. The IFC agreed.
The resulting road is first class. There is a beautiful view of Manila Bay, but there is no place for people to walk, jog or ride a bike alongside the road. Why not? Would it have cost so much more to give the people a chance to feel the breezes, see the lovely sunsets, breathe the fresh air?

When we looked to the left from the road some 100 or so meters to the shoreline, we saw that the houses of the fishermen were as miserable as ever. To the right we could admire the beauty of the bay, but to our left was the same old squalor of the fishermen and their families. The money to upgrade the homes could have been part of the World Bank-IFC loan.
We drove through Maragondon where Andres Bonifacio was tried and found guilty. On a previous trip to Maragondon and the trial house we heard Prof. Xiao Chua of La Salle University claim that Bonifacio’s critics have turned him into a man of violence with few thoughts for the full development of his people. Not so, Chua said, and he talked of his several writings. Along with land and housing, the poor, it seems, have been stripped of their prophets.

The country has had some sad experiences recently in its infrastructure building efforts in addition to its failure to end traffic problems. There were the North and South Rail projects. Some 90,000 families were evicted and relocated, but nothing has apparently been done in the North, and in the South. Five years after relocation began, there is only a commuter train that runs on the old tracks to Alabang and back. Many, if not most of the public-private partnership projects, submitted now to the government for approval are for infrastructure and will involve evictions and relocation. Such proposals should be closely scrutinized.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Do we have to learn to live with slums?

August 18, 2011

Last May, we accompanied BBC in Manila esteros. Here is the 15 minute film aired yesterday. Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC newsnight said, "Without the slum dwellers global mega cities could not function at all."
We are hoping that the government will build on site housing for the estero people using the Palafox housing designs

Pls. Click the Link

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jesuit superior general in Tondo slum

By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

FORTY YEARS ago the late Jesuit Fr. Joe Blanco and I had the honor of taking Fr. Pedro Arrupe, then the Jesuit superior general, to Tondo. We met the Zone One Tondo Organization leaders and Fr. Arrupe and the poor people discussed, among other matters, Marxism, armed struggle and the role of the Church in fighting poverty.

At that time in the Zone One area there were four priests helping the poor to organize their own people’s group. There was also a small convent of the Religious of the Good Shepherd who helped the organizing and took care of most other problems of the people. Now there are no priests or sisters in the urban poor area, except perhaps for Mass on Sundays.

We met Fr. Arrupe at the old Institute of Social Order on Padre Faura. Two Jesuits were sent with him by the Jesuit provincial, who, it seems, didn’t quite trust Fr. Blanco and me. We asked the two to wait at the ISO. Fr. Arrupe was excited as a boy on a picnic. He had been in meetings since he arrived in the country and was happy to be free to move around the city. He even enjoyed our mad dash to Tondo down Roxas Boulevard behind a careening bus that spouted so much foul exhaust it finally disappeared altogether in a black cloud.

Fr. Blanco arranged things in the ZOTO office while I took Fr. Arrupe around the area: Slip Zero, Pier Dos, Isla Puting Bato and Bonifacio Village (now called Parola). Some 30,000 poor families lived in Tondo at that time. I felt I was with a TV superstar, though few people had any idea of who Fr. Arrupe was, or what a Jesuit was for that matter. They saw a jolly man in his 60s, his thinning gray hair flying in the harbor breeze, with one of the most radiant, joyful smile anyone had ever seen. They crowded around, especially the children. He stopped to talk to people and was able to communicate with them in a mixture of Spanish and English. He held on to their hands while he talked to them. He had been a medical student in Madrid before he entered the Jesuits, so he took notice of the malnourished children, stagnant pools of water, the garbage everywhere—all speaking of disease.

He asked them about their incomes and other problems and their hopes in life for their children. He wasn’t shocked by the terrible poverty. Earlier in his life he was one of the first people to go to Hiroshima after the A-bomb attack. He had been stationed outside Hiroshima in the Jesuit novitiate. I thought I saw deep in his eyes traces of the horror he saw that day and the huge act of faith it took to believe God would someday renew this world.

I had some business in a nearby area, so I missed the beginning of the meeting with the ZOTO leaders, Trining Herrera, David Balondo, Pedro Timbolero and others. Fr. Blanco introduced Fr. Arrupe as a close friend of Pope Paul VI. The people met the Pope a year earlier in another part of Tondo. Later whenever the people wrote President Marcos about their problems, they sent the Pope a copy (“Copy furnished the pope,” they wrote at the bottom of their letters). Sometimes when Malacañang responded, they also added “copy furnished to pope.” Somewhere in the Vatican these old letters in Tagalog are filed away. Did anyone ever know what to do with them?

When I arrived in the ZOTO office, I found Fr. Arrupe and the ZOTO people discussing revolution and armed struggle. He wanted to know what ordinary urban poor people thought of these matters. He wanted to know what kind of world the poor people wanted. He gave the people his full attention and told stories of people he had met in other countries, especially in Latin America. The Tondo folk said they were open to armed struggle since nothing else seemed to work. They admired young people who joined the rebels.

When the people asked about Pope Paul, Fr. Arrupe was full of praise for him, though a gap was already opening between Pope Paul and himself (and later between him and Pope John Paul II). Some Vatican officials thought Fr. Arrupe and the Jesuits were going beyond Church orthodoxy in several matters—for example, in their openness to the use of Marxist analysis.

We ate food the people brought from the local turo-turo and then a big crowd walked us out of the area. Fr. Arrupe shook every hand and kissed the children. We took him back to the ISO where the father provincial’s car was waiting.

Fr. Blanco and I arrived late at the airport on the day he left the country. When he saw us, he left the circle of Jesuit superiors and bishops he was with to hurry down to us. He told us to keep doing what we were doing in Tondo.

Fr. Blanco is dead. I am still working in the very same streets I walked with Fr. Arrupe that day. I sometimes think he is walking along with me, with his gracious smile for everyone we meet.

Fr. Arrupe had a stroke in 1981 and resigned as Jesuit superior general. He was able to speak until 1983, but the last eight years of his life were spent in silence.

His name is not mentioned often now. Perhaps 50 years from now, Fr. Arrupe’s memory will be revived and also the spirit of optimism and openness to change of Vatican II. Some consider him the very image of a Vatican II priest. They see in him the essential spirit of Vatican II.

Fr. Arrupe’s visit was in 1971. After that came martial law and 25 years of democratic government.

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

Monday, June 13, 2011

Out with the car

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
June 13, 2011

Older people in Manila can remember the acacia trees that lined Taft Avenue before the cars and elevated train took over. They can remember, if they are somewhat older, the trolleys that ran through Sta. Ana, with bells tinkling gently like those of ice cream vendors. Jesuits, including Bishop Federico Escaler, remember the Pasig River when you could see clear to the sandy bottom and could swim with schools of colored fish. Behn Cervantes, writing in BusinessWorld, recalls the beauty of Quiapo. He remembers “the stately homes beside the streams that connected to the Pasig.” Now these streams are called esteros and no one wants to live near them. “Quiapo was a verdant area described in vintage poems,” Cervantes tells us. Most Asian cities had similar areas.

Such were Asian cities before they committed themselves uncritically to the automobile and to the flyovers, underpasses, tunnels, superhighways and parking lots the automobile demands. There were problems back then, but there were also quiet, gracious places people would remember all their lives. Who will remember Taft Avenue as it is now or Quiapo? Our passion for the car may in the end prove to have been a huge and costly mistake.

Asian cities, after having spent billions of baht, won, pesos and rupees on transportation infrastructure, are still clogged with traffic. In addition to traffic jams, the automobile has proven to be the No. 1 cause of pollution in Manila and other Asian cities.

Bangkok has done everything possible to accommodate the car. It has denied resources to its impoverished Northeast region in order to care for the needs of the car. In Bangkok drivers can go from one end of the city non-stop to the other in great comfort on elevated roads, but when they come down to ground level, as they must, they run into the same old traffic jams.

People in the Philippines should ask themselves: Would we be better off today if the government had improved irrigation and developed first-class health and education systems over the past years instead of building all those flyovers, etc.? Food would be cheaper surely, with enough for everyone. Our children would be among Asia’s wisest and healthiest.

Is there an alternative to cars? People who can go to the moon and Mars should be able to find one. The following suggestion may not be exactly what we are looking for, but it is only a start. Thomas Edison experimented with hundreds of materials before he found the proper filament for his electric light. It is important to start discussing solutions. If we discuss and search diligently, a realistic alternative will be found. Remember the movie “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, and the heavenly voice that said, “Build the field and they [the old players] will come.” If we search for a good alternative, we have a very good chance of finding it.

This alternative begins by limiting the number of car owners to 25,000, instead of the hundreds of thousands who now have cars. This relatively small number will include our business, political and cultural elite. It is unfair, perhaps, but if we insist on the elite giving up their cars, there will be no progress. These 25,000 persons are able to block any effort to limit car use, if they are adversely affected, like they have limited wages, land reform legislation, urban poor housing and other social justice matters. On the other hand, if the 25,000 are not affected, but are able to keep their cars and have near-traffic-free streets to zip back and forth to work and recreation, they will support the alternative.

There will be special cars set aside for the emergency needs of ordinary people.

For car owners who are not part of the 25,000, we can offer a package of benefits. They can keep their cars for use out of town or in their own neighborhoods. They will not be allowed on Edsa or on major roads. Instead they will be given free rides for five years in a new fleet of air-conditioned buses that will take the workers home from Makati to Cubao, Marikina and Alabang in less than 20 minutes. They can nap or read the papers on the way.

Car owners on average can save up to P150,000 a year on gas and maintenance. In 10 years or less without the use of cars they will be millionaires.

The country can save the money designated for flyovers and highways and put it to much better use. Do we need C-6 or C-10 if there are only 25,000 cars? The money can be used for investments that benefit all of the people. We need irrigation, inexpensive energy, better and affordable medical services and better salaried teachers. We must give our poor a better chance in life. Just think of the money that will be saved on gasoline alone and the improved services such money can provide.

With fewer cars on the streets, it will be attractive to use bicycles. For those who want to mix their travel and exercise this alternative will be attractive. They can have their own lane. We’ll be the healthiest people in Asia.

We must keep looking for alternatives. Someone among us has the answer.

Finally, every person in the Metro Manila area will breathe clean and healthy air once again if we can limit the number of cars.

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

Sunday, June 5, 2011

God is not doing His job

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
June 5, 2011

Sayra has lived all her life on a small patch of sidewalk in downtown Calcutta, now called Kolkata. I interviewed her 23 years ago for a book on Asia’s urban poor. I looked for her in the intervening years, but I could never find her until just last April. She still lives on that patch of sidewalk, as her mother and father had before her. She was born there and had her first child there. We had a long conversation, while her neighbors joined in, and at the end of it I asked, if she believed in God despite all her problems.

“I believe in God,” she said, “but He’s not doing His job now. He is supposed to take care of us, but look around and you’ll see He is not doing that.” She swept her arm in a gesture over the people’s sleeping mats and the dirty street.

About 30 families live on the sidewalk with Sayra. All are from Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, and most are from the same village. They have come to Calcutta for work. The main work the men find is as rickshaw pullers. This corner of Calcutta is one of the few places in the world where one person sits at comfort in a carriage and another person, like a beast of burden, pulls him through the streets. The rickshaw pullers run and walk on the boiling hot asphalt, in the middle of some of the world’s most chaotic traffic. Their faces are expressionless and they never look anyone in the eye. The pressures of those streets drive dogs racing madly through the traffic barking insanely.

The people are Muslim. They help each other like the poor do everywhere to survive, but they are at the bottom of Indian society. A year ago the police came, beat the people, abused the women and set their household things on fire, in order to drive them out. A hotel owner on the same street thought they were bad for his business. But they are determined to stay there until some better place for living and raising their families is offered them.

The rickshaw pullers earn 50-100 rupees a day. (The rupee has the same value more or less as the peso.) Sayra’s son, a rickshaw puller, stood beside while she talked. He was lean as a leather belt and laughed good naturedly at his mother’s comments.

The people have water pumps from the government, but little less. As in Manila they can bring their sick to public hospitals, but have to pay for any medicine they use. The education arrangements weren’t clear. The women seemed to say most children didn’t go to school, but some were adopted by foreign foundations and raised in boarding schools outside the city. The women earn about 1,200-1,500 rupees per month making blankets for the government. They also earn from talking to tourists about their lives. They are not complaining: in fact there is much laughter and good feeling. They are happy to be together. Sayra is chubby, but the other women are thin as women can be.

The pavement dwellers live across the street from two very old Protestant churches dating back to the 1860s, the American Civil War and the glory days of the British Empire. The museum is almost as old. If it were possible to remove the cars, we could have been back in 19th-century London. The red brick museum with its barred windows could be part of a movie set for a retelling of the Jack the Ripper serial killings.

After our talk with Sayra, I came in the mornings to sit by the churches and watch the people rise and get ready for the day. They do it slowly giving each person their chance at the facilities. It’s ballet-like in a way, very peaceful.

The Communist Party ruled Calcutta and all of West Bengal for 32 years, before losing the recent statewide election. A veteran communist leader A.B. Bardham said in the May 16 issue of the Times of India that the defeat was due to the arrogance of the party leaders who lost touch with the poor people.

There are, as is obvious, many similarities with life in Metro Manila. Tens of thousands of our poor brothers and sisters curl up at night on mats or newspaper along our streets or in the parks. At six in the evening you see them cooking their rice and by seven or eight, they are in bed. Government treatment of these poor people is pretty much the same as it is in India. It is an open question whether the government here will also lose touch with its people.

* * *

The British Broadcasting Company spent a whole day filming along Estero de San Miguel, which flows near Malacañang. Paul Mason who headed the team was fascinated by the cohesive organization of the estero people and their determination to join with Palafox Associates to build permanent houses on the esteros. He told the people, “I am honored to be here with you.”

We admire the ordinary people of Egypt, Libya and Syria who hunger for freedom and a dignified life to the extent they risk their lives in revolt. Our poor possess the same God-given instincts. They want freedom, dignity and justice just as deeply.

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

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Well-Known Housing Right Advocate Died

June 1, 2011

Teodoro “Ted” Añana, a well-known housing right advocate and one of the founders of Urban Poor Associates (UPA), died on May 29 in the Philippine Lung Center, Quezon City. He suffered for several years from emphysema and other lung problems.

Ted served 40 years of his life in organizing the urban poor in the Philippines and Asia to attain land tenure, housing and basic services including jobs, health and education.

Denis Murphy, executive director of UPA said, “When he began working with the poor, there were no statistics about eviction and very few people were interested in studying the phenomenon. With Ted’s hard work he made evictions and demolitions a major issue in the country. Since 1992, a total of 600 stories about evictions were published by the Manila dailies through the work of Ted Añana and others at UPA.”

Also Ted with other UPA members helped educate 300,000 families about their housing rights, and assisted 510 communities in eviction crises. He is the main author of “What To Do If There Is A Demolition.” Some 10,000 copies of this pamphlet were printed over the year.

Somsook Boonyabancha, Secretary General of Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) said in a statement, “It is very sad to learn that Ted has passed away. He has been one of the key persons in the region working actively as a regional coordinator managing ACHR’s Regional Eviction Watch program for so many years. He fought for the housing rights of the poor and searched for ways to solve the problems of the poor. He got the attention and assistance from the government and larger development organizations with his patience and persistent manner.”

Ted is survived by his wife Connie, three sons and a daughter, Margarita.

Urban poor groups and NGOs will hold a vigil on the first day of Ted’s wake and the mass will be officiated by the running priest, Fr. Robert Reyes. At the vigil people groups will symbolize Ted’s dream of decent houses for the poor.

The 3-day wake will start on June 2, Thursday, 10 AM at Timothy Chapel, St. Peter Memorial Chapel, Tandang Sora, Quezon City. -30-

Ted's Photo Slideshow:

Below are recorded excerpts of past interviews with Ted Añana on a radio program called "Karitas at Maralita" (hosted by Jing Manipulanzona)-produced by Urban Poor Associates which upholds housing rights. The radio program airs every Saturday, 1:30PM to 2:30PM on Veritas 846.

2006, January -part 1 of 2

2006, January -part 2 of 2

2007, July 28 -reaction to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's SONA (at 1:47)

2007, September 29 -with international guests, excerpt 1 of 2 (at 01:05)

2007, September 29 -with international guests, excerpt 2 of 2 (at 07:44)

2008, March 4 -on World Habitat Day, excerpt 1 of 4 (at 09:35)

2008, March 4 -on World Habitat Day, excerpt 2 of 4 (at 11:28)

2008, March 4 -on World Habitat Day, excerpt 3 of 4 (at 03:10)

2008, March 4 -on World Habitat Day, excerpt 4 of 4 (0:00)

2011, January 29 interview

2011, March 3 -on proposed anti-squatting law

*To watch the video footage/photos of Teodoro Añana's funeral, click here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fires and violence

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:15:00 05/16/2011

TV VIEWERS had good reason to be shocked last month when they saw on their screens a pitched battle between government people and urban poor youth in Guadalupe Viejo, Makati. Nineteen people were injured, traffic on Edsa was partially stopped. The young people threw rocks the size of mangoes. They manufactured Molotov cocktails under the camera’s eye and fired them at the police. “How did we come to this?” the viewers might well say. “Isn’t this the country’s business center? It’s not Libya or Yemen.”

Such violence often begins with fires in urban poor areas that the government, national or local, wants cleared of poor families. Some observers of urban poor life claim they see a positive correlation between government desire to clear land and the fires, especially if the government’s efforts to remove families legally are stymied one way or another. I have heard ordinary people as far back as the martial law years in Tondo state they believed the government set the fires.

Fires are becoming as dangerous as evictions for poor people. Can the Commission on Human Rights or the Department of Justice look into the origins of these fires? It might also lead to better fire prevention.

Often the next step is that the government declares the burned-out site a “danger area,” to justify a demand that all families be removed from the area, whether their houses were burned or not. The government sometimes offers distant relocation as far off as Calauan, Laguna, 100 km from Makati.

The description of the burned-out site as a “danger area” has no legal implications. The words do not have the same meaning as they do in the Urban Development and Housing Act (RA 7279). The post-fire usage of the phrase simply states there is danger living in or near houses that have been weakened by fire. It does not do away with the need for the legal requirements of a thoroughgoing consultation with the people involved.

There is a great deal of cynicism involved in offering poor families a place in Calauan, Laguna. Gina Lopez of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission poured resources and her imagination into making Calauan a successful relocation area, but as of last year she admitted she was unable to provide the jobs needed. The cycle of urban poor life is all about work. They come to Manila to work. They live as near as they can to work. They resist relocation that is far from their work, and if they wind up without jobs in distant relocation centers, they will return to the city to work. There are not near enough jobs in Calauan. Is it fair to send poor families there?

If the government tries to bypass legal steps and force the issue of eviction there is liable to be violence. Violence has short-term advantages: it may stop eviction efforts, but it is doubtful it serves the good of the poor in the long run.

It doesn’t help the country’s image either. Investors may think if such trouble can happen in the prime business district of the country, what must it be like in far-off Mindanao or Visayas?

When it comes to discussions of violence, some measure of understanding should be given to ordinary men and women when they feel that the government instead of working to help them in a realistic way is harassing them. They may wonder what goals drive government and they may suspect the worst. What are they to think when the city gives them P3,000-P5,000 provided the family waives its legal rights to relocation?

Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo seems to have been able to help work out a peaceful and reasonable plan with the people. It can be done. The ordinary poor people are realistic and rarely seek more than fair treatment.

There are signs that local governments are more and more taking eviction matters into their own hands and departing from the law as explained in the Urban Development and Housing Act. Can the Commission on Human Rights on its own initiative look into this matter of fires and violence? Can the Department of Justice investigate?

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Past and Present Suffering

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:19:00 05/11/2011

PHNOM PENH—Despite its tragic past, Phnom Penh remains a lovely city with wide, tree-lined streets, non-invasive traffic, pastel-colored homes, and the small birds that fill the city with their chatter and song in the early mornings. Very much a part of this peaceful setting are the elderly monks walking along under the trees, barefoot and holding their umbrellas against the sun. The traffic moves at 20 kilometers per hour and there are no horns. I asked a Filipina living there, why the traffic went so slowly and she said it’s because of all the motorbikes: the car drivers’ fear they will injure the bikers if they go faster. In return, it seems, for this kindness the passenger tricycles run almost silently and the young women move along gracefully on their motor bikes. All such beauty goes unnoticed in Edsa’s chaos.

It might seem as if this city, which suffered terribly during the Pol Pot regime, had vowed to have a deep compassion for all its people, including the bikers and the poor. If we are compassionate in small things, we may learn to be compassionate in large matters, the people of Phnom Penh might have thought.

Many seem to have learned that lesson, but not all. The last of 4,000 poor families are now being forcibly ejected by the government and Chinese and local business interests from their homes around Boeungkak Lake. This lake, once a favorite recreation area, is filled now with dirt and sand. There will soon be luxury homes there. Right now it looks like the desolate areas near the ruined reactors of Japan.

Recently we met five women from the lake who will be evicted. They have 19 children among them and are indistinguishable from the women of Metro Manila who are also threatened with eviction—along the R-10 Road, the esteros, Manggahan Floodway, Lupang Arenda and other sites. The Cambodian women have the same fears as the Filipino women about their children’s schooling and family jobs. They don’t know for sure what will happen. It is not a pleasant sight to see real fear for their families in these mature hardworking women’s faces. Eviction brings back too easily the fears of the Pol Pot era.

Those were terrible times in Phnom Penh. I may have met the parents of these women in 1980 when I was able to visit Phnom Penh after the Vietnamese army in 1979 drove Pol Pot out of power. When I was there with Fr. Jorge Anzorena and Francisco “Bimbo” Fernandez the people were returning from the rural areas, “the killing fields” of Cambodia. They had been driven there by Pol Pot, and had suffered terribly. Many were traumatized by their experience. We were told not to talk to people about development, even about cooperatives, since such words sounded like words Pol Pot had used. It seemed the people were half afraid that the hated dictator might just be sitting just around the corner listening to their conversations.

Manila has had its own share of suffering. Some 100,000 Filipinos died in the last battle for Intramuros. A small shrine dedicated to the memory of these people stands within easy walking distance of the Manila Cathedral. Compassion for the poor is very often absent; the government still evicts families in an illegal and often violent manner.

Compassion is an Asian virtue. It is cultivated in a special way by Buddhism, but is also at the heart of Christianity.

People who have suffered greatly like the people of Hiroshima, Warsaw, Rwanda, Intramuros or Cambodia should be respected and allowed to get on with their lives in peace. They have suffered enough. To continue to treat them poorly is a form of profanity, for God has taken its place among them in their suffering.

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

PRESS STATEMENT: Demolitions and forced evictions in Laperal, Makati, appear to constitute breaches of international law

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) strongly condemns the violence that marred recent attempts to demolish the homes of about 1,000 families situated within the Laperal Compound of Makati City, Manila, on 28th April, 2011. The demolitions were ordered by the Mayor of Makati after the Makati City Government classified the informal settlement a danger zone following a fire that occurred in the area 8 days previously. Residents who attempted to resist the demolitions were met with force. The practice of forced eviction constitutes a gross violation of human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing. COHRE is deeply concerned about reports that State officials and the police may be responsible for such serious human rights abuses.

The situation is reflective of an alarming trend whereby residents of urban poor areas affected by fires are subsequently prevented from returning to their homes and forcibly evicted, without provision of alternative housing or sufficient compensation, further aggravating the losses already encountered. COHRE calls for an urgent and independent investigation to be conducted into all attempts at forced evictions following fires in urban poor areas in Manila to ensure that all those responsible for human rights violations are held fully accountable.

Based on the information COHRE received, the demolitions of April 28th were in violation of numerous national and international human rights obligations of the Government of the Philippines. No court order was issued sanctioning the demolitions and evictions, and no consultation, negotiation, or advance warning was provided to affected residents. Residents attempting to resist eviction to protect their homes were met with a violent response. Government resources were used to forcibly evict residents living on privately owned land. Adequate housing has not been provided to those who were forced to leave the area, and compensation provided was not sufficient to enable those affected to live in adequate housing elsewhere in the city.

Where those affected by evictions are unable to provide for themselves, the Government is obliged to take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available. COHRE calls for an on-site socialized housing scheme to be provided for affected residents of the fire and subsequent demolitions in Laperal, and for alternative adequate housing to be provided to those families who volunteer to be relocated.

COHRE strongly condemns the use of violence against residents and particularly against women. Violence against persons who try to protect their homes against illegal forced evictions breaches a number of international human rights standards the Philippines are obliged to follow, including the right to security of the person guaranteed under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
As a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Government of the Philippines, including all State organs, is obliged to respect, protect and fulfill the right to adequate housing, as guaranteed under Article 11(1) ICESCR and to refrain from the practice of forced evictions. Forced evictions can only be justified in exceptional circumstances, after genuine consultation with those affected, provision of legal redress, and must never cause homelessness. Such exceptional circumstances generally only exist where evictions are necessary in the public interest, but not where land is sought by private developers. Even in those rare cases where eviction is considered justified, it must be carried out in strict compliance with international human rights law and in accordance with general principles of reasonableness and proportionality.
Authorities are obliged to give options for adequate alternative accommodation or sufficient compensation that enable those affected to find adequate accommodation elsewhere. Adequate alternative accommodation or compensation must enable those affected to live in adequate housing conditions and to continue their livelihoods with as little disruption as possible.

These provisions were not adhered to. The actions of April 28th in Makati therefore appear to constitute violations of international law.

The Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (RA 7279) lays down conditions which must be fulfilled before evictions and/or demolitions are carried out. The rehabilitation and development of Makati, or any other area of Manila should not proceed unless and until the basic human rights accorded to the urban poor guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution are protected. RA 7279 states that eviction or demolition may only be allowed under the following exceptional situations: when persons or entities occupy danger areas such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways, and other public places such as sidewalks, roads, parks, and playgrounds. This provision is clearly directed at publicly owned spaces. Privately owned property such as Laperal cannot be designated as a danger zone area under this provision.

RA 7279 also states that there must be a court order for eviction and demolition. RA 7279 requires that those whose houses are subject to demolition should be notified in advance of eviction. It also compels consultation with and relocation of the affected citizens. Without compliance, there must be no evictions or demolitions. Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights.

These provisions were not adhered to. The actions carried out on April 28th in Makati therefore appear to constitute breaches of national law, including the 1987 Constitution and RA 7279.

Everyone has a right to the city, thus demolition of informal settlements in the city must either be stopped, or the poor provided adequate housing in the city. The poor living in the city must be given security of land tenure or, at least, a secure and affordable humane housing. Urban development planning should consider the right of the urban poor to live in the city. This includes long term renters, who must not be deprived of their human rights and who must not be excluded from accessing restitution to housing rights violations, including the right to adequate housing at relocation sites.

Constitutional limits on power, a key feature of democracy, requires adherence to the rule of law. When exceptional circumstances dictate that evictions should take place, due process must be followed. The Constitution of the Philippines, Republic Act No. 7279 and a number of binding international treaties all provide for minimum standards regarding evictions and relocations that must be adhered to.

The rule of law is the supreme check on political power used against people's rights. In light of the above, COHRE urges the Government of the Philippines to ensure that any future evictions are carried out only in exceptional circumstances, only when absolutely necessary, and in full accordance with national and international law.

For further details, please contact: Ben Rutledge, Ben@cohre.org ,

Manila, Philippines
May 10th, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

International Housing Rights Group to Conduct Investigation on the Laperal Eviction


The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) an international human rights organization based in Geneva, Switzerland sent legal officer Ben Rutledge to conduct investigation on the violent eviction that happened in Laperal Compound last April 28.

The fact finding will start tomorrow, May 11 at 10:00 AM. COHRE Legal Officer Ben Rutledge will be accompanied by Urban Poor Associates’ Task Force Anti-Eviction team.

COHRE says, “The use of violence against residents and particularly against women, who try to protect their homes against illegal forced evictions breaches a number of international human rights standards the Philippines are obliged to follow, including the right to security of the person guaranteed under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”

Date: MAY 11, 2011 (WEDNESDAY)

Time: 10:00 AM

Venue: 4050 Bernardino st. Guadalupe Viejo, Makati City (LAPERAL COMPOUND)

Please Cover.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Commentary : The ‘Pact of the Catacombs’

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: April 20, 2011

AS VATICAN Council II drew to a close in 1965, 40 bishops met at night in the St. Domitilla Catacombs outside Rome. In that holy place of Christian dead they celebrated the Eucharist and signed a document that expressed their personal commitments as bishops to the ideals of the Council. Later another 500 bishops signed the document. Forty six years later, Google knows about this Pact of the Catacombs. But most Catholics I talked to, including Jesuits and a person working in a religious news agency, knew nothing about it.

The bishops were led by Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil, one of the widely respected 20th-century
champions of justice and peace. Cardinal Roger Etchagaray, who later served as honorary president of the Pontifical Council, Justice and Peace, also signed.

The content of the Pact is not as dramatic as its setting in the catacombs. It spells out in some concrete detail how the bishops intended to live Vatican II as bishops.
The bishops promised to live as ordinary people in matters of housing, food and means of transport. They will avoid any appearance of being rich men, especially in matters of dress. They will not own real estate or bank accounts in their own name, but will place everything in the name of the diocese or of charities and social works.
They asked to be addressed simply as Father, and not with titles which signify prestige, such as, Eminence, Excellency or Monsignor.

They will, whenever possible, entrust the financial and material administration of their dioceses to competent lay people. “We wish to become less administrators and more pastors and apostles.” They promised they will not pamper the rich in order to get their donations.

“We will dedicate whatever is necessary of our time, reflection, heart, means etc. to the apostolic and pastoral service of people and groups of workers and of the economically weak and underdeveloped, without prejudice to the other people and groups in the diocese.”

They promised to do their utmost so that “those responsible for government and public services make, and put into practice, laws, structures and social institutions required by justice and charity, equality and the harmonic and holistic development of all men and women, and by this means bring about the advent of another social order, worthy of the sons and daughters of mankind and of God.”

They promised to help poor dioceses around the world and “will demand that the plans of international organizations no longer manufacture proletarian (poor) nations in an ever richer world, but permit the poor to overcome their misery.”

They committed themselves to share their lives with their brothers and sisters in Christ and to re-examine their lives with them. They will try to be more present and welcoming, and to be open to all whatever their religion. The bishops promised to publicize this Pact on returning home and asked for the people’s understanding, collaboration and prayer.

* * *

When I showed the Pact to others, there were different reactions. One man wondered why the document wasn’t more widely discussed over the last 46 years. He thought someone must have blocked the distribution of the Pact. “It was too radical. It would have upset the Church,” he said.

Another man thought that many bishops had tried to observe the Pact. He had noticed a difference.

A woman, a former sister, thought the bishops promised too much. She said they should have just promised to get out of their residences, walk the streets of their dioceses and talk to the ordinary people. Everything else would have followed, she said.

What do readers think of this long hidden document?

The Catacomb Pact against pomp and ceremony in the Church

On November 16, 1965, close to the end of Vatican II, around 40 conciliar Bishops met at the
Catacombs of St. Domitila to sign a semi-secret pact intended to do away with the richness, pomp, and
ceremony in the Catholic Church. The names of the Bishops present are not known.

References to this pact were made here and there in works on the conciliar "Poor Church," under the suggestive title of thePact of the Catacombs. The only place we have found its complete text transcribed is in the Chronicle of Vatican II by Boaventura Kloppenburg, O.F.M. He titled the document Pact of the Servant and Poor Church.

We select the highlighted parts in the original to bring to our readers' attention.

At right is a picture of the frontispiece of volume V of Kloppenburg's Second Vatican Council; at right below, photocopies

of the Portuguese original text. At left below, we present our translation.
We, Bishops meeting at Vatican Council II, being aware of the deficiencies of our life of poverty according to the Gospel, encouraged by one another in this initiative in which each one wants to avoid singularity and presumption [that is to say, each one wants to be anonymous], .... commit ourselves to the following:

1. Regarding housing, foodand means of transportationand everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the common average level of our people.

2. We renounce forever wealth and its appearance, especially in clothing (expensive materials and brilliant colors), and insignia of precious metals (such things should, in effect, be evangelical).

3. We will not possess either movable or immovable properties, or bank accounts in our names. If it is necessary to possess some property we will place it under the name of our diocese or other social or charitable works.

4. Whenever it is possible we will confide the financial and material administration of our diocese to a commission of competent laymen conscious of their apostolic role, given that we should be pastors and apostles rather than administrators.

5. We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor ...). We prefer to be called by the evangelical name of Father.

6. In our comportment and social relations, we will avoid everything that can appear to confer privileges, priorities, or even a preference whatsoever to the rich and powerful (for example: banquets given or received, special places in religious services) ....

9. Conscious of the demands of justice and charity and their mutual relations, we will seek to transform the works of "beneficence" into social works based on charity and justice to assist all [that is, not just Catholics] in all their exigencies, as a humble servant of the proper public facilities ....

(Boaventura Kloppenburg, "Pact of the Servant and Poor Church," in Concilio Vaticano II, Petropolis: Vozes, 1966 pp. 526-527).

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