Sunday, January 30, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:45:00 01/17/2011
IN A long-delayed meeting President Aquino and the urban poor chose to attack urban poverty and the many problems of our cities in a collegial way through discussion and common sense, as collaborators rather than as combatants. Government and the poor have more often than not seen each other as opponents, or at least as obstacles in the way of each other’s plans.
The President agreed with the request of the poor for a three- to four-month moratorium on all evictions on public and private land. He and the poor believe the moratorium will create the peaceful milieu in which a committee, appointed by the President with representatives from government, civil society and the Church, can seek solutions to the many problems of evictions the poor brought to the President’s attention. Over 350,000 families in the past six months or so have received written or oral notice they will be evicted. With an average size of five members per family, some 1,750,000 persons are under threat.
For five months the poor people tried to arrange this meeting. They began to feel the President had forgotten their concerns, though they had signed a Covenant with him during the election campaign. On the matter of evictions the President had promised in the Covenant to give decent relocation for every family evicted, and to do everything possible to relocate the people in the city itself and not in far off areas, such as Calauan, Laguna, 115 kilometers away, where there are few if any jobs. In the first few months of President Aquino’s term of office there was no change from the old ways of evicting families, and the people wondered if the promised changes would ever come. They now believe they and government are on the right track.
The problems presented to the President are of two types: one set concerns the concrete eviction threats mentioned above that need solution as soon as possible. The second type concerns the long-term land and housing policies. Government, for example, must decide on its strategic priorities in the use of urban land. Will these uses include homes and jobs for the poor as well as for infrastructure, business centers, industry and homes and recreation centers for the well-off?
Such policy questions can best be answered with the help of urban planners, architects, social scientists, moral leaders, such as the Church, and representatives of the different stakeholders. Research is needed, including a better knowledge than we have now of what is happening and succeeding in countries around the world which have similar problems.
The poor have asked that the committee include, in addition to officials of the government’s housing agencies, Cabinet secretaries Corazon “Dinky” Soliman and Jesse Robredo, experts such as Architect Felino Palafox Jr., Dr. Esteban Godilano and Mary Racelis, the Mapua Institute of Technology architects and engineers, the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning, the Church and other moral leaders and civil society leaders. The poor suggest the committee choose its own chairperson.
Eviction is not the only problem the poor face. They need legal light and water connections, better clinics and schools (shouldn’t the children of the poor have the best teachers, for example?), help in finding work, land proclamations and housing loans adapted to the abilities of the poor to repay. They need an understanding government and an understanding elite.
Is it naïve to hope this cooperative approach proposed by the poor and approved by the President will succeed? Perhaps it won’t succeed fully, but that only means other new approaches are required. What is certain is that it makes no sense to go on trying to solve the growing problems presented by millions of poor, unskilled and unhappy families in our cities without some form of systematic planning that takes all aspects of problems into account. Our present policies haven’t worked. Government cannot ignore, mistreat, cajole or abuse its urban poor, now 20 percent of the country’s total population, and expect to have a peaceful harmonious nation. The poor won’t disappear. They will continue to sit on the doorsteps of the powerful demanding change.
Perhaps farmers, industrial workers, tribal people, the aged and other sectors can find similar planning arrangements with the President. He has shown a willingness to engage in more democratic forms of decision making.
The well-being of the entire country depends in great part on the President remaining close to the poor in these planning efforts. In turn he will be supported by the poor in his efforts at curbing corruption and building a nation based on social justice. It is difficult to see how he can succeed in these tasks without the poor.
(Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org)
Monday, January 10, 2011
By Denis Murphy, Manila
The Philippines’ urban poor finally had their long-awaited meeting with President Benigno Aquino two days before Christmas and found it was worth the wait.
Since July, when Aquino came into office, the urban poor have sought a meeting with the president to clarify the government’s position on the demolition of shanties, relocation of slum dwellers, social housing and basic services for the poor.
A press report on Dec. 15 suggested that the president had forgotten all about the poor despite an agreement he had with urban poor leaders during the elections. Aquino signed a “Covenant with the Urban Poor” as one of his campaign promises.
The Dec. 23 meeting between the president and 10 representatives of the poor and key government housing agencies resulted in a promise that the government will declare a four-month moratorium on evictions from public and private lands. The poor said the time was needed for government agencies and the poor to come to a consensus on how the issues in the “covenant” will be implemented.
President Aquino also agreed to set up a committee with representatives from civil society, the urban poor, the government and the Church. It will analyse the situation and make recommendations to solve the issues.
A main point of contention is the relocation of people evicted from their homes. The president vowed that no family on public or private land can be evicted without decent relocation. He also agreed that relocation of displaced residents will be “in-city” and not in distant areas where there are no jobs.
Felino Palafox Jr., head of one of the country’s foremost architecture firms, told the meeting that urban poor dwellers need not be removed from canals because there are ways to address access to the city’s waterways that will be beneficial to both the government and residents.
There are more than five million urban poor people in Metro Manila, where the total population is estimated by the Asian Development Bank at 14 million.
Urban poor leaders believe the government will have to attend to the immediate problems of the poor, like imminent eviction, while looking for long-term solutions to the problem, including providing jobs for the poor, improving education and ensuring good health.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the social action secretariat of the Catholic bishops’ conference, for instance, has made attempts to train parish committees to help address the problems of urban poor communities.
The urban poor representatives who met with President Aquino found him knowledgeable of the problems people face. Results, however, will depend on seriousness of the people he appointed to address the issues of the poor.