Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy children, hungry children

by Denis Murphy

Fr. James Donelan, former president of Ateneo de Manila, once said at a meeting of Jesuits that when he arrived in the Philippines as a young man, he fell in love with the country’s sunsets and children. The children are as handsome and pretty as any in the world, but no other children can match their friendliness and sense of humor. They somehow see the funny things about all of us. It is painful, therefore, to see a picture of these children on the front page of this paper begging, with their hands out, for food behind a sign that reads “Help us here.”

It’s not just the children of Compostela Valley that are at risk. There are at least one million children in Metro Manila’s slums, in congested and unhealthy housing, often malnourished, and studying in overcrowded classrooms without sufficient textbooks that guarantee a life of poverty. The same can be said of poor children in the rural areas, on mountains and in our fishing villages. The abuse of our children is on a catastrophic scale. It is a form of genocide.

This situation need not continue. Children are resilient; they respond vividly to good care and teaching.

We saw this happen with 30 young boys and girls from Metro Manila’s urban poor areas who starred in a recent play of Peta titled “Maryosep.” Peta had tryouts in September in the poor areas. The children that came were like all poor children: Some were shy; the girls seemed more athletic than girls elsewhere, but were just as pretty. Three months later they appeared on stage, singing and dancing before big crowds. They told their story in song and dance, and they were spellbinding. They had become poised, confident young people. After the final show they mixed with the audience made up of college students, professionals, and the rich and influential friends of the poor. Here, too, they shone. It warmed our hearts to see them so happy and confident.

There are other examples: Sr. Felicitas de Lima runs a home in Iriga for 145 orphans (true orphans, children from families too poor to feed them, the children of Negritos living on Mount Iriga, disturbed children, and sexually abused children). Almost single-handedly, she and a small group of young sisters provide love, food, education and a true home for these children of the poor. The children care for one another; they all learn a marketable skill. They finish high school and go to college. They learn how to raise pigs, and plant fruit trees and vegetables in the most modern ways. They pray together and play together and help one another, and smile and sing. Being there among the children for a few days is a taste of the peace and camaraderie that life should have for all.

Sister Itat’s center has a motto: “We make useless things useful.” It is inelegant, but the sisters really do just that: They begin with the poorest and least promising of rural children and fashion them into fine young adults.

A tutorial center in Baseco run by the Urban Poor Associates for fifth- and sixth-graders takes only students with grades averaging below 80, but recently saw one of its graduates win first honors in high school.

We will be able to save this generation of our young people if we put our minds to it. It is Christmas time. Surprising things have happened at Christmas. It is a time for out-of-the-box thinking. Wasn’t the thinking behind the first Christmas the greatest out-of-the-box thinking ever?

December in the Holy Land is very cold. The stable or stable-cave where Joseph and Mary ended up was cold and had the rancid smell of animals. We stand to the side in the dim light and watch the young mother nurse her baby. God became a poor child. In the light of that vision, let us walk with God along Roxas Boulevard.

When God sees the vast stretches of land reclaimed in Manila Bay, does He say, “What a great place this can be for a gambling casino paradise”? Does He plan for luxury housing surrounding the casinos? Or does He think, “Here is a place where I can settle my poor people”? And not just the impoverished families, but also the outcasts, the physically incapacitated, the blind and deaf, the despondent—the same people Jesus sought out in His lifetime. On the reclaimed land He sees top-flight schools, swimming pools where the children’s bodies glisten in the sun and water, athletic fields, and schools for special and gifted children.

When He sees an empty lot, does He think, “There’s a great place for a mall or a parking lot”? Or does He imagine a playground and a small park where the old people can sit in the shade of trees with one another, or, as Bishop Julio Labayen, now in retirement, told us recently, “I sit in the mornings looking at the trees; I see God in them”?

When God sees a family asleep at night, huddled near their kariton in the tall grass along the wall of the V. Luna Hospital, does He just think something must be done about the poor families and walk on, or does He go over, put a blanket over the children, and make sure they are not too near the street where they may be hit by a car?

We can learn from Bethlehem the value of our children.

Unfortunately, our children are at risk. Christmas tells us we must do a better job of caring for them. Can we at least end malnutrition among them?

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Friday, December 7, 2012

Staging Urban Poor Search for Decent Homes

News Release

About 50 urban poor actors/actresses on stage unfold their lives and dreams for decent housing. December 7, Urban Poor Associates (UPA) and Community Organizer Multiversity (COM) together with Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) held their annual Panunuluyan of the urban poor in the form of a play entitled, “Maryosep”.

Since 1987, the group celebrated panunuluyan through mass mobilizations of poor people. This year instead of marching in the streets and knocking at the doors of government offices, churches and private institutions, they decided that a play was a better form of communicating the struggles of the poor and their on-site housing proposals.

“Maryosep” is the story of Joseph and Mary’s search for a place where Jesus could be born. This time the people playing Joseph and Mary look at poor families’ housing and wonder how they can stay even for a short time in such poverty.

Maryosep has three major stories connected by three gays who accept the pregnant Mary and Joseph in their community. The first act is the story of teenagers in urban poor area. Ella is the main character who was asked to watch out for the relief goods of a friend’s lola, but found it was stolen under her care. She saw the thieves but didn’t do anything until she realized how valuable the relief goods were to her Lola’s friend. Through her help the thieves were put in jail.

The second story is about the children of poor and rich community entitled, “ Kabilang Bakod.” Our urban poor child age 9 and Milcah Wynn Nacion, a GMA artist, lead the play. It lets us see how different the lives of these poor and rich children are, but no matter the class differences, friendship can bind the two small children together.

The last story is the search of a teacher for a poor student named Hope, who was very bright and wanted to be a successful career woman, but a few months before the graduation this student suddenly disappeared. The teacher tries to find her in the Fish Port Area and a relocation site. She finds out about a violent demolition that gobbled down the dreams of Hope, and she eventually will end up to be like her Sister Aling Hing, marrying at a young age and doomed to poverty.

Part of Teacher Faith’s monologue, “A person doesn’t need to be a legal expert and researcher to understand what these poor families live through. We only have to be human.”

After the play, Atty. Leni Robredo and Secretary Mar Roxas presented the Urban Poor Person of the Year Award to architects who devoted pro bono service to help urban poor communities design their homes.

The awardees are Architect Felino “Jun” Palafox who initiated the on-site housing design for the estero dwellers; Michael Roy Cuerpo helped Doña Imelda community in their on-site housing; TAO Pilipinas, a non-government organization that assists urban poor in their efforts to find better housing, and Mapua Institute of Technology, School of Architecture, Industrial Design and the Built Enviroment, one of the country’s finest schools of architecture, assisted four esteros in Manila and Baseco in the full implementation of the project.

In parting, Alice Murphy said, “We appeal to the President to implement this project this December. This will be the best gift he can give to hundreds of urban poor families hoping for the realization of this housing project.” -30-

Monday, December 3, 2012

The triple-jump fish

By Denis Murphy

  The fish in the frying pan began to worry as he felt the pan grow warm. When it was hot, he said to himself, “This is not a good place for me,” and, gathering his strength, jumped out of the pan and into the fire. He quickly realized the fire was also not a place for him. Again he gathered his strength—it was harder this time—and jumped from the fire all the way to the edge of the estero. “Now I’m safe,” he said. But the people there told him no one is allowed within three meters of the water, and both people and fish found that they would be sent to Calauan 100 kilometers away. The fish quickly made one last effort and landed in the refreshing waters of the estero, newly cleaned by the people living on the banks. They called him the “3-jump fish.”

This is a parable about the urban poor. Like the fish they tried to improve their lives by jumping—including the advocacy, lobbying, rallies and prayers that make change possible. First they struggled to “jump” from distant relocation to “in-city or near-city” relocation, where they would be near the jobs they had. This effort bore fruit in the “Covenant with the Urban Poor” in which President Aquino promised: “We will end illegal forced evictions. We will not allow any public or private authority to evict families and leave them homeless in the street. The government must provide decent relocation, near-city or in-city, if possible, quality housing, adequate basic services and jobs.”

Now poor people once threatened with eviction can build permanent homes along the esteros and rivers where they used to live in dangerous conditions. All is not well, of course. The fish went from the frying pan into the fire; the poor went from their old relatively cost-free lives into the middle-class world of high costs for land and construction. The poor can’t afford these costs, and neither, it seems, can society afford the huge subsidies necessary to house the poor in the city if land and construction costs remain as they are.

The least expensive unit in a five-story walkup building (called “medium-rise building”) is about P400,000. Poor families say they can pay about P500 a month. At that rate, setting aside interest rates, it will take the poor family 66 years to amortize the unit. And then there is the land cost. Even if the government manages to assemble the necessary subsidy funds for the urban poor, thousands of other families—teachers, policemen and soldiers, among them—will want the same subsidies. “What about us?” they’ll demand. Such a reaction is understandable. Less understandable is the negative reaction of many national and local officials to in-city relocation, and the age-old bias of the middle class against the poor.

The poor’s first jump was a step forward in many ways—it safeguarded jobs—but it was not the total solution. Where will they jump next? They will need to land in a place that has radically different land and construction policies. One example may be a policy requiring all government-owned or -controlled land that has lain idle for more than 10 years to be given to house the poor. There is a similar requirement in the 1992 Urban Development and Housing Act (Udha), but the turnover to the poor is left to the President’s discretion. A proposed amendment to Udha is that the turnover be automatic.

A good illustration of the usefulness of this policy is the dilemma involving 87 hectares of idle government-owned land in Quezon City, where thousands of poor families seek a small piece of land for their home. Mayor Herbert Bautista told a group of World Bank and Social Housing Finance Corp. people that he had tried to get this land for social housing, to no avail. The land is controlled by the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. Why can’t it be turned over to housing? Some 25,000 poor families will benefit.

The new site should also be covered by an effective expropriation policy that can expertly bring about deals, including land sharing, with government agencies and private owners, and go after idle land like a hungry lion looking for his dinner.

In the Covenant’s “in-city or near-city” relocation, the operative phrase may soon be “near-city.” For now the task is to provide concrete examples of in-city relocation so that it becomes a real alternative in all discussions and planning. Perhaps the next site for the poor is a place that interprets the phrase “near-city” in a very positive manner.

What about construction costs? A five-story walkup will still cost P400,000 per unit. Perhaps it is time to let the poor build their own homes under professional supervision. Starter homes can be built for as low as P20,000 per family. It is a solution that requires only marginally more land than a series of five-story walkups. Houses of one or two stories on a small piece of land are what the poor really want. The search for land must intensify.

An attempt at upgrading a poor community through starter homes is underway in Baseco, Manila.

After these two great leaps, the poor will be in decent housing near their work. Will they be happy? Not completely; after all, they are human. They need better jobs. Now they are scavengers, vendors, pedicab drivers, casual workers, unskilled construction workers. They want better retraining for themselves, better schools for their children, and better health services. They will want their own political party. They must, therefore, jump one more time into a society where they are treated fairly and where their voice is respected.

There is an Olympic athletic event called the triple jump: It consists of a hop, a skip and a jump. It is recommended for all groups of people, not only the urban poor. A good athlete can cover over 50 feet in such a leap. The world record holder is Jonathan Edwards of Britain, with a jump of 18.29 meters.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

‘Blessed’ Jesse Robredo

By Denis Murphy

9:12 pm
Sunday, November 18th, 2012   Debate in the Catholic Church today is mostly about the proper understanding of the Second Vatican Council. We can discuss these matters theologically, though that is the most abstract of approaches and sometimes the most puzzling.

There are more concrete ways to seek the meaning of Vatican II. We can, for example, ask what type of saints will be canonized if the Council’s teachings are fully implemented. Will the Church continue to canonize persons such as the recently honored St. Pedro Calungsod, or will it look more to people like the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo?

We have been steeped in Vatican II’s teachings for 50 years. We know more about the modern world that is in great part indifferent to Christian beliefs than the bishops who attended Vatican II in 1962-1965. If we thoughtfully search for saints for our times, we can almost certainly clarify the type of man or woman needed by the Church.

Will the Church canonize brave young people like Pedro who know nothing of our modern world and little of their own world, or will it honor mature men and women of this age who have mastered the modern world’s sciences, systems, technologies and disciplines for good ends and still possess a heart and a mind for our traditional faith, and a mind and a heart for the poor? Will it seek out men and women who can show in their own lives both the achievements of this world and the awareness in the end that there are just God, the poor and those who live as the poor?

We need both types of saints, of course, now and in the future. But of which do we have greater need if we are to transform the modern world?

I knew Jesse Robredo for 35 years. Many knew him better than I. We were friends. I wrote articles about him. One was titled “An organized people and an astute mayor,” and it was intended to praise his ability to work with organized poor people and turn a small sleepy town into a bustling modern city without losing its old cultural strengths. I worked closely with him on the problem of housing urban poor people over the last two years. I certainly didn’t know his personal spiritual life as his confessors and his wife knew him. But I’ve listened to people whom I admire and who knew him well. They tell us a great deal.

His wife, Leni, for example, said in an interview in this paper that every time Jesse came home from trips around the country he went as soon as possible to the Peñafrancia Shrine to report to Our Lady about the things that had happened to him. His life as secretary of the interior brought him into the middle of treachery, betrayal and danger, but it also brought him into the homes of the very poor, where he sat like any other visitor and appreciated the snacks that the poor offered. No Cabinet officer worked harder than Jesse or took on more dangerous tasks.

When I mentioned the idea of this column to one of my friends, he said: “Miracles, Denis, it’s all about miracles.” There are no physical miracles that I know of, but here is an incident that sets one wondering.

A friend of Jesse’s who held a high government position was aware of corruption in his office. He was reluctant to be a “whistle-blower” for many personal reasons, and then he visited Jesse’s grave near the Peñafrancia Shrine. He said that as he stood there he became aware that Jesse was urging him to do what was right. The friend weighed Jesse’s words of advice and decided to speak up. He said he immediately felt very happy. He did speak out. A miracle? A sort of miracle perhaps that may be much valued in the modern world?

If ever, Jesse would be the first happily married man with a loving wife and children to be canonized in centuries. Wouldn’t that speak to our modern world? He talked constantly by cell phone with his family. They lived in the same simple two-story home they lived in during his first term as mayor of Naga, 1988-1992.

I have been especially impressed by the affection that retired Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres (Naga City) has shown for Jesse. The archbishop has been one of the modern pillars of the Philippine Church. In the past he often appeared as a rather stern and conservative person, but when I heard his talk at the end of Jesse’s funeral, I was deeply touched: He was a father mourning for his son, I thought.

Lawyer Angel Ojastro, who worked with Jesse for many years, told me this story. He took charge of the last arrangements for Jesse in Naga, according to the wishes of Jesse’s wife. He waited one night at the Archbishop’s House for Jesse’s body to be brought there for the wake. He found that the archbishop was still up.

“Go to bed, Excellency, I’m here. I’ll take care of him,” Angel said. He knew the archbishop had painfully bad knees and was sick in many other ways. “Go to bed, Excellency.” The archbishop refused. They both waited until almost 1 a.m. Angel repeated the phrase that was in my head: “[The archbishop] was like a father waiting for his son.”

If such a learned and insightful churchman as Archbishop Legaspi could show such love and respect for a politician—they had been mayor and archbishop in the same small city for 18 years—there was probably nothing in Jesse’s public life that the archbishop hadn’t heard about, nothing that would diminish his admiration. The archbishop held Jesse in such high respect to the end, which should make us wonder once again about Jesse Robredo’s true value.

Maybe someone should introduce his cause for canonization. Archbishop Legaspi, perhaps? It seems a step toward the world of the future.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. [].

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Seeking Equality

By Denis Murphy

Philippine Daily Inquirer
8:19 pm
Thursday, November 8th, 2012   TO TALK of the poor in the United States is apparently bad politics. During the past presidential campaign, neither President Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney used the word “poor.” The reason seems to be that Americans were taught by former President Ronald Reagan and others that there is a good chance poor people who receive welfare payments, including widows and single mothers, may be swindlers. The suspicion spreads from welfare recipients to cover all poor people. Reagan talked of a so-called “Welfare Queen” who lived in Detroit—if I remember correctly—and had amassed cars, houses and jewelry as a welfare recipient. He never produced the woman.

American politicians talk now of the “middle class.” Obama is described by his own people as “the defender of the middle class.” As a result, I believe, his campaign speeches lacked fire and integrity, because he didn’t talk of the poor and suffering Americans he knows, including a great number of his fellow Afro-American people. It’s hard to feel passionate when you talk of the poor as “those who wish to enter the middle class,” which he did in the first debate. The historical weight of the poor people and their suffering, their central role in Scripture and their struggles to have a better life all vanish.

Romney, for his part, appeared to have lost interest in the economically lower 47 percent of Americans. This is a long way from the Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and Republican President Richard M. Nixon, who all backed the “war on poverty” of the 1960s-1970s. The United States is moving away from traditions of fair play and compassion.

Another word no longer heard in American political debates is “inequality.” The Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 focused the nation’s attention on the great and growing gap between the incomes of the top 1 percent of the working population and the remaining 99 percent. Data on this gap are still coming in: The Los Angeles Times reported recently (Sept. 12) that the present halting recovery in the United States “pushed to a new high the income gap between the country’s richest and poorest citizens.” For a time Obama spoke of this gap and called for fairness, but he soon got off that subject when his political foes pounced on him, accusing him of “class warfare” and being “a socialist.” Observers from other countries may wonder how a democracy like the United States can have a serious election campaign without talking about inequality of income and the inequality of political power to which it invariably leads. On the just concluded US election campaign, Al Jazeera News reported that the top 1 percent of the United States’ richest persons donate more to the presidential campaigns than the 150 million poorest people. What happens to democracy?

All Filipino politicians talk of the poor here, but I don’t believe any major political figure has talked of inequality in income between the richest and poorest and of narrowing the gap, though the rate of inequality of income measured by the Gini Curve is as great here as in the United States. China is now as bad as the United States in this matter. The same question must be asked here: “Can we have serious political discussion in the Philippines if people do not examine income inequality and work for greater equality and fairness?”

Some of my friends have told me that such a discussion will eventually be needed, but for the present it may be wiser to stick with a very simple work plan for the economy, such as President Aquino’s anticorruption strategy, at least until the economy gets its legs under it in a few years. But the trouble with this caution is that the economic pie grows more unequal as it increases in size.

What to do? Perhaps we can begin with one or two dramatic gestures, actions or resolutions that teach the value of moving toward greater equality and actually do some concrete good for the poor.

A visitor from Brazil told us recently that that country’s former president, “Lula” da Silva, once ordered that for every sum of money given for infrastructure, another amount equal to 2 percent of that infrastructure money be given to help the poor. It doesn’t sound like very much—only 2 percent—but in reality 2 percent of the country’s infrastructure funds would be a great deal of money and would do wonderful things for the poor. Such a practice teaches people that the poor need and deserve more than bare survival. It is compassionate giving. It is on top of money already budgeted for the poor. Maybe President Aquino can do something similar here. It would teach the values needed for democracy and narrow the income gap.

Great amounts of money will be spent on flood control infrastructure from now to 2035 under the government’s new flood control project. Can the President order that an amount equivalent to 2 percent of that figure be given to the poor? This 2 percent will be in addition to the money already allotted to them for resettlement. It can be used to improve schools and medical services for all poor people, create public work programs, enhance poor people’s diets, etc. The President can describe it as a small step toward a more just and fair Philippines. A small step for the President, a great step for all poor men, women and children, and for the country.

Can he also order that labor-intensive methods of construction be used? The International Labor Organization claims that the number of people employed will increase by 25 percent if we do so.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates [].

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

UP-ALL Consultation on Flood Management Master Plan

Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.          Telefax: 4264118          Tel.: 4264119 / 4267615
Ref:  Princess Asuncion      Mobile phone: 09081967450

09 October 2012. In line with the celebration of World Habitat Month, Urban Poor Alliance (UP-ALL) held a forum on the new government flood control master plan on Tuesday at the Audio-Visual Room of the Social Development Complex, Ateneo De Manila University Campus.

Engr. Lydia Aguilar, Technical Project Coordinator and Director Patrick Gatan, Head of Major Flood Control Projects of Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) explained the plan. World Bank and Australian Aid, funder of the Flood control master plan were also represented. Professionals in housing and urban planning also took part in the event. Most of the 120 participants were urban poor leaders and NGOs working with the urban poor.

The flood control master plan will be one of the most expensive public works of the administration and it will involve relocating thousands of urban poor families in the course of implementing the plan.

UP-ALL a nationwide organization composed of POs, including riverside settlers and support NGOs, has been talking with the government, notable the Late Secretary Jesse Robredo, on the 50 billion fund for on-site/in-city/ near site relocation. Through this multi-sectoral consultation they engaged government to integrate the on-site housing project for estero dwellers.

Filomena Cinco, president of Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda said, “This proposed flood control master plan arouses controversy among the poor as it will affect 773,000 informal settlers in the National Capital Region and 294,000 Laguna Lake settlers. This is a huge project that must involve urban poor settlers in planning. Just like our areas that are due for on-site housing. This kind of forum gave us venue to air our concerns. ”

After the DPWH presentation, at the meeting Jenny David of Alyansa ng mga Pamayanan sa Manggahan Floodway read the UP-All statement.

The statement read, “Kasama ng pamahalaan ang UP-ALL sa layuning maibsan ang pagbabaha sa Metro Manila. Hindi kami tutol sa kaunlaran na tinatanaw ng Metro Manila Flood Management Master ng Plan ng DPWH. Naniniwala kaming kung maisasakatuparan nang ayon sa plano at tamang proseso, ang mga proyektong inilatag ng DPWH ay hindi lamang makakapagbawas ng pagbabaha, makakapagliligtas din ang mga ito ng maraming buhay. Gayunpaman, bilang kumakatawan sa mga pamilya at komunidad sa mga tinagurian “danger areas” na target na linisin upang bigyang-daan ang mga nasabing proyekto, kami ay nagtatanong: may malinaw na bang plano para sa mga maaapektuhang pamilya?

The statement call for clear and acceptable plan for the affected families; concrete Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) for each community that needs to be relocated;  Identify areas for possible on-site development and  lands in the cities that can be used as in-city resettlement to avoid off-city relocation.


Friday, October 5, 2012

UPALL Consultation on Flood Management Master Plan

Urban Poor Associates
 25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.            Tel.: 4264118 / 4264119 / 4267615              Fax: 4264118
Ref:  Princess L. Asuncion          Mobile phone: 0908 1967450
Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters and Photojournalist

As urban poor people celebrate World Habitat Month, Urban Poor Alliance (UP All) will organize a forum on the new government flood control master plan. It will take place on October 9, Tuesday 9:00AM-5:00PM at the Audio Visual Room of the Social Development Complex, Ateneo De Manila University Campus.

The flood control master plan will be one of the most expensive public works of the administration. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) identified a total of 735,000 informal settlers who will be affected by the project.

The forum will be attended by  five groups—government officials headed by the DPWH who will explain the plan and international aid groups; professionals in housing and urban planning , urban poor leaders; and NGOs working with  the urban poor will ask questions about the plan and make suggestions.

The forum aims to help people learn from one another and widen understanding of the problems—social, economic and political—that are inevitable in a project of such magnitude. It will also seek meaningful solutions or approaches possible in a win-win context. The meeting will issue a joint statement.

Date: October 9, 2012 (Tuesday)

Time: 9:00AM-5:00PM

Venue: Audio Visual Room of the Social Development Complex, Ateneo De Manila University Campus.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

The women of Pescador

By Denis Murphy
1:52 am | Monday, October 1st, 2012

he women of Pescador in Navotas attempt to stand straight up with their children, almost defiantly, we might say, in their world of poverty and abasement. It is hard not to talk dramatically about such women, even though hundreds of thousands of similarly poor women do it every day, and succeed to a great extent.

There were six of us—Fr. Jorge Anzorena, my wife Alice, Ate Cita Vendiola, Luz Sudueste, Benjo Raposa and myself. We wanted to see if our nongovernment organization could help the people there. We found small, thin women selling miserably little fish that looked more like strips of gum than something to eat.

The women must have been beautiful once, but now their faces are wrinkled and their teeth are missing. They are from the 150 or so families in the Pescador neighborhood who live in temporary housing along both sides of R-10.

They live in tents that are packed close together, worn and dirty on the outside. But inside the tents are clean, and all the space is carefully used. Some families have only three or four square meters, just enough room for a family-size bed, where their whole life of sleeping, eating, loving, studying and playing is carried out.

The families have been in this emergency housing for at least a year, since Typhoons “Pedring” and “Gener” and a community fire destroyed their old homes. How long should emergency housing last?

It’s a bad situation. The government promised some families space in a new tenement. Other families are willing to live on stilts in old fishponds in an area called Tanza. Maybe the people and the government can look into that possibility. A few years ago, the Pros Architects designed a village on stilts for the very same place. It can work. Haven’t tribal people lived graciously on stilts in the southern Philippines?

The women also hope the government will give them loans with which they can start small businesses, such as selling fish.

We had the impression that the women had done just about all they could do by themselves. We asked them what lessons they had learned that they could share with us. One of the leaders said, “We must go on and on, no matter what. Life must go on.” We asked, “Are you angry with God, perhaps?” Another woman said, “If God were not here taking care of us, we would not be here.”

It was a Saturday, so after a long talk the people invited Father Jorge to come back on Sunday and say Mass for them. He agreed, so on Sunday we were back and had a very simple, prayerful Mass in the middle of the tents. The altar was an old piece of plywood. A row of small girls sat in front, looking very intently at Father Jorge and myself. We were being judged. The adults stood behind, perhaps 50 all together, mostly women.

When the time came for the sermon. Benjo and Alice talked.

“Just encourage them,” Father Jorge whispered to Benjo. “Tell them God loves them and is very pleased with them. That’s enough.”

The women were very grateful. They thanked Father Jorge for having “noticed them” and for taking time to visit them. Maybe they hadn’t expected anyone’s attention in their lives. One older woman put her arms around him and cried softly.

The women may not be beautiful as they perhaps once were, but the children are, especially when they are pouring water over themselves and their young bodies gleam in the sunlight. They are beautiful, too, in their quiet moments: Long before the Mass started, a little girl seated on one of the chairs before us was telling her little brother to be quiet. “Sssshhh,” she told him with a very stern look. There was no one else around.
We had the impression the women live for their children.

These women are a good example of how God wants men and women to live in this world. It is described in the Prophet Micah (6:8): “Do good, love tenderly and walk humbly before your God.” There are many women like them among the poor. There are men, too, of course, but it is the women we met that weekend.

If the reader is fed up with the problems of Manila or feels somehow uneasy with or threatened by urban poor people, please visit Pescador and talk to the women. I think it will help. It helped us.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Work and freedom


By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
9:24 pm | Thursday, September 20th, 2012

[On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”]

On the last Sunday of July we took a night cruise around lower Manhattan, the New York harbor and the Statue of Liberty. The statue stands out in the bay, far from the lights of Wall Street and the financial center that burn day and night. I never guessed as we headed out at sunset that I would spend most of the evening thinking about my old immigrant relatives and the unemployed men of the urban poor areas of Metro Manila.

Our boat slowed as we approached Freedom Island where the statue rises; we drifted closer until we were almost underneath it. We saw it in silhouette against the last light in the Western sky. With its pedestal, it towers to the height of a 25-story building. The face of the statue as it looked down with deep concern on the poor and powerless people of New York, seemed wrapped in the type of head scarf Muslim women wear. Perhaps the goddess Athena looked down on ancient Athens from the Acropolis in just the same way Bicolanos might think of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.

A few hundred meters away was Ellis Island, where millions of poor immigrants landed in the 1920s-1930s, including my parents, aunts and uncles. Poor people were unloaded at Ellis Island; well-off passengers sailed on to Manhattan. For all passengers, especially for the poor, the statue was a great symbol of hope. It was the sign they were welcome in America and could begin life again in the new country. There would be problems, but the immigrants would be able to get jobs with which to raise their families, and they would be able to do so in security and freedom, protected by the country’s laws and labor unions.

It dawned on me that work and security/freedom are exactly what the men in the urban poor areas of Metro Manila are asking for.

There are government programs in the Philippines that help with income and microfinance, but they are usually for the women. This is not to criticize such programs but to highlight the great need for jobs for the men, especially the younger ones. What will happen to our society if the men are basically inutil and have to be carried along by the women? So few decent jobs are now available that the drug industry is one of the biggest employers of young men in the slums.

Can government make an extraordinary effort to provide jobs for the urban poor men? It seems unlikely that our leading job-creating industries—tourism and call centers—can employ the urban poor. Can the government, then, provide work by sponsoring public works programs? President Aquino promised to do this in the Covenant with the Urban Poor that he signed on March 6, 2010, in Del Pan, Tondo. In the covenant there is a section that discusses jobs for the poor communities. There is mention of public works created by government, and jobs that might be paid for by a combination of cash and food. The number of these jobs must be multiplied many times over:

“We will create large-scale public works programs that can generate a substantial number of jobs for poor men and women. At the onset of our term, we will emphasize labor-intensive public works programs that can generate a significant number of jobs for our poor people and give them access to at least the minimum amounts of money, food and dignity needed for their daily survival and well-being.”

The International Labor Organization has recommended that the Philippines use labor-intensive work processes in the infrastructure programs it funds. This will increase the number of men employed by 25 percent. Can the new flood control program employ such labor-intensive practices?

The Tzu Chi Foundation is a practitioner of public-works-type programs. During the recent post-flood cleanup work in resettlement areas in Montalban, it paid the people living there P400 a day to do the cleanup work. The work was done. The people had food to eat, and the men had their dignity.

There are many problems that can be solved through these types of public works: tree planting, for example, building of dikes and digging of water catchments.

We compete for the heart of the poor. If the men have work, even humble tasks at first, they will feel they have a stake in society. If they are unemployed, they are vulnerable to very destructive forms of alienation.

The Irish who came to the United States in the late 1920s, including my relatives, had just ended a civil war. There was nothing much for them in Ireland, especially for those who were on the losing side in that war. Most had only a fourth-year elementary education. America gave them jobs. They weren’t intellectually demanding jobs—construction workers, stevedores and transit employees for men, and waitresses and housemaids for women—but they gave the immigrants a foothold in the country and basic dignity. They were “making it in New York.” Their children had a chance to go to college and become doctors and scientists.

Public works projects will help our urban poor men in Metro Manila repeat such a transformation.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Monday, August 27, 2012

Imitating Jesse Robredo

By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
10:03 pm | Sunday, August 26th, 2012

The praise showered on Jesse Robredo by people from all levels of Philippine society should be a high-volume wake-up call for our political elite. They should be asking, “If I die, will anyone cry for me, as thousands did for Jesse? Will I be sincerely mourned? Will people stand a long time in the rain to get a chance to view my body?” They may very well answer, “Probably not. My family will mourn and a few close friends, but the ordinary people won’t mourn. What have I ever done for them? Why should they mourn?”

We hope the love shown for Jesse in his death will awaken them to the great chance God has given them to serve His people, especially the poor. It’s not only politicians who should examine their lives, of course. We all must do so. Socrates told us, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

May we suggest some matters that our political leaders can look into should they decide to be more like our late interior and local government secretary?

Please look on the urban poor with the more caring eyes of someone like Jesse Robredo. He found friendship there and people he admired.

Please look at the immediate project Jesse was engaged in with the poor. Initially, it concerns in-city, on-site housing for approximately 5,000 poor families on Manila estero, including the Estero de San Miguel, that runs by Malacañang just a stone’s throw away. Other houses are to be built in Quezon City for families living in Doña Imelda and Gulod. This housing is new. The usual relocation move was to ship families to distant places, such as Calauan 100 kilometers away. Such relocation fractures families and limits children’s education.

Jesse was willing to allow new approaches to housing the poor, which are also recommended by housing experts, including Felino “Jun” Palafox and Dean Gloria Teodoro and Albert Zambrano of the Mapua Institute of Technology School of Architecture. Mayors and government housing agencies have opposed the new approaches because they shatter long-standing arrangements.

As I watched 10 young girls from Estero de San Miguel sing in Malacañang in honor of Jesse, I thought, these young children are as naturally gifted as any other children, but they are from poor families and live in slums, and will never realize their potential. They smile shyly now and cry as they sing “Hero.” What they and the children of our poor farmers, fishermen, tribal people and workers need is a massive shift of resources from some projects the country now supports to the welfare of the poor and near-poor, or at least 50 percent of our people.

Why will we spend approximately P30 billion to build an elevated highway connecting NLEx and SLEx, so people can get from a Clark Field-Subic Bay airport to Makati in less time than it takes now? When such an amount of money will go a long way to meet our school construction needs, provide books for all, and reward good teachers?

Why are we giving 40-80 hectares of land in the reclaimed areas off Parañaque and Pasay to casino gambling? Do we fully realize the social and political dangers of inviting into the country a vast increase in casino gambling? “A bad tree cannot give good fruit.” Instead of casinos, can’t we give 30 or so hectares of the land to our poor?

We ask our political leaders and our business and religious leaders to visit the urban poor areas and get to know the poor as real persons, like Jesse Robredo did. It doesn’t mean we will not see the petty thieves, drunks and cruel people who share the poor areas with the good men and women. We will also see that the poor are often their own worst enemies. They vote for unreliable politicians, for example. Find what is valuable among the poor and why Jesus has anchored our salvation to the help we offer the homeless, hungry, sick and thirsty poor (Mt: 25).

Lastly, Jesse believed that a strong national democracy needs a strong, democratic base among the poor. He would not work for a more prosperous nation without working to bring the poor along as co-beneficiaries with the well-off. If we want democracy, we must work for equality.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Open Letter For Mr. Mike Enriquez of GMA 7

15 Agosto 2012

Miguel Castro Enriquez
Senior Vice-President for Radio
GMA Network

Minamahal naming Ginoong Enriquez,


Kami po ay mula sa iba’t ibang grupo ng mga maralita na naninirahan sa estero ng Maynila. Kami ay mga masugid ninyong tagapakinig.

Nitong mga nakaraang araw laman ng pahayagan, radyo at telebisyon ang usapin na pwersahang pagpapaalis sa mga maralita dahil kami di umano ang sanhi ng pagbaha sa lungsod. Ito ay bunsod din ng pahayag ng pamahalaan na papasabugin ang mga kabahayan ng mga maralitang hindi sasang-ayon sa paglipat sa mga relokasyon.

Nais po namin ipabatid na kami bilang masugid ninyong tagasubaybay ay labis na nasasaktan sa mga binibitiwan ninyong salitang masasakit laban sa mga kagaya naming maralita. Mariin namin kinokondena ang mga pahayag ninyo tulad ng, “hinayupak kayo! Hindi nagbabayad ng buwis, at kayong mga Iligal settlers dapat kayong pasabugin!.” Ito po ay napakingan namin miyerkules , Agosto 15, 2012, sa inyong umagang programa.

Ang inyong programa ay pinapakingan ng milyung-milyong Filipino at ang mga inilalabas ninyong komento sa radyo ay nakadadagdag ng masamang pagtingin sa mahihirap na katulad namin. Ang anumang mga salitang inyong nasabi ay hindi na rin maaaring burahin sa isipan ng mga tao. Hindi rin namin matangap na ang isang tulad ninyong respetadong broadcaster ay tila hindi pinag-iisipan ang mga gagamiting pananalita sa himpapawid.

Nais namin ipaalam sa inyo ang aming saloobin at mga ginagawa naming hakbang para maitaas ang aming kalagayan:

1. Batay sa isinagawang survey ng Urban Poor Associates, isang NGO na nagsusulong ng karapatang pabahay para sa mga maralita, 74% ng naninirahan sa mga estero ng Maynila ay may mga trabaho. Kami ay mga vendors, ang iba ay mga security guards sa iba’t ibang establisyemento, mga janitors, at iba-iba pa.

2. Ang aming mga lokasyon ay malalapit sa aming mga trabaho at ang aming mga anak ay nakakatapos ng kolehiyo.

3. Bagaman, may ibang walang trabaho kaya hindi nakakapagbayad ng direktang buwis. Sana wag natin kalimutan na bawat binibili naming noodles, sardinas at bigas kahit maliit lang sa iyong pagtingin ay may nakapataw na buwis.

4. Kami ay naninirahan sa mga lugar ng mga maralita ng mahigit pa sa 20, 30 o marami pang taon. Kami ay isang komunidad. Kami ay nagtutulungan sa panahong kami ay may karamdaman. Ang ganitong pagsasamahan o tinatawag nilang “Social Capital” ay hindi basta basta naililipat sa isang  relokasyon kagaya ng Gaya-Gaya o Calauan.

5. Matagal na rin hindi ginagamit ang salitang illegal settlers o squatters sa mga tulad namin dahil ito ay isang uri ng diskrimasyon. Kami ay tinatawag na informal settlers, ibig sabihin matagal ng naninirahan sa mga maralitang lugar. At naaayon sa batas ng Urban Development and Housing Act,  na ang mga kagaya namin ay nararapat ng mapaisailalim sa mga proyektong pabahay ng gobyerno.  Gusto rin namin ipaabot sa inyo na ang mga pabahay ng gobyerno ay hindi libre ito ay binbayaran din ng mga maralita sa mas mababang halaga.

6. Nais din namin kayong maimbitahan sa mga relocation site upang kayo mismo ang sumuri sa mga kalagayan ng pabahay ng gobyerno. Mahinang semento at marurupok na bubong.  Ng nakaraang habagat grabeng pinsala ang natamo ng mga taga-Isla Putting Bato na nailipat sa Rodriguez, Rizal. Lumubog ang kanilang kabahayan sa relocation site. Inilipat sila sa doon dahil danger area daw pero mukhang death zone ang pinagdadalhan sa mga maralita. Walang hanap buhay at nalalayo ang mga pamilya sa isa’t isa dahil kailangan ang ama o ina ay magtrabaho sa Maynila.

7. Ang aming hanay ay nakikipag dyalogo din sa mga kinauukulan upang maisagawa ang on-site na pabahay sa amin. Kasama namin ang Palafox Associates, Mga mahusay na arkitekto  sa pagdesenyo ng pabahay na angkop sa aming lugar. Sa katunayan, ang aming mga lugar ay natukoy na ng pangulong Benigno Aquino para sa on-site housing. Meron na rin inilaan pondo para dito ang pamahalaan. Kami naman ay nag aayos ng mga requirements kagaya ng pagsosoil test, DENR clearance at iba pa.  Inaanyayahan din namin kayo na magtungo sa aming mga lugar at ipapakita namin sa iyo ang mga hakbang na aming ginawa para sa pagsulong ng on-site na pabahay.

Ginagawa po namin ang lahat upang ayusin ang aming pamumuhay. Hindi man magaganda ang aming bahay at nananatili itong eyesore sa mata ng karamihan. Ang loob po ng aming tahanan ay punong-punong ng pagmamahalan, respeto, at nangangarap ng magandang bukas para sa aming mga anak.

Nais po naming ipaalala sa inyo na ang mga binabatikos ninyo sa inyong palatuntunan ay kapwa ninyong Filipino na naniniwala at nakikinig sa inyong programa.

Dahil dito nais namin kayong huminge ng public apology sa lahat ng mga maralita. Naniniwala kami na iresponsableng pamamahayag ang inyong nagawa dahil naapektohan nito ang aming pakikipag-ugnayan sa pamahalaan. Napapalala din ninyo ang stigma sa amin samantalang ginagawa namin ang lahat upang isaayos ang aming kalagayan.

Kami ay umaasa na inyong tutugunan ang aming mga hinaing dahil naniniwala kami na malaking bulto ng pamamayagpag ng inyong programa ay dahil sa aming mga maralitang tagapakinig.

Maraming salamat.

Lubos na gumagalang,

Filomena Cinco
Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda

Ricardo Narcilla, jr.
United 311 Chrislam Association

Angelita Marasigan
Nagkakaisang Magkakapit-bahay ng Estero De San Sebastian

Luisito Ramos
Soler Compound Neighborhood Association of Quiapo


GMA Chairman and CEO lawyer Felipe L. Gozon
GMA President  Gilberto R. Duavit, Jr

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A hill on the Mohawk River


By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Hundreds of gravestones in neat white rows cover the crest of a hill overlooking the Mohawk River in upstate New York. It may appear to be a military cemetery—the kind the United States leaves behind in all the countries in which it has fought—but the men buried here were not soldiers. They were nonviolent, peace-loving, and, it must be admitted, only a few looked very much like warriors.

The hill overlooking the Mohawk once held Iroquois villages where French Jesuits arrived by canoe in the 17th century to evangelize the Indians. The Jesuits had little success, though one young woman, Kateri Tekakwitha, will soon be canonized. The Indians tortured and killed some of the missionaries, including St. Isaac Joques.

Centuries later, the missionaries gained control of the land where the Indian villages had stood and built a shrine in honor of the French Jesuits. They named it Auriesville. The bones of the laymen working with the Jesuits and killed along with them have never been recovered. These lie somewhere on that hill or in the valleys around it, along with the bones of the Indian chiefs, the few converts the missionaries had made, the young warriors dead in the ceaseless intertribal wars, the Indian mothers and children, some of whom died of diseases brought by the Jesuits and other white men. Along with them are the remains of 500 or so New York Province Jesuits who have died since the 1970s and lie in the neat white rows.

They are all there in the sunshine with the trees, summer clouds, flowers and songbirds. Sadly, there are no traces left of the Indians.

My brother Ned is one of the men lying there, one of the most recent Jesuits to be buried. We came to visit and say our prayers. Then I walked back and forth through the long rows of gravestones, reading each of them; I knew those buried there almost as well as my brother did.

They were all types of men—some were missionaries sent to the Caroline and Marshall Islands and the Philippines; others were parish priests, superiors, authors, scientists, and teachers. There were men who ran labor schools, greeted guests in the novitiate, ran world-famous aquariums, men who campaigned for peace and others who campaigned against pornography. Sometimes other Jesuits didn’t appreciate a man’s work. Peace work was criticized by some of them. Some Jesuits were well-known, others were not. Many were quite eccentric: The Jesuits give their members so much freedom, it is the rare man who doesn’t end up somewhat free-spirited.

I looked up from time to time as I walked through the long rows and realized: This is beautiful country. There are lakes, mountains and a forest bulging with pine, elm and maple. There are deer, hawks, and small furry animals none of us could identify. There are dark blue rivers and farm land sweeping down to the river banks.

I think the Jesuits are content to be there together in that earth with the tiny wild daisies that grow among the graves and the songbirds that sit atop them.

When we were young my brother never dreamed he would end up on that hill. I don’t think he would have imagined being anything but a Latin-Greek professor. He worked eventually with Fr. Dan Berrigan in the peace movement and then he set up with friends a soup kitchen that has grown into a very effective social center for poor people in the Bronx. On his tombstone—if the Jesuits allowed brief summaries of people’s lives on their tombstones—might be the words: “He tried to make peace. He fed the hungry.”

We walked away with peace in our hearts, leaving the French Jesuits, the Iroquois and the more recent dead to God’s warm and calming care.

The last stanza of “Amazing Grace” could have been written about the Jesuits of Auriesville and the Indians of the Mohawk River: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years/ Bright shining as the sun/ We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise/ Than when we’d first begun.”

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. Please send your feedback to

Sunday, July 8, 2012

An alarming sermon


While in the United States, my wife and I heard a sermon one Sunday that at one point sent shivers up and down my spine. The priest talked of a meeting he had attended in Florida with 200 or so priests from different parts of the United States. He explained that the meeting had been called to discuss the new Mass Missal, but that it quickly carried over into more current problems – for example, the nasty controversy between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the dispute over the basic meaning of Vatican Council II.

It was a lovely June morning and many in the church were probably thinking of the US Open Golf Tournament that would end that afternoon.  The priest was saying that Rome, according to the priests at the meeting, acted incorrectly in its efforts to control the free speech and actions of the LCWR, and was wrong also in its belief that Vatican II merely restated traditional doctrine in language more suitable for the modern world, and did not lay the foundation for important future changes in teaching, practice and explosive new eras of evangelization.

The priest didn’t mention the Pope but talked of “Rome” and the “Vatican,” but in such serious matters who can speak for Rome if not the Pope? The criticism of the Pope sent shivers up and down my spine not because the criticism was on target but because it could be correct and that papal error was being discussed at a quiet Sunday Mass, as if it were a very ordinary matter.

It was unsettling for someone raised long ago in an Irish American parish in the Bronx. The stern face of Pope Pius XII granting our family indulgences stared down at us from our living room wall as far back as I can remember. Popes then were treated with touching respect. The times have changed, for sure; now we discuss charges that, if correct, would make the Pope a heretic.

The accusation that the Pope has misinterpreted Vatican II is the stuff of schism. As far as this author knows, the accusation is unparalleled in Church history. If the Pope has made a poor analysis of Vatican II and is guiding the Church on the basis of that analysis, we are most probably in trouble. We may have been going in the wrong direction for years and may continue to do so for years to come. Perhaps we should have guessed something was wrong when Rome put an end to the Theology of Liberation in the early 1980s. This theology was part of the Church of the Poor crusade that blossomed right after Vatican II as if it were the special concrete result of the discernment and prayers of the bishops at the Council.

Instead of Vatican II’s optimism at that time, we hear talk now of a “remnant” possibility, meaning Rome may be willing to see the number of the Church’s true believers shrink in the face of  secularism and other problems until only a small number of Catholics remain. It seems a gloomy future for the Church that emerged with such hope from the Council in 1965.

One problem may be that Rome doesn’t appreciate the local Churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America and even the Church in the United States. Rome may be pessimistic about the future of the European Church, but the Asian, African and Latin American Churches are not pessimistic. Rome doesn’t seem able to allow the hopeful experience of these non-European Churches to guide or, at least, to help guide its thinking.
I looked at the people around me, including my wife. They didn’t seem upset in any way. There was less coughing than is usually heard during a sermon. At the end of the sermon the congregation applauded. I asked my wife later what she made of the applause, and she said it might have been that the people were grateful they had been taken into the priest’s confidence and told the truth, at least as far as the priest knew it.

How did the Church arrive at this situation?

I think that ever since Vatican II, the Holy Spirit has intended to guide the universal Church through the Churches of Asia, Latin America and Africa. The intent of the Spirit, therefore, cannot be discerned by examining the Church in Europe. Immediately after Vatican II in 1965, there arose in Latin America the movement of faith centered on the poor called the Church of the Poor. In Asia in 1970, Pope Paul VI attended a meeting of Asian bishops in Manila, and the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference was started. It described the Church’s approach to the ancient religions and cultures of Asia as one of respect, and of eagerness to work with them on the great poverty of Asia. Work with the poor seems the common characteristic of Latin America and Asia.

In the Philippines, our religions and political futures are intertwined. Both must focus on the poor, it seems, if we are to have a peaceful, progressive and just country.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates with e-mail address

Monday, June 11, 2012

Trouble brewing


By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:34 am | Monday, June 11th, 2012

My wife and I sat in the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, waiting for the social anthropologist Mary Racelis to arrive from Staten Island. It was a rainy weekday, so there were few people in the cathedral, mostly people like ourselves sitting quietly in their pews appreciating the soft amber lighting and prayerful silence. St. Patrick’s is the largest neo-Gothic church in the Americas, but it has always had a simple message for the people who come through its doors: “You are at home here. Whoever you are, you are in your Father’s house.”

It is hard now, however, with all the controversies in the Church, to sit at ease in the pews. The following stories and issues show in some ways how troubled our Church is. We didn’t go looking for these problems. New York is a world center of information. Every issue makes its voice heard here one way or another. You don’t have to look for issues in New York; they will find you.

We watched a TV documentary titled “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,” which tells the story of seven women who were ordained Roman Catholic priests (validly but illicitly, according to Canon Law) and their plans to have more women priests and, eventually, more decision-making power in the Church through women bishops and cardinals. The seven women, who seemed mature, well-educated and articulate, were ordained by German bishops in the international waters of the Danube River. The women tell their life stories in the film. Nearly all say they had wanted to be priests since they were young girls; they believe God had been calling them to be priests, they said.

There are well over such 100 women priests in the world, and there are groups of women planning how to have more women priests and more women in powerful roles in the Church. They say that the Church would be a more tolerant and loving home for men and women if women had a hand in making the basic decisions. This must be an alarming development for Church leaders who have ordered Catholics to not even discuss women’s ordination.

The Vatican’s sharp criticism of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious—and, in a lesser way, of the Girl Scouts and Caritas International—is hard to understand. The nuns, for example, have been judged heroes in their lives of poverty and service of the poor by the American public. Ordinary men and women cannot understand why the Vatican can berate the nuns so publicly. The Vatican says the nuns have followed a pattern of “corporate dissent”—that is, they have, for example, not gone along with the American bishops in strong condemnations of same-sex marriage, or abortion aspects of President Barack Obama’s National Health Act. Americans tend to see this controversy as one that involves free speech and democracy, which are so highly valued throughout the world these days, as seen in the Arab Spring. The Vatican admits that the nuns are wholehearted warriors for justice and peace issues.

We saw an Italian movie titled “Habemus Papem,” which tells the story of a very personable and pastoral cardinal who is elected pope. Before he goes out on the balcony to meet the crowds in St. Peter’s Square, he has anguished second thoughts. He refuses to go out and manages to elude his aides and live with ordinary people for a number of days. While listening to conversations about their lives, he says to himself: “Why does the Church have difficulty understanding so much in the world these days?”

He returns and goes out on the balcony to meet the crowds. He tells them there are very many things to be fixed in the Church, but he is not the one who can fix them. He leaves the balcony and the movie ends.
An article by a Maryknoll priest which is circulating in New York claims that the basic argument in the Church today is over the meaning of the Vatican II Council. Persons who can be identified with the Vatican believe that the Council put traditional doctrine in a form more acceptable to the modern world, but it didn’t change or alter doctrine or tradition. Others say the Council not only found more appropriate language for its doctrine, but also went beyond that in believing that tradition in the Church can be “a foundation upon which faith can continually build and grow as its context changes.”

The discussions will come to a head in October, when there will be a Synod of Bishops in Rome to discuss “New Evangelization for the Transmissions of the Catholic Faith.” It will inaugurate a “Year of Faith.”
Ordinary Catholics in the back pews of St. Patrick’s will have a difficult time finding their way through the controversy. We suspect that many bishops will also have problems. What will it all mean for the Philippines? We hope it all leads to a Church that is more focused on the poor and becomes in time the Church of the poor.

At last Mary Racelis arrived, and we headed out into the rain to visit old friends at Fordham University and do some shopping. The real meaning of Vatican II would have to wait.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cleaner alternative offered to Tondo charcoal makers

By Noli A. Ermitanio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Smoke gets in their eyes—and darkens the air over the city—every time the residents of Ulingan in Tondo, Manila, try to make a living.

But the community, which got its name from its 15-year-old charcoal-making industry, now a backyard venture for some 150 people, may finally be warming up to change.

Cleaner change, to be exact. Ulingan, a neighborhood within Barangay 105, has been chosen as a pilot area for a project that will test the viability of smokeless kilns, or “pugons,” a technology that can significantly reduce the polluting effects of what is traditionally a messy, toxic process of producing uling.

At least seven community leaders recently underwent orientation at a facility in Silang, Cavite, and an initial batch of smokeless kilns would soon be installed for them, according to the nongovernment organization, Urban Poor Associates (UPA).

The project is a joint initiative of the UPA and the Silang-based 1M Agro-Fuel Development Ventures, with the support of the archdiocese of Manila and the National Housing Authority.

UPA volunteer Jessa Margallo said charcoal-making remains a stable source of income for residents of Ulingan as households seek cheaper alternatives amid the rising cost of cooking fuel, mainly liquefied petroleum gas.

About 15 residents started this backyard business in 1997, using scrap wood collected by scavengers. Through the years, it has grown profitable enough to attract even outsiders to build their own pugon in the area.

The process is relatively simple: Scraps of wood are placed in earthen kilns, covered with sheets of galvanized iron and soil, and then heated by fire from underneath. It takes about 10 to 12 days to carbonize wood this way.

According to Margallo, Ulingan currently produces around 6,000 sacks of charcoal out of 360 tons of scrap wood each month. A charcoal-maker can sell each sack weighing 15 to 18 kilos for P180 to households and food establishments, and earn an average monthly profit of P6,000.

Before going into charcoal-making, resident Ariel Malalay used to do odd jobs, including picking through trash for recyclables sold to junk shops.

But since setting up his first pugon in 2000, Malalay had been able to support a family of six. Uling, he said, had kept his four young children in school and even allowed his wife, Irma, to open a sari-sari store.
“We got by through hard work,” he said with pride.

Their charcoal business now employs some of their neighbors. “Either we pay them in cash or we give them a share from what we produce,” Irma added.

But their methods remain stuck in the dirty past. The residents themselves admit that their children often get sick from all the smoke.

“It’s really suffocating,” Ariel said. “We sometimes put on masks, but they still prove useless with all the thick smoke.”

“Our kids would sometimes beg us to just leave this place,” Irma added.
Being in the middle of an urban sprawl, Ulingan has inevitably been the subject of complaints from residents in nearby areas. A few years back, the environment department and Manila city government shut down some pugons for violation of the Clean Air Act.

But despite this crackdown, old-style kilns continue to operate. “Since the government can’t offer an alternative, (authorities) can at least ask the residents to control the smoke,” said Marlon Llovido, the UPA coordinating officer who pushed for the introduction of smokeless kilns.

Developed by Juan Marquez of 1M Agro-Fuel, a smokeless kiln is made of concrete and basically traps smoke through a pipe for conversion into water vapor.

The new system also involves a machine that cuts the wood into uniform sizes, with the finished product coming out “like donuts,” according to one resident who saw a demonstration in Silang.

UPA said the long-term project envisioned for Ulingan would require an investment of around P2.7 million. This would include a facility that could house 10 smokeless kilns, a liquid smoke catchment system, and a warehouse.

“We will now check if these new kilns could be sustainable,” Llovido said.

UPA hopes that apart from the technology transfer, Ulingan residents can also form cooperative to further develop their businesses. It can reduce their dependence on loan sharks, for example, Llovido added.

“This is one way for the urban poor to be empowered and be able to stand on their own feet,” he stressed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Nuns, bishops, and ‘King Lear’

By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Just as the pain of pedophile priests and sex scandals was easing in the Catholic Church, along came another possibly more unsettling problem: the Vatican’s harsh criticism of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States. The LCWR coordinates the work of 80 percent of that country’s nuns.

The Vatican, after acknowledging the nuns’ fine work in helping poor people, criticized them for not condemning, as the bishops had, same-sex marriages and President Barack Obama’s National Health Act, which threatens to require Church institutions to pay for birth control and abortion services. The leaders of the LCWR will meet at month’s end to frame their response. The Vatican appointed an archbishop to oversee the actions of the LCWR until the matter is resolved.

There is no question who the general public supports in this debate. There have been six or seven articles in the New York Times alone, defending the nuns. Nicolas Kristof, an NYT columnist, wrote: “If people were asked who has more closely emulated Jesus’ life, the average sister or the pope, the nuns would win hands down.”  It’s not exactly the point at issue—the Pope might agree with the statement—but it indicates how much people admire the nuns for their lives of service and how poorly they regard the bishops and their claims of authority.

There are articles in newspapers telling of the nuns’ work in New York City with the poorest and most endangered women—those who have been trafficked, drug addicts trying to recover, recently released from prison, beaten by their husbands, pregnant without family support, homeless, or prostitutes trying to start a new life.

The nuns I talked with said that they were not surprised by the Vatican’s tough words and that for a long time, the bishops and nuns had been drifting apart. They feel they have changed with the times while the bishops have not. The LCWR prays and reflects for long periods before it makes decisions, the nuns also told me. It takes into account the charism of the nuns (the purpose for which they are instituted), the pros and cons of the issues, and the nuns’ individual convictions. It is painful, the nuns said, to do all this only to be told they have done something wrong and should follow instead the opinion of bishops who have no deeper understanding—maybe far less understanding—of the problem than the nuns do.

A nun suggested I read Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” saying it might help me understand the viewpoint of the nuns. In the play, King Lear decides to retire to some degree and divide his kingdom among his three daughters. He tells them he will give the biggest share of land and wealth to the daughter who loves him most.

The two elder sisters tell the old man they love him, “more than eyesight, space, liberty, life, race, beauty and honor.” The old king gives them huge tracts of his kingdom. The youngest daughter, Cordelia, says she loves him as a daughter should, but since she will soon marry, she cannot love with all her heart. The king comments, “so young and so untender,” and swears he will never care for her again.

The cranky, arrogant and foolish old man soon finds he has made a huge mistake. The two elder sisters and their husbands try to oust the king completely. Cordelia helps him, but in the process is killed. In the last scene of the play the old king kneels beside Cordelia’s body and cries: “Why should a horse, a dog, a rat have life/and thou no breath at all? Thou’ll come no more. Never, never, never, never, never.”

There are lessons for everyone in the Vatican-LCWR dispute, but especially for those given great authority in the Church and government. Tradition has shaped two descriptions of how men and women in their high positions should act: Public officials are regularly called public servants, and the Pope, as the highest authority in the Church, is called servus servorum Dei, or servant of the servants of God.  The word “servant” best describes what people in authority should be.

In a democracy the people give authority to mayors and presidents, expecting these officials to act as servants (katulong) for the citizens. Officials are not the people’s bosses, though you might not realize that listening to them talk or watching them act. They are charged with helping citizens build a safer, more equitable and prosperous country by listening to how the citizens want to do this, and by arranging the appropriate activities.

In a democracy, and in the Church, authority is expected to guarantee that the poor are given priority. “As they have less in life, they should have more in law,” President Ramon Magsaysay once said. Officials are required to help the poor. If the poor request housing and the government can provide it, the government official in charge must provide it in the way the people want, unless there is something seriously wrong with the type of housing planned by the poor.

Authority is given to men and women for service. Christians can look to Jesus’ action at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of his apostles, as described in the Gospel of John, to understand this truth.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates with e-mail address

Monday, May 14, 2012

Urban Poor contradict PRRC Head Gina Lopez, saying: Housing on the Estero is World Class Solution to Housing Problems of the Poor and Health of the Waterways.

14 May 2012. Urban poor leaders have criticized Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission head Regina Lopez for confusing two issues:  the health of the river and estero waters and the issue of what to do with the thousands of poor families living along the waterways.

Filomena Cinco, leader of the poor people along a segment of Estero de San Miguel said, “All people on the waterways want clean water.  In fact they want it more than anyone, because they live next to the waterways.  We will help Gina Lopez clean the waters.  We are part of her River Warriors who protect the water.”

She said the difference between the Lopez and the poor has to do with re-housing the poor.  PRRC and Lopez plan to put the poor in distant areas where there are no jobs, with the result people go hungry, return to Manila or divide the families—workers stay in Manila, while mothers, old people and children stay in the relocation site.  This is sure to damage family life.  Distant relocation promises greater poverty and suffering.  The poor want to follow the example set in Indonesia and Thailand of constructing homes for the poor on the banks of river and canals allowing three meter easements.

 Cinco said. “Lopez plans parks for the river banks.  The people want people there.  We want to stay on the esteros because we are near our jobs, schools and hospitals.

“The urban poor claim Palafox Associates one of the country’s great architectural bodies has developed housing design for the estero,” she added.

“Everyone wants clean esteros.  Gina Lopez wants to build parks and relegate the poor people to greater suffering in distant relocation sites.  The poor want to build houses on the esteros that will give the poor safe, affordable and attractive housing and allow them to keep their jobs, and hold their families together.”

The urban poor reminds President Benigno Aquino that he promised to help them and allow them to stay in the esteros in the Palafox designed houses.

The rest of the world finds solutions for their poor families living along canals.  Why can’t we do it here? the urban poor ask. They believe housing the poor where they are makes good economic and political sense.  It is first of all a cheaper solution than distant relocation, according to studies made by the DILG.  Politically it will win the loyalty of thousands of poor families.  The poor ask government to trust our people and architects.  We can make gardens of the esteros where no one lives now.  We can do both housing and gardens.  To sentence the poor to relocation in places like Calauan is to hurt the poor in a very serious economic and social manner. -30-

Monday, May 7, 2012

Occupy Wall Street alive and well


By: Denis Murphy
1:00 am | Monday, May 7th, 2012
Philippine Daily Inquirer

When we finally caught up with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) people on May 1, they were organizing New York City’s largest protest rally of the year. Some people we talked with in previous weeks had been pessimistic about OWS’ future. We found OWS well and as rambunctious as ever.

It was raining in the morning but the afternoon was lovely. Hundreds of OWS people, union members, and special cause groups of all sorts gathered to celebrate in Union Square in lower Manhattan on May 1, the world’s Labor Day. Some groups were truly unusual. For example, one man wearing a woman’s skirt carried a sign saying, “Queers against Israel.” He didn’t take questions, so we don’t know any more about his group.

Speakers repeated the OWS emphasis on inequality, the need for more funding for education and health services, the need for peace and rational immigration laws, and an end to all discrimination. All of the city’s minority groups were there. A man walked through the crowd shouting, “This is what democracy looks like!”

Many of the issues were new—student loans, for example—but just as many were age-old. These included the call of unions for solidarity. The old slogans appeared on aged-looking signs: “A people united will never be defeated.”  “Whose side are you on?” The Communist Party of New York State called for “Jobs, Peace, Equality.” Its demand for equality seems to be a result of the OWS exposure of the inequality in the American economy. An article in the New York Times (April 17) that discussed the work of two French economists said that between 2000 and 2007, the incomes of the lowest 90 percent of American workers grew by only 4 percent, when corrected for inflation, while the incomes of the top 1 percent of the super-rich grew by 94 percent.

At the end of the speeches, we all sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is My Land” and “Solidarity Forever.” At this point there were close to 10,000-15,000 persons lining up to march south toward the financial area on lower Broadway. The media on May 2 reported that there had been bloody clashes between marchers and police and a large number of arrests. We didn’t march. As the sun went down, the marchers were far down Broadway. We could see where they were by the flashes of red light from the police cars.

It is hard to evaluate the influence of OWS. Its effort at exposing economic inequality seems to have succeeded. President Barack Obama talks often about “fairness,” after he has cited examples of inequality and the crowds roar approval. OWS was the leading group in bringing together the many organizations that celebrated on May 1. It is a major political actor.

However, the crowds that OWS gathered were no larger than those it organized last year. It is still criticized for not reaching the poorer workers. There were no notices, signs, or mention in the media of the May 1 affair beforehand except in the social media, which the poorer people don’t use to any great extent. We saw only one postcard-size announcement on 14th Street the Sunday before May 1.

What, if anything, does this Occupy Wall Street activity mean for countries like the Philippines? There were up to 15,000 people in the May 1 rally, but most of New York City was scarcely aware of it. The same is true in Metro Manila, though we haven’t had big rallies in quite a time. We have to find ways to get our message out to the poor people who are supposed to benefit from the rallies so that they attend and become involved in what is planned, and so they can have a say on what is done.

We can gather people of different issues, as what happened on May 1. There has to be cooperation among workers, urban poor, farmers, women’s groups, children’s protection groups, anti-trafficking groups, and religious bodies, and other nongovernment organizations and people’s organizations. We have to work together. If we don’t work together, we will all fail separately, to paraphrase the old saying.
We have lost the ability to work together, which has weakened us all. We must not fight each other to garner the small benefits that society is now prepared to give the poor. Indeed, if we look closely we may find that the party-list system is itself divisive.

Union Square, where the rally took place, has been the scene of protest for decades. The offices of the Daily Worker, the Communist Party’s newspaper, were in a building on the square. Irish activists, including my mother, battled New York police there in the years after World War I.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

KALBARYO NG MARALITA 2012 (End the Calvary of the Poor)

Urban Poor Associates

25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.            Tel.: 4264118 / 4264119 / 4267615              Fax: 4264118
Ref:  Princess L. Asuncion          Mobile phone: 0908 1967450
Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters and Photojournalists

Urban poor groups will hold their annual Kalbaryo ng Maralita on April 3 (Tuesday) from 8 AM to 12 Noon.  It will be called “Karabaryo” a caravan of the poor people. They will begin with the staging of the Stations of the Cross at the National Housing Authority (NHA), Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), World Bank, and the Ninoy Aquino Monument, Makati.

At each stop there will be singers. Seven men will carry big crosses, everyone else will wear Jesus masks. They will say prayers for each station. They will also give the written prayers to the respective agencies.  There will be a special prayer for peace at the Ninoy Aquino monument.

Task Force Anti-Eviction which is composed of housing right’s group, chose NHA as its first station because until now NHA doesn’t seem to understand the real meaning of social housing, the people say.  PRRC continues to remove thousands of settlers living along waterways. People want the World Bank to strengthen its accountability to the people. The people believe that the Ninoy Aquino Monument is a symbol of a transformed society. They believe it will remind President Noynoy Aquino that this is the time to produce concrete solutions to the problems of the poor.

The Kalbaryo reminds Philippine society that the suffering of Jesus in His Passion and death are repeated today in the sufferings imposed on the poor by forced evictions, homelessness, hunger, landlessness, injustice, joblessness, lack of dignity and powerlessness.

Photo ops: The procession will be led by 7 men bearing the crosses of the poor families. There will be photo ops at the Stations of the Cross along the way.

Date: April 3, 2012 (Tuesday)

Time: Gather at 8:00 AM

Assembly point: Quezon City Hall

Please Cover.

April 3, 2012

7:00 – 8:00                                         Assembly time at Quezon City Hall
8:00 – 8:15                                         March to NHA (National Housing Authority)
8:15 – 8:30                                         Program at NHA
8:30 – 8:45                                         Travel time to PRRC (Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission)
8:45 – 9:00                                         from Shell  Station – Walk to PRRC
9:00 – 9:15                                         Program at PRRC
9:15 – 9:45                                         Travel time to World Bank – Ortigas
9:45 – 10:00                                      Ortigas – Walk to World Bank
10:00- 10:30                                      World Bank Program
10:30 -11:15                                      Travel Time
11:15 – 11:30                                     Walk from Peninsula Hotel to the
 Ninoy Aquino Monument
11:30 – 11:45                                     Program at the Ninoy Aquino Monument

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