Monday, February 27, 2012

New plans, old mistakes?

By Denis Murphy
2:31 am | Monday, February 27th, 2012

Government has received from the World Bank a $1.5-million grant to plan ways of combating flooding in Metro Manila, and a $250-million loan to implement the plan, according to a story in this and other papers on Feb. 13. Readers might think such news would delight the poor families living along the region’s waterways, since it could mean their fears of flooding are at an end, and government would now have the funding to help them build a more prosperous life. Instead, the poor who know of the plan are shaking in their boots. The poor regularly lose out when government talks of flood control. In the past it has meant the demolition of their homes and painful relocation to far off, economically barren places where there are no jobs.

Not so this time, the government will say. The poor would like to be reassured, and might be so assured if three matters were taken care of. One, that the planners meet with the poor and their professional allies (architects and urban planners) before the plan is put together—that is, early on in the process—so their thinking and their experience will have a place in the preparation of the plan. They hope the government won’t wait till the plan is finished and then meet with the poor to inform them only of what has been decided. They want to have a voice in this major decision that affects their lives.

Second, the poor would have more hope of good planning results if they knew the government had already secured the land needed for decent relocation of those families whose eviction cannot be avoided. By decent relocation they mean the norms agreed to by President Aquino in his Covenant with the Urban Poor of March 6, 2010. He promised in the covenant to work to limit relocation to on-site, in-city or near-city areas. He said he would oppose any government plan that would lead to a separation between wage earners who remain in the cities (because they cannot afford to commute daily to their work from distant relocation areas) and their families. These workers return only on weekends or less often to their families. Such separation can injure and even end family life. The President said: “We will not tolerate a situation where wage earners have to stay in the city to work, while the other members of the family stay in distant relocation centers. This separation weakens and often fractures family life. We will not institutionalize such situations by building sites in the city where they will live apart from their families. As the workforce in the cities, the poor, up to the extent possible, should be given the opportunity to stay in the cities.”

Has government acquired such in-city and near-city land for the families who may be evicted? If getting the good land is left to the end game, it will not work out very well, history shows.

Thirdly, the poor and their allies would like to hear that the planners have junked the simplistic tenet, often heard in government offices, that all families living in “danger zones” as defined in the Urban Development and Housing Act (RA 7279) must be evicted if they live next to water. This opinion is not supported by reality. There has been no flooding in the esteros or river communities of the Pasig River since 1970, even during Tropical Storm “Ondoy.” These are the esteros and river communities in Manila and Makati. We should ask instead how we can improve housing in these areas so that if there ever were a once-in-a-hundred-year monster flood, the people would not be injured, nor would the flow of the flood waters be impeded.

A similar disdain of facts is shown in the statements of government people including leading environmentalists that the poor people along the banks of waterways create the bulk of pollution in the water through their human waste. They put the percentage of the poor people’s contribution as high as 70 percent. Other sources say the figure is closer to 4 percent and the real major source of pollution comes from the untreated liquid waste that pours from the toilets of nearly everyone in Metro Manila, untreated into the river and esteros. The real need is for treatment plants, not eviction.

If the contribution of the poor to pollution in the waterways is only 4 percent, it seems the Supreme Court’s willingness in 2008 to remove all the homes of poor people from the banks of waterways to clean up Manila Bay may be too grievous. Is there parity between being only 4 percent of the problem and losing your home?

The press notice of the planning grant said the plan would be presented to government in one or two months. It hardly seems possible to finish such a plan in a few months, so we should probably presume it has been largely finished already by a small group. If so, we can keep these suggestions of the people until the next time a plan is discussed. By then, there will most likely be more bad experiences to learn from.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Advice also for Aquino

by: Denis Murphy
February 12, 2012

(June 24, 2009) advising newly elected President Barack Obama to follow the priorities of America’s Depression era President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whether Obama followed the advice or not, the readers can judge for themselves. May I suggest that the advice Clinton offered Obama may also be of use to President Aquino.

At the beginning of the article, Clinton talks of the bond Roosevelt created between the ordinary working men and women and himself.

“My grandfather was a dirt farmer with only a sixth-grade education. During the Depression, he eked out a living selling blocks of ice. But in those days, even though he was poor, he knew someone special: from listening to the fireside chats on the radio, he knew Franklin Roosevelt. And he believed that Roosevelt knew what his life was like – and cared about it too.

“I grew up listening to my grandfather’s tales of what it was like to live through the Depression and the war and what Roosevelt meant to him. When I was President, in another time of change and uncertainty, I often looked at the portrait of FDR in the Roosevelt Room and remembered my grandfather’s stories. Roosevelt had a deep personal connection to ordinary citizens.”

When Roosevelt died in 1945, ordinary people in tears lined the railroad tracks that led back to his home in Hyde Park, New York to watch the train carrying his body pass by.

I have only one personal memory of President Roosevelt. On a cold and overcast day many years ago in the Bronx, we were playing in the Church schoolyard when someone shouted, “The President’s coming down the Concourse (the main road of the Bronx).” We ran up the hill just in time to see the flashing lights of motorcycles and police cars coming toward us. Franklin D. Roosevelt had been our president all our lives, but we had never seen him. We heard cheering, but it rose and fell in a strange way. The car came slowly because the president was campaigning. Then it was in front of us. We pushed toward the car and had a good look at the old man inside. He looked much older than his pictures in the papers or newsreels. His face was drawn and gray and he sat back in the chair like a man on his sick bed, all alone in the back seat of the limousine. We waved and shouted. He seemed to see our group and he waved at us. Even as young boys we knew he was dying. People had grown silent along the way when they saw how sick he looked.

Clinton claims Roosevelt “got the big things right.” When he came into office during the Depression, he saw that the ills of the country could not be addressed without more aggressive involvement by the government. He ran for president as a fiscal conservative, promising to balance the budget. But unlike his predecessor, he quickly realized that, with prices collapsing and unemployment exploding, only the federal government could step into the breach and restart the economy.

Clinton recalls that Roosevelt surrounded himself with brilliant people, people who may have been far smarter than he was himself. He quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes to remind us that sheer intellectual brilliance is not everything: “Roosevelt had a second-class mind, but a first-class temperament.” This gave Roosevelt, Clinton says, the power to inspire others with his passion and to form a team that could work together.

Finally, according to Clinton, Roosevelt had the confidence to give up on projects that weren’t working, admit his failure and begin in another direction. He believed in experimentation, but he didn’t deny the evidence of failure when it came in. A president, claims Clinton, needs an appetite for experimentation and the determination to keep what works and scrap what doesn’t.

Do these suggestions of Bill Clinton have some usefulness for President Aquino?

Can and should President Aquino follow Roosevelt’s example and bond closely with the ordinary poor and middle-class people of the country? Should he build his political power base, as Roosevelt did, on this union of ordinary people and the president? Is there any other firm foundation for President Aquino on which to build? Will the poor and middle-class support give him the ability to make the basic reforms needed in the country? Will such a union allow him to escape from the limitations of our elite-dominated bureaucracy?

Has President Aquino decided on all the “big things” that must be done in his term of office? It’s clear he wants to eliminate corruption. What else are his goals? After corruption, what are the next three crucial things that need to be done?

Has the present government experimented sufficiently with new solutions? Have we taken a fresh look at old problems in the hope of finding new workable solutions? Perhaps we should be more creative. There are no magic formulas, but new situations call for at least a look at new solutions.

Finally, does the President have the most qualified and unified staff possible? Even ordinary people now talk about political skirmishes inside the administration’s top people. This isn’t supposed to happen in a presidential system of government where the President is free to choose the staff he wants.
Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the White House in 1933 which was a grim time for his country.

Unemployment had reached 33 percent. Hoovervilles, the settlements of the poor and unemployed were, like our urban poor areas, growing everywhere. They were named scornfully after former President Herbert Hoover. Farmers like the Jody family of “Grapes of Wrath” lost their land to bad weather and venal banks. A popular song of the day was “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” Roosevelt’s portrait is fittingly on the dime coin now as if to remind us he gave the poor what they most needed, that is, his comradeship.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates.

2011 Eviction Report

1 February 2012. The year 2011 had the highest number of documented cases of eviction since 1994, according to a study of Urban Poor Associates’ (UPA), a housing rights advocate.

From January to December 2011, 14, 744 families or 73,780 individuals were evicted in 39 demolition incidents.  92 percent of evictions are considered illegal as they lack requirements called for in the Urban Development and Housing Act. Seven demolitions turned violent.

Families in Corazon De Jesus, San Juan, had experienced eviction several times in the past. People’s resistance had stopped the evictions. On Jan 11 2012, they faced again the city government-led demolition team, using Molotov bombs, stones and bottles. The police managed to break their barricades, using water cannon, bulldozers and teargas. The residents, mostly women, could only run away to save their belongings.

According to some residents from Corazon De Jesus, the land had been awarded to them by former president Corazon Aquino through Proclamation No.  164, which was amended by Proclamation No. 54 issued by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The San Juan City government ignored these decrees to make way for a new City Hall.

Violent demolitions also occured in Brgy. San Roque, North Triangle, Quezon City and in Bernardino St., Laperal Cmpd., Brgy. Guadalupe Viejo, Makati, thousands of families were removed.

Out of 39 eviction incidents, 28 cases happened in Quezon City.  Navotas, Manila and Paranaque were next with two cases each.  Some 74 percent of all cases were ordered by local government units.  

National Housing Authority (NHA) which owns the North Triangle chose to lease the area for business purposes rather than provide shelter for informal settlers.

Sadly, 2,453 families or 17 percent of the total number of evicted families received nothing from government.

These eviction incidents are considered high compared to those of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her first and second years. Also she had signed a number of presidential proclamations making government lands available for socialized housing sites for the poor, while president Aquino has not issued any proclamations. On December 10, 2002, President GMA issued Executive Order No. 152 demanding government agencies secure certificates of compliance before implementing demolitions. This helped lessen the number of evictions for a time, but they still increased towards the end of her term.

Alicia Murphy, Field Director of UPA said, “President Benigno Aquino’s record on evictions, including illegal and violent evictions is, sad to say, not better than that of former Presidents. He must take action as promised in the Covenant of the Urban Poor.”

“We are thankful to the formation of the Technical Working Group under Secretary Jesse Robredo and its efforts to relocate poor families on-site or in-city. There have been many obstacles and delays. TWG is controversial, as are most important new works,” Murphy added.

In parting, Murphy said, “Families living in Estero De San Miguel, Manila, have high hopes that on-site housing will be implemented in their area. The president on December 21 mentioned that groundbreaking would soon be done there. We will hold on to his promises.”


Monday, February 6, 2012

Front Row: Takipsilim at Bukang Liwayway

This is a story about the Manila bay and the people living along it. Residents of Isla Puting Bato was featured cleaning a portion of Manila bay.

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