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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hopeful approaches to homelessness

By: Gerald M. Nicolas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

“So there are also squatters in Korea?” an urban poor mother and leader sitting beside me quipped in Filipino while looking at photos of so-called “vinyl houses” being flashed on the screen. (Some 4,900 families evicted from various places in Seoul occupy vacant spaces without permission and build shelters made of vinyl, thus the name.) But instead of correcting her for using a politically incorrect term for people without security of tenure (the more acceptable term nowadays is “informal settlers”), I replied: “That’s because we don’t see them in Korean telenovelas.”

I wished that the 500 or so urban poor leaders inside the convention hall shared her candid realization upon seeing the pictures that spoke volumes of the global nature of the problem of land and tenure insecurity in cities. It had probably dawned on her that the 3 million Filipino families living in slums and without legal land or housing tenure, were not alone in waking up daily to the possibility of getting displaced and having their houses and lives destroyed. Had they known that close to 4.5 million people in the world were affected by evictions between 2007 and 2008 and that 55 percent of these happened in Asia, according to the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, they would have left the venue feeling more depressed and helpless than ever.

Or probably not.

Optimism was palpable inside the hall where community leaders from 12 countries in Asia—from Korea to Pakistan to Burma (Myanmar) to the Philippines—gathered for the launching of a regional assembly of people’s organizations called the Urban Poor Coalition Asia or UPCA. What was remarkable about the assembly was that despite the differences in mother tongues, the language of hope to address a shared issue—the threat of forced eviction—echoed loud and clear among “Asian friends.”

Listening to the reports (or reading the English phrases and sentences in their PowerPoint presentations), one could see the richness of experience of the urban poor, in devising and adopting different strategies and approaches in empowering themselves to resist forced evictions. In all the countries participating in the UPCA, community-level savings mobilization proved practical. In Thailand, for example, communities have compulsory savings of 200 baht per month per household (or only P10 per day). One citywide network was able to buy a parcel of land for soon-to-be evicted families “with our own fund” and a loan from the government and development organizations like the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights. The property is located very near the original community, ensuring proximity to factories and other employment opportunities in the city.

Advocating housing rights through coalition-building and networking is also an essential strategy for influencing policies and challenging practices by government. In Nepal, the city network that includes women and youth held dialogues with political parties and explained its agenda to the public through various media. As a result, local governments in the cities of Bharatpur and Biratnagar have given free land for housing and have allocated a budget for citywide upgrading projects. In the Philippines, networks such as the Urban Poor Alliance stepped up the anti-eviction advocacy by entering into a covenant with President Aquino in 2010. So far, the allocation of P10 billion per year for in-city medium-rise housing projects for informal settlers along waterways has been the most significant (but yet to be realized) milestone of this engagement with the national government.

In-depth, detailed and, at best, participatory research has also gained increased importance in designing the strategies employed by many organized urban poor to prevent forced evictions. Indonesian delegates reported the significant contribution of technical assistance provided by architects and engineers in determining the magnitude of informal housing along Ciliwung River in east Jakarta and in capacitating the affected families in studying flood mitigation measures. It also proved helpful in proposing low-cost housing designs in accordance with the aspirations of the communities. In Korea, the NGO Asia Bridge conducted surveys to help assess the general condition of vinyl-house settlements in Seoul and generated maps to locate potential areas for upgrading and propoor development.

Nothing in the reports claimed that a single strategy can address the problem of homelessness. It has been a combination of approaches complementing each other. A community organization cannot rely solely on savings generation without trying to compel government to open opportunities for grassroots participation in the land market and land use. Neither can anti-eviction mobilization activities provide a long-term solution to tenure insecurity without sufficient and community-managed resources for the social preparation of would-be affected families. Research is needed to find out specific principles that will guide advocacy regarding what constitutes an adequate and legally acceptable housing intervention. There can be more strategies depending on the context and shared values of people, and in the end, the different strategies aim to achieve the same goal: tenure security and housing for the poor. Hope springs from allowing people’s organizations to explore innovative ways for solving their issues, different opportunities for building partnerships, and alternative venues for working with other stakeholders, especially government.

Finding Andres Bonifacio

By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I was invited recently to a meeting of the Center for Patriotic Initiatives where the topic for discussion was: “Two Years After Arroyo: Prospects and Challenges to the Patriotic Forces.” Among the invited speakers were Francisco Nemenzo, former president of the University of the Philippines; political analyst Ramon Casiple; and former Army Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, now deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Customs. I was deeply flattered to be invited with such men. I wondered, of course, if a mistake had been made in inviting me.

I couldn’t go in the end because I hurt my hip, but I knew what I would have said. I would have talked of the “meeting” that took place late last year between the urban poor and Andres Bonifacio. That meeting capped, in a real if limited way, the development of urban poor leaders, so that they and others like them are a challenge today to the patriotic forces. The urban poor and Bonifacio met like long lost relatives.

That meeting was arranged by Professor Charleston “Xiao” Chua of Dela Salle University. We met Xiao by chance while he was giving a lecture on the Tejeros Convention in Ternate, Cavite. He brought the past to life, as he talked of Bonifacio’s last days. He took his students to the actual historical sites of the events. And they saw the cells where Bonifacio was kept, and heard stories of his last days from the local people who had heard them from their ancestors. My wife and I, for example, heard the school principal in Maragondon point out the acacia tree where, her parents told her, Bonifacio would often urinate on his way in or out of his cell in the convento there.

We arranged for Xiao to lead a visit of the poor people we work with through the towns of Kawit, Ternate, Tanza, Naic and Maragondon, and finally to the trail that leads up into the mountains where Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were killed by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s men. They sang patriotic songs there in the late afternoon. The poor, most of whom are from Tondo and neighboring areas, were captivated by the life and beliefs of Bonifacio. They identified with him.

They learned that Bonifacio was far more than the warrior with a bolo, as Jose Rizal was much more of a warrior than the peaceful non-violent leader portrayed in our textbooks. They learned Bonifacio had a total plan for the reform of life in the Philippines. They identified with Bonifacio because he, too, was poor and, like many of them, had to work to raise younger brothers and sisters. They admired how he struggled to find a place for himself in society. Bonifacio preached comradeship, brotherhood (and sisterhood), kindness and charity to one another as well as the need to fight for one’s rights. The poor found themselves very comfortable with Bonifacio’s emphasis on care for others and with his vision of the Philippines. They especially enjoyed his understanding of freedom which is kaginhawaan, which seems very similar to the “peace” spoken of in John’s Gospel (Jn. 20:19-23).

The poor we work with had undergone two long learning seasons in their lives before they “met” Bonifacio. The first season was community organization. It was spent struggling with government and the powerful for land, housing, basic services, better education, job opportunities and respect. Not so different from the Bonifacio’s patriotic struggle. The second “season” was their political work during the 2010 election where they chose their candidate at meetings of 300 leaders, and then acted as regular party workers, canvassing voters, setting up offices, keeping in contact, witnessing the counting, and finally celebrating victory and bemoaning defeat. They outgrew the political fragmentation of the poor that had allowed venal politicians to grab their votes in exchange for little food, little money and airy promises.

In the years 2005-2008 they thought of having their own political party which they called Poor People’s Party. Its vision:

•A pro-poor agenda: a party working on the basic issues of all poor in the cities and in provinces; on the issues of industrial laborers, farm workers, fisherfolk, peasants and small farmers, informal sectors, youth, the aged, tribal people, women, differently disabled persons and the like;

• National in scope: a party fielding candidates in barangay and local government elections, and in the years to come in provincial and national elections;

• Dedicated to the people’s cause and to the equality of all: a party whose leaders are knowledgeable about their given tasks and duties; hot-headed but strong-willed; and neither corrupt nor corruptible;

• Strongly anchored on the social teachings of the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths.
Even before the poor met Bonifacio they shared, it seems, his manner of thinking about reform.
In the two periods, the poor learned how to analyze their situation to find what was truly good for them and what was the common good; to make strategy and tactics; and finally to have the courage to act in a mass-based, democratic and nonviolent manner, including in electoral politics. Add the inspiration of Bonifacio and you have a people ready for reform.

The urban poor are the challenge today to the patriotic forces. The poor desire reform more than any other sectors of the population because they have so little of power and wealth now. Many have the experience and capability to work for reform.

I would have ended my remarks at that meeting by quoting the words of Jesus: “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into His fields.” (Lk. 10:02)

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Innovation needed in informal-settler housing

2:58 am | Monday, March 19th, 2012

It takes more than presidential will and money to make a propoor initiative succeed. Apart from having an efficient and honest implementing bureaucracy that understands the purpose of the reform, innovation is a major ingredient of success. Without it, implementing institutions are bound to magnify what is wrong with the existing systems and make the problem worse. Innovation is the hallmark of reform.

Last year, President Aquino announced that his administration would allocate P10 billion every year until 2016 for the housing of informal settlers in so-called danger zones in Metro Manila. This initiative was a response to the advocacy of urban poor groups for a policy of in-city housing for urban informal settlers as an alternative to distant or off-city relocation. An estimated half a million families are expected to benefit from this initiative.

The size of the budget, P10 billion annually or P50 billion up to 2016, is explained by the high cost of in-city housing, especially since the administration prefers multistory housing so as to maximize the use of limited land. The urban poor, who previously had been instinctively averse to this type of housing design because of cost, safety and maintenance issues, have come to accept it as a reasonable solution.

Bolstering the urban poor’s confidence that the administration was ready for innovative housing approaches was the President’s appointment of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, known for his propoor housing programs in Naga City, as the government official responsible for the program.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) organized and convened technical working groups and contracted consultants to come up with solutions to the tenure and housing problems of informal-settler communities. It recommended the in-city housing program and budget based on the technical studies and numerous consultations with affected communities.

Urban poor communities and their organizations celebrated the announcement of the in-city housing program, considered unprecedented because of the radical departure from the longstanding policy of off-city resettlement and the large budget being committed by the executive branch for its implementation. More than that, the money for the first year was swiftly released and is now lodged with the National Housing Authority (NHA).
Encouraged by the announcement of the P10-billion fund, urban poor groups, assisted by nongovernment organizations, started to identify prospective sites and beneficiary-communities and to formulate “people’s plans” for multistory housing. The Urban Poor Alliance even submitted to the DILG a proposed menu of tenure and institutional modalities for the program, consisting of community-initiated, local-government-initiated and NHA-initiated schemes. The idea was to mobilize as many project initiators and players as possible, not only to increase the scale and speed of program implementation but also, and more importantly, to encourage inventiveness, healthy competition and cost efficiency through a multiplicity of approaches.

In Brazil where nonconventional housing approaches have been tried with some success, large-scale public housing projects built by contractors that were making lots of money while compromising the quality of housing had been gradually replaced by community-built and -managed medium-rise residential buildings. In one such project in Sao Paolo, residents were responsible for allocating housing funds, sourcing and purchasing building materials, organizing themselves into committees and construction teams, and selecting the technical advisers to assist them. A combination of grants, subsidies and loans was provided. A certain percentage of the budget was allocated for community organization and social preparation.

A more modest scheme that can easily be applied here is providing loans to poor communities that already have land tenure to enable residents to build on their existing houses a second or third floor, which they can rent out to other poor families. There are similar schemes that can achieve the objective of providing in-city housing to informal settlers, not necessarily through ownership. The question is how open are the housing agencies to such innovations.

At a recent workshop attended by government agencies, guidelines and standards to be observed in accessing the P10-billion housing fund were reportedly discussed. It is usually a bad sign when regulations are made the first order of business when implementing a supposed reform program. Regulations, especially when turned into absolutes, as bureaucrats are wont to do, run the risk of stifling innovation. The first year should be a time of flexibility, experimentation and learning. As different project ideas are tested and experience is gained on what works better and what safeguards are needed, the agencies will have a better basis for formulating standards and guidelines.

When one considers the government-built housing units in the resettlement sites in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Laguna and Cavite, or the medium-rise residential buildings in Smokey Mountain and Vitas, built by contractors that supposedly passed NHA technical standards and bidding procedures, one cannot help but want alternatives. Would the same standards that gave us the badly built resettlement and medium-rise housing units be used for the P10-billion fund? It is understandable for agencies to rely on their tried and tested rules, even if everyone else can see that their outputs leave much to be desired. The best way to kill a reform initiative is to do things in the usual way.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blackjack or charcoal?

 By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer 9:12 pm | Monday, March 12th, 2012

Two projects will soon come to life near the shores of Manila Bay. They are as different as two projects can be: one is the casino empire of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) that will occupy a vast area of the reclaimed land off Pasay and ParaƱaque; the second is the construction of a smokeless “pugon” for charcoal-making that will rise at the northern tip of Pier 18 in Tondo, Manila, within sight of the old Smokey Mountain.

 The projects are so different in philosophy, actors and resources, that one day the government may have to choose one or the other as its signature approach to development. The projects are totally different.

The casinos will occupy 60 hectares or 100 hectares (accounts in the paper differ) of the reclaimed land. The new pugon will take only 120 square meters of land.

The casinos will be financed by international gambling companies; the pugon will be backed in great part by the Catholic archdiocese of Manila. Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, former archbishop of Manila, supported the latter project; Current Manila Archbishop Chito Tagle gives it as much backing. National Housing Authority General Manager Chito Cruz has helped in other ways.

The casinos will be run by giant entrepreneurs approved by Pagcor, some of whom, such as, Steve Wynn and Kazuo Okada, have been in the papers recently for allegedly bribing government personnel. The pugon will be run by a cooperative made up of poor men and women engaged in charcoal-making, who live in the shanties nearby.

The casinos produce wealth for their owners, and fun, excitement and, ultimately, great sorrow for their customers. In the end all gamblers lose in the casinos. The pugon will produce high-grade charcoal and wood vinegar as a byproduct; and it will provide livelihood for 40 poor families this year and, it is hoped, many more later on.

Casino gambling, as experience has shown us, has led to racketeering with the Mafia and triads, guaranteeing a run-up in crime incidence (murder, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery) and corruption in government. The pugon is an example of cooperative manufacturing that can be the basis of a local economy benefiting all members of a community.

I have not been invited to board meetings of the casinos, but I was able to attend a meeting in late February of the men who will run the new pugons once they are built. The men came one by one into the day care center where the meeting was held and sat down, or tried to sit down, in the small yellow chairs the children use. They came straight from their work, so their faces were black from the toxic smoke the traditional pugons emit. The faces of many women and children in the community were also black because they too help in the work. To be candid about it, the men looked a little menacing, but they smiled as they tried to get comfortable in the tiny chairs, and it was then you could see a brilliant contrast—white dazzling smiles—bursting from their dark faces. The men looked younger than they are. The vice president of the group looked 45 at most, but told me he was already 59.

 There are 350 families in the area which is called Ulingan. Most make charcoal which creates that raw smoke that drifts through the whole community. Some families are scavengers or earn from sorting and selling garbage. We saw very few idle men just standing around, unlike what you usually see in other poor areas.

The people of Ulingan have a water co-op that receives metered water from Maynilad, which the co-op sells cheaply to the families. The profit is used to help families when someone dies or is in the hospital or falls into some other emergency. The Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program reaches 400 of the approximately 1,200 families in Ulingan and nearby sitios.

The men and women at the meeting seemed happy with the CCT and the loans and temporary work the program also offers. The name of the organization is Samahang Matiisin. The people are still waiting for a good English translation. Any suggestions?

The men will work in smokeless pugons and are interested in all the arrangements. How long will the training period be? How big will the team be for each pugon? (We hope to build four pugons to start with 10 men at each pugon.) Labor will be donated, the men agreed. They discussed a sharing of the profits and work schedules in the new venture. The seminar will be run by Juan “Jun” Marquez who has his own smokeless pugons in Silang, Cavite. It was a very business-like meeting. 

Finally we ended the meeting and started home. This meant going out through the mud that cuts Ulingan off from the outside world. The mud is bad at all times, but when it rains it is so thick and muscular we wouldn’t really be surprised to see big crocodiles crawl out of it. The poor children have to go through this mud every day on their way to school. We are looking for rubber boots so they do not get injured or infected as they wade through the mud.

The difference between the casino empire-type of development and the smokeless pugon-type may be so great the government will have to decide to take the path of high stakes gambling and tourism, or that of basic manufacturing, and a simpler form of tourism. What will it choose? What should it choose?

Maybe the government can then give the 60-100 hectares of land reserved for the casinos to house poor families.
 Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates.

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