Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gov’t Sees Economic Growth Despite Yolanda’s Devastation

 (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 18, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The economy should grow by 7.0 percent this year and between 6.5 and 7.5 percent next year despite the devastation caused by a killer typhoon and an earthquake, the government said yesterday.

Economic planning minister Arsenio Balisacan said that while losses in agriculture caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda were expected to affect growth in the near term, rebuilding would likely make up for it further down the line.

He said 2013 gross domestic product growth should hit the “upper limit” of the government‘s 6.0-7.0 percent target, forecasts made before Yolanda hit last month and a 7.1-magnitude quake struck Central Visayas in October.

“Without all these crises, we could have achieved 7.3-7.5 percent growth this year,” Balisacan said in a statement.

Nevertheless, he said the Philippines should continue its hot streak of five consecutive quarters of at least 7.0 percent growth.

“For 2014, we forecast growth to be in the 6.5-7.5 percent range.”

Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

60,000 homes

Meanwhile, Vice President Jejomar Binay said the government will construct at least 60,000 homes for Yolanda victims.

Binay, who is also chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), told The STAR the target is to build 40,000 housing units in 2014 and 20,000 in 2015.

He said the National Housing Authority, Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund and the HUDCC would jointly undertake the construction.

Binay said they have coordinated with Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Panfilo Lacson on the participation of the housing sector to rebuild and resettle Yolanda victims.

Urban poor groups, however, said Yolanda survivors should be consulted first concerning rebuilding efforts.

In a forum held at the Ateneo University yesterday, Jeorgie Tenolete, president of Kabalikat sa Kaunlaran in Baseco, Tondo said resettlement sites should not be crowded and jobs should be a priority.

“Barangays of different affected areas must do an assessment and planning for their short- and long-term rebuilding activities together with the residents. Funders and the national government can now directly provide funds to barangays based on their identified needs. The barangay must allow active participation of its constituents so that all funds for rehabilitation will be carefully accounted for by the community,” Celia Santos, one of the speakers and advocacy officer for Urban Development and Housing Act Amendments said.

The Urban Poor Alliance, Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity and other people’s organizations said the proper approach is “build back better in disaster areas.”

“Recovery must promote fairness and equity. Government must ensure that in the reconstruction process, ordinary citizens and their communities will be involved,” they said.

Alice Murphy, UPA field director, said the government should adopt the best practices in reconstruction to ensure that Yolanda survivors are “served with integrity” and their needs are given priority. 

19 schools

Apart from building 159 bunkhouse units for 3,816 families, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said it would also repair 18 schools and a regional office of the Department of Education (DepEd) damaged by Yolanda.

In a statement, DPWH Eastern Visayas regional director Rolando Asis said the schools are in Tacloban City and the DepEd regional office in Palo, Leyte.

The 18 schools are the Caiba-an Elementary School, Kapangi-an Central School, Dr. A. P. Bañez Elementary School at Barangay 77, V&G Elementary School in Barangay 109, San Jose Central School, San Jose National High School, Marasbaras Central School, Rizal Central School, Sagkahan National High School, Lorenzo Daa Elementary School, Sto. Niño SPED Center, Tacloban National High School, Lucio Vivero Memorial School, B. Bolante Elementary School, Cabalawan Elementary School, Bagacay Elementary School, Marasbaras National High School and Salvacion Elementary School.

DPWH has started clearing the damaged schools and conducted an assessment of the needed materials.

Seeds for farmers

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it had begun supplying farmers with emergency seed supplies that will allow them to collect a harvest in March and April.

FAO’s representative in the Philippines, Rodrigue Vinet, said that without the harvest, vulnerable farmers would not have been able to harvest rice for almost a year -- until October or November 2014.

“Seed distributions have come at a critical moment,” he said in a statement.

FAO said more than 1,000 farmers from the hardest-hit areas will each receive 40-kilogram bag of seeds.

It said it was also delivering bags of fertilizer as well as tools and small irrigation water pumps.

No holiday break

Employees of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Yolanda-hit areas will have no holiday break to ensure there will be no interruption in the distribution of relief goods to affected families.

DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman said there would be a shifting of employees in Field Offices 6, 7 and 8 on Christmas and New Year.

The DSWD is also beefing up its personnel with the deployment of additional personnel from Quezon City.  – Jun Elias, Rainier Allan Ronda, Rhodina Villanueva, Evelyn Macairan

Monday, December 16, 2013

Wounded people

By Denis Murphy
12:59 am | Monday, December 16th, 2013

The people of Tacloban and the other areas savaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” are a wounded people.
The smell of death is still in their nostrils; nearly every family has suffered a death. Families have lost all they own: the fishing boat and nets they saved up for over the years; the small businesses, tool kits, tricycles, and other assets they depended on for their livelihood; and the small homes carefully pieced together as a little more money came in.

They have seen death up close in the worst destruction witnessed in the country since the Liberation of Manila in 1944. Some of them must find it truly difficult to begin all over again. Some may despair. Many still hear the wind shrieking.

The people do not need bosses or taskmasters. It may be only their faith that still tethers them to their ordinary lives. The dire situation calls for people who can talk kindly to them, find out what they want to do, and help them do that, if it is at all possible and feasible.

For the reconstruction in the Visayas we need free, creative and imaginative people at all levels of work, but especially at the very top, among mayors and national leaders, and among the poor who will be 90 percent of the people involved in the effort. We need informed agreement, not grudging assent, among the poor; we need their enthusiasm. We need a healthy, but not slavish, respect for law and custom.
Jesus told us the law was made for man, not man for the law, and that the need to help one’s neighbor in times of trouble overrides all other laws. Mahatma Gandhi led the Indian people to violate British law several times on their way to independence.

Compare the view of Jesus and Gandhi with another understanding of the law that appeared recently in Tacloban.

Thousands of coconut trees have been felled by the typhoon. Some people wanted to cut the trees into lumber that they would use to rebuild their homes. They were told by officials that it was a violation of the law to do so, especially if done with a power saw. Thus, the children, the aged and the sick continued to sleep in the open.

Sometimes we must set aside laws and customs that are clearly not relevant, but those who do so must be ready to suffer the punishment established for such violations. Setting aside a law is no trivial matter, though it may sometimes be necessary.

In the reconstruction we have to give a special place to the poor people and to their organizations. We need the suggestions of the poor and their wholehearted support. The poor will be the final judges of the success or failure of the whole project in the way they will vote later and lead their lives. The poor people’s organizations are the best means of ensuring that we have the consent of the people and their free and “generous solidarity” (Pope Francis’ phrase).

All of us have to think outside the box and work with people who are outside our usual “box” of friends. We have to allow all levels of society a seat at the decision-making table. If we give the poor a chance to explain their points of view, we will be surprised by their wisdom. We must not demand freedom with regard to law and custom only, but also in regard to the orders that come from our officials. We must build on our democratic instincts. Leaders must come and argue their cases. The poor are not their indentured slaves. The poor are their “bosses.” This is a good time to part with the autocratic, bullying ways of the past.

We hope that in the process of reconstruction, a kind of people are formed who will continue after the reconstruction to build a democratic and prosperous society and rid themselves of inept politicians, homelessness, hunger and illiteracy. We need leaders who can bring joy into the reconstruction work and into the future.

The poor people of the Visayas need compassion and understanding. I realized part of this emotional reality when we took a taxi home from Makati last week.

We started talking to the taxi driver, who told us that he was from Tacloban and that his parents barely escaped death during the onslaught of Yolanda. As the wind grew stronger, the couple went outdoors and climbed up the sampaloc tree behind their house. The father, 79, and the mother, 65, held on to the tree for hours as the typhoon raged. They watched their house fly apart in the wind. They saw their other son hit on the head by a piece of debris and fall dead. The next day they buried him in front of their house.
The taxi driver began to shake. He took deep gasps for breath and the tears fell. “My brother, my brother,” he sighed repeatedly, “my poor brother.” We were silent for the next 45 minutes.

We say “wounded people,” but maybe it is better to say “challenged people” on their way to becoming the “joyful people” that Pope Francis talks about in his pastoral letter, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Urban Poor Groups say, “Build Back Better in Disaster Areas”

Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.          Telefax: 4264118          Tel.: 4264119 / 4267615
Ref:  Princess Asuncion-Esponilla      Mobile phone: 0908 1967450

17 December 2013. Urban poor groups composed of Urban Poor Alliance, Urban Poor Associates, Community Organizers Multiversity, and different people’s organizations believe the proper approach is build back better in disaster areas. Recovery must promote fairness and equity. Government must ensure that in the reconstruction process ordinary citizens and their communities will be involved.

The group held a forum entitled “Will We Build Back Better?” December 17 at the Ateneo De Manila. The purpose of the forum was to gather suggestions for ensuring national reconstruction following on Yolanda will be a success. The suggestions cover different aspects of reconstruction—land, houses, jobs, health, administrations of the work, necessary participants in the process.

The forum also remembered Panunuluyan. Ivy Pagute, community organizer and one of the UPA group who went to Tacloban for rapid-assessment said, “Usually every December we hold our annual event, Panunuluyan— which how Mary and Joseph search for a place where Jesus could be born. Because of devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda we won’t have one this year. However, this meeting reminds us almost a million people are looking for a home. This forum can be another form of a Panunuluyan because we are helping a million families to find a house. “

Before the program started the participants were asked to pray in silence while the recorded sounds of Typhoon Yolanda were playing. Participants and victims of Typhoon Yolanda were moved to tears.

Jeorgie Tenolete, President of Kabalikat sa Kaunlaran in Baseco, Tondo said, “When we visited Tacloban last December 6 it seemed that nothing had changed since the typhoon a month earlier. The survivors of typhoon Yolanda should be consulted. Resettlement sites should not overcrowd and jobs must be given importance.”

Celia Santos, one of the speakers and Advocacy Officers for UDHA Amendments suggested, “Barangays of different affected areas must do an assessment and planning for their short and long term rebuilding activities together with the residents. Funders and national government can now directly provide funds to barangays based on their identify needs. The barangay must allow active participation of its constituents so that all funds for rehabilitation plan will be accounted by the community.”

The speakers of the forum were from World Bank, NGOs, Urban Planner, People’s Organizations, government and the Church. The participants selected the top five suggestions that will be given to the President and his assistants.

Alice Murphy, UPA Field Director concluded, “we are doing this to make sure that the government acknowledges the best practices in the reconstruction. We want worldwide acknowledged best practices to ensure that the majority of Yolanda survivors to be served with integrity and that all their needs will be given priority.”


Saturday, December 14, 2013

From the House to the Senate

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Letter to the Editor

Urban poor leaders advocating amendments to the 1992 Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) visited the House of Representatives and Senate early December to hand over copies of a letter to certain legislators. In that letter, they thanked the lawmakers for legislation that favored the poor and asked for their continued support for the poor. They also sought their help to get the UDHA amended. The group believes that the proposed amendments to the UDHA will address and solve many present-day housing issues, including eviction.

Urban poor leaders wore the most decent clothes they had and brought their identification cards those days they visited Congress.

At the House, they were stopped by security guards. They told the guards that they had letters for Rep. Cresente Paez, the author of the amendment bill, and for 15 other congressmen who also sponsored it. Only four of the urban poor leaders were allowed to enter, the rest were sent away. When the four leaders were in the Congress canteen, the guards asked them to leave even though they were still eating. They ignored the guards and proceeded to bring the letters to the congressmen-addressees. The urban poor felt that they were treated like trash at the House.

In contrast, the Senate was very accommodating. They felt that they were welcomed with open arms by the institution. They were able to give their letters and felt they were greeted with warmth in the Senate offices they went to. Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano found time for them and assured them of his support. Sen. Bam Aquino, a sponsor of the UDHA amendments, acknowledged the efforts of the urban poor leaders in amending the UDHA.

Ordinary people appreciate being welcomed as friends by public officials.

advocacy officer,
Urban Development and Housing Act,
Task Force UDHA Amendments,
25-A Mabuhay St.,
Barangay Central, Quezon City

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pope: Change economy, respect the poor

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Pope Francis, in his gripping pastoral letter “The Joy of the Gospel,” calls the Church to a new evangelization. Two of his challenges have special importance for the Philippines: his condemnation of “trickle down” or “growth without jobs” capitalism, and the importance he assigns to the poor in the life of the Church.

The Pope writes: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” [53] Later in the same number, he says: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

It may be the same message as earlier popes preached, but it seems more grounded now in the personal experience of this Pope. He claims that present-day economics makes us indifferent to “the death by exposure of an old and homeless person.” He is angry when he describes food being thrown away in wealthy countries and cities when poor people are starving elsewhere. He also blames the lack of awareness on the self-centeredness that this economy creates in people. He says the poor are “outcasts” and “leftovers” in such a society.

The Philippine economy that produces wealth, but remains barren of jobs, is not an accident, but the deliberate choice of our politicians and business leaders. It can be modified.

What will Christian politicians and the business elite do when faced with the Pope’s criticism? The Pope asks for a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. “I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which [favors] human beings.” [58]

The Pope does not expect change overnight. He would be happy, I suspect, if political and business leaders made some effort, however small, to reshape the economy. The Pope’s phrase, “generous solidarity,” seems to say it all.

The second challenge of the Pope is for all in the country to appreciate God’s special love for the poor. “God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that He himself became poor (2 Cor 8:7).” The Pope says: “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the  sensus  fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the [center] of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.” [198]

Did any other pope ever speak with such depth of insight and passion about poor people?
If politicians and economic experts must reexamine our national economic system, all of us must see how we can come closer to respecting, honoring and helping the poor as God wants. Pope Francis’ words remind us that hungry children are a desecration of God’s most exquisite work. Forced evictions, unemployed youth, the slums themselves cry out to God like Abel’s blood.

Can we make sure the poor will be treated fairly and justly in the reconstruction work in the wake of Supertyphoon “Yolanda”? Will the fishermen made homeless end up in decent housing and still be able to fish, or will they find themselves far from their old homes and the sea? Not all social problems are located in the South. What share will the homeless poor have in the 300 hectares that SM is allowed to reclaim in Manila Bay?

Will the fishermen and other poor people around Laguna Lake threatened by flood control projects be treated fairly? Will the government share its plans for them with them? Will there be genuine consultation befitting a democracy?

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Monday, December 2, 2013

A storm surge of suggestions

By Denis Murphy

These days, President Aquino faces a storm surge of suggestions on how to run the government’s reconstruction program in the areas walloped by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” The purpose of this piece (and of a roundtable on reconstruction matters to be held in mid-December) is to help the President and his assistants to sort through the suggestions pouring into their offices. Some are good; some are not so useful.

There are rules for the dangerous and demanding work of reconstruction. Lawyer Angel Ojastro of Naga City, who worked closely with the late Jesse Robredo, sent the following list of suggestions compiled by former US President Bill Clinton when he was the United Nations’ special envoy for tsunami recovery (2006). In the interest of space I have left out some suggestions and trimmed down some:

• Governments, donors, and aid agencies must recognize that families and communities drive their own recovery.
• Recovery must promote fairness and equity.
• Local governments must be empowered to manage recovery efforts.
• Good recovery planning and effective coordination depend on good information.
• The UN, World Bank, and other multilateral agencies must clarify their roles.
• From the start of recovery operations, governments and aid agencies must create the conditions for entrepreneurs to flourish.
• Good recovery must leave communities safer by reducing risks and building resilience.

My good friend, architect Jonathan James Price, sent me his own list. Price is now a consultant with the World Bank in Manila. He is English but is fortunately married to a Filipino, architect May Domingo. He has worked among poor people in a number of Asian countries. I have also left out from his list some suggestions and trimmed down others:

• If possible, people should be allowed to return to their previous locations and, with technical assistance, rebuild safer and better housing where they used to live. It is very easy to make blanket judgments about no-build zones, but mitigation measures should also be taken into consideration. People often end up losing their occupancy rights as well. “Building back better” is a nice catchy phrase, but it doesn’t always get done, especially when so many people are affected and resources including technical assistance, monitoring capacity, money and materials are limited.
• Relocation projects should not cram as many people as possible onto the sites, but consider livelihood very carefully in the planning—such as larger plots of land for backyard gardening or common facilities like workshops. If livelihood is not considered very carefully in the relocation sites, they will be a failure.
• It’s best to avoid transitional housing or bunk housing and move people straight into permanent housing. People end up staying in bunkhouses for far too long.
• Whenever possible, big international nongovernment organizations should partner with local NGOs, people’s organizations, and community-based organizations in rebuilding communities and replanning or planning new settlements. In so doing, they can strengthen local organization and capacity as well as make use of all that local knowledge.

Most of the suggestions in these two lists seek to ensure that ordinary citizens and their communities will be involved in the reconstruction process (the poor, especially, because they are so often ignored or ill-treated), and that they will be treated fairly and with equity (justly). Price’s suggestions focus on historic mistakes that were made in past reconstruction programs and can be made in the future.

To act as Clinton and Price suggest takes time. It is better, they recommend, to proceed slowly and thoughtfully than rush to judgment in these complex and controversial matters, such as the site of relocation areas. If the people feel poorly treated, the road ahead will be slow and maddeningly frustrating all around.

Price focuses on some of these recurring mistakes, such as choice of relocation areas, overcrowding, and lack of long-term perspective. At bottom, it seems that he and Clinton are asking for compassion, consultation, determination, learning from past mistakes, and thoughtful, widely accepted steps forward.

How does the government show its determination to rehouse the million-plus homeless families despite the problems? How will it enforce its decisions? How will it punish individuals who place their own economic good over the happiness of thousands of poor people? Does it need special powers from Congress—for example, stronger expropriation powers?

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Friday, November 22, 2013

A horrible half-year

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Now that the worst is over in Tacloban and some other typhoon-devastated areas, it may be time to look not only at the awful tragedy there but also at the last six months, which were marked by a series of manmade and natural disasters seldom seen together in such a short period. It may be good to look at them now because people are quick to forget, especially with Christmas just a month or so away.

Midyear, economists criticized the national economy for creating “growth without jobs,” which meant that the rich got richer and the poor remained mostly stuck in poverty. It wasn’t an accident; the economy was designed by our business leaders and policymakers to operate in that way. Such an economy, dividing the population even further into rich and poor conditions of living, is at war with notions of solidarity and compassion, which should be guiding norms. (Economist Cielito Habito wrote in this paper on Nov. 12 that it was not enough that we have growth: “It must be growth that produces jobs and livelihoods for as many Filipinos as possible.”)

Then came the disclosures on the pork barrel scam involving leading politicians. In an estimate, a government official claimed that the P10 billion allegedly stolen by Janet Napoles was a trivial matter compared to the P1 trillion (12 zeros) stolen from the government from 2001 to 2010.

Next came the battles in Zamboanga. People have wondered how a small ragtag militia could gear for war and march on that city without the Armed Forces being aware of it, especially since there is a heavy military presence there. People also wonder why the military can’t find criminals, such as former general Jovito Palparan, And even more important: Why can’t the military find missing activist Jonas Burgos?
And then there was the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that jarred Bohol, Cebu and other areas.

Then came “Yolanda.” Day after day, as people watched the news on TV, they saw sorrow and pain, how fiercely men and women can love their children and one another, and how perishable we all are.
We saw people half-crazed with thirst in Tacloban and bodies of beautiful children lying dead by the roads. We heard of looting, and of a new species of criminal, the looter-rapist. Who would have imagined Filipino men taking food and whatever they wanted from poor women in a time of calamity—while dead bodies lay all around—and then raping the women? Many people simply sat and waited for death. And where was our Church? Where were the priests to bury the dead and console those laid low in sorrow? Bodies lay everywhere as if they were the usual garbage.

Some may ask, as Jewish people asked at the time of the Holocaust: Where is God?  God was there in Tacloban, receiving the dying children, the young parents and the aged into His arms. He was wiping away all their tears, as we are told in the Book of Revelation, and bringing them to their true home where there “shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

If our economic elite, military, elected officials, and even the Church can disappoint us, to whom will the people look for leadership? To the same institutions—where else?—but these must recognize their weaknesses, and begin anew with the intention to reform. There is an old saying in the Church, older than the Reformation: “The Church must always be reformed.” The same need exists for all our institutions. If the Holy Church needs constant reform, surely our human institutions do, too. There are enough decent, hardworking people in government to do the job.

Reform should include the willingness to listen to all groups of citizens, including the poor. We should remember that in a democracy, policy is a matter of compromise. It is also said: “In a democracy, reform comes from the ballots of the poor.” To help shape the future, the poor must have better jobs and education than they have now.

At a meeting on Nov. 13 at the Ateneo de Manila, the urban poor of Metro Manila and fishermen from Laguna Lake began to play their role in this renewal. The participants covered three matters: 1) what to do when there is conflict between government and poor people’s plans; 2) what to ask of government, now that it is clear there is much more money available than they previously thought; and 3) what service will the poor offer society in the settlement of the pork barrel disarray.

The poor do not expect to become another Neda (National Economic and Development Authority), but they have the skills to analyze government plans and sort out what is good for themselves and the common good, and what is not. They limit their advice to those matters in which they have direct knowledge. The fishermen of Laguna Lake have begun to do this by rejecting the ring road dike around the lake that will require the relocation of 45,000 families, and the shorter Laguna Lake Expressway Dike that will affect about 10,000 families. They will examine alternatives and support those remedies for flooding on the lake that treat them fairly. They will oppose solutions that do not. The fishermen who were at the meeting are from the Calamba-Biñan area. They have fished in those waters for generations, or at least since the time of Jose Rizal, who wrote about how much he enjoyed the fish caught in that part of the lake.

The poor realize that government has much more money than they ever imagined, so instead of pork barrel they ask government to widen the benefits of PhilHealth to include medicines, lab tests, ambulances, and other out-of-hospital expenses at affordable rates. They ask government to please improve the schools in poor areas, and give poor groups funding to begin to upgrade their areas—for example, their drainage. They ask government to review its economic policies and direct the economy to creating jobs. Finally they ask the government to make food available at affordable prices.

In return, the poor will organize to vote out of office all politicians found guilty of involvement in the pork barrel scam. They will make citizen arrests of people they know are guilty. They will cooperate with other groups in these matters.

* * *

For many years Nandy Pacheco and others have urged Filipinos to accept Christ’s peace in their hearts. This peace is the love, forgiveness, compassion and strength of Jesus. It is well described in St. John’s Gospel (Chapters 14 and 20). Christ’s peace takes away our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh. It takes away the sorrows of Tacloban and gives us Christ’s joy.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Urban Poor and the Pork Barrel Scandal

Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.          Telefax: 4264118          Tel.: 4264119 / 4267615
Ref:  Princess Asuncion-Esponilla      Mobile phone: 0908 1967450

13 November 2013. Urban poor groups composed of Urban Poor Alliance, Urban Poor Associates, Community Organizers Multiversity, and other different people’s organizations presented urban poor peoples’ views on the pork barrel scandal and related matters November 13 at the Ateneo De Manila.

Professor Prospero “Popoy” De Vera, University of the Philippines Vice-President for Public Affairs and  Senator Benigno “Bam” Aquino spoke to the group.

Jeorgie Tenolete, President of Kabalikat sa Kaunlaran in Baseco, Tondo said the poor were shocked by the amount of money revealed.

Tenolete spoke for all urban poor when he said: “If that money were spent for the good of the poor majority, nobody would be begging in the streets, nobody would be evicted because housing is inadequate, nobody would be out of work, no children would be out of school, nobody would die because he/she had no money for medicines and nobody would be hungry. Now that we know there is money, they cannot tell us anymore that there is no money for basic needs. We will do our best to make sure that the poor will never be an ingredient in a scam like this—we will organize ourselves to go against the corrupt.”

The forum called for extending Philhealth benefits to every poor family; by making sure each student in elementary school had free uniforms, text books, meals and transport; provide funds to improve light, water and drainage in the poor communities; creating jobs; and flooding poor neighborhoods with rice, fish and vegetable at affordable cost.

The urban poor also pledged action by organizing signature campaigns and rallies for honest government and in order to jail pork barrel villains within one year; organizing voters against persons known to be corrupt; putting a committee of urban poor leaders and NGOs into the six agencies that received the money that would have gone to the pork barrel in 2014 to monitor the utilization of the funds; work with Bottom-Up Budgeting, and make citizens’ arrests of corrupt officials.

Alice Murphy, UPA Field Director said, “this forum is a venue for poor people to get together, share their sentiments, suggest alternatives and at the same time be enlightened on the issue of the  pork barrel scam. We believe that by free discussions we can learn and with understanding of the issues we can come to commitments that will improve the condition of the poor through better public service.”

She said: “We will start by advocating PhilHealth for our poor people. Many of our leaders have PhilHealth but when the time came that they try to use the card and present it in the hospital, they find out that it was not funded. Many poor people die because they don’t have access to hospital care.”

Token From Kabalikat's Habi Bag

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Revolt in the Manila Zoo

By Denis Murphy
9:40 pm | Sunday, November 10th, 2013

When it was time to leave the zoo I sat near the giant aviary that is close to the entrance, waiting for my wife, Alice and our coworker Ivy to come back from the comfort room. I was close enough to the aviary to hear a group of eagles, flamingos and storks talking. They don’t move their lips or bills, but you can hear them if you listen closely.

They were very angry. The zoo was shabby, they claimed, and the food was not adequate. Worst of all, some zookeepers were cruel. The animals were going to take action. I heard the word corruption repeated several times. I leaned so close to hear that a stork said to me: “If you are really interested, hang around. We will have a meeting by Mali’s enclosure.” My wife and Ivy returned and we decided to hide somewhere and later on join the animals at their meeting.

There were close to 50 animals in a big circle. Their complaints went beyond food, shabby quarters and corruption. Mali complained she was the only elephant in the zoo, the only member of her species. “I am desperately lonely,” she said.
The overweight lady hippopotamus told the animals how ashamed she was when the visitors came and saw her. “I’m a mess. Look at my tail; is that a fitting tail for the only lady hippo in the zoo?” She turned her huge rear in a circle so they could all see the tail. It had only five or six long strings of hair. “Is that tail something you want tourists to see?” She seemed to imply the success of the zoo depended on the state of her tail. From the rear it looked like a giant guitar with busted strings. “We need personal caretakers and beauticians,” she said.

The oldest deer in the zoo told the group in the sad voice of old deer: “They are all gone—the lions, leopards, rhinos, giraffes. They are no more, but their cages are still there and empty, like gravestones. We’re dying off one by one, and we are not replaced. I see no future for us.  Empty cages grow in number. We are near the end.”
Then the stork I had talked with earlier moved to the center of the circle of animals and began to outline the action plans. They would kidnap five zoo workers when they came to feed the animals on Sunday. They would issue their list of demands, and if the authorities didn’t give in, they would feed the keepers to the tigers and the crocodiles. I noticed the crocodiles and tigers didn’t look so enthusiastic about this food.

The eagle read the list of demands. It included calls for better food, better cleaning of their cages, and an end to corruption. “Any others?” the eagle asked.

Mali said, “We need babies. We elephants need babies. We don’t make sense without them.”
“We need flowers,” the deer said.

“We need to discuss all those empty cages.” A ghost-like voice called from a tree. I think it was the red-faced Japanese monkey.

The eagle conferred with the storks and flamingos. Then he told the animals. “We’ll get to all of that—the babies and flowers and deaths and all that other stuff, but now we need unity. Let’s get those zookeepers.”

When I heard this brush-off of the older animals, I began to worry. Whenever I hear a leader say, “Not now; we’ll get to your problem later,” I begin to worry. Remember “Animal Farm” and how the pigs manipulated all the animals?
“No, no,” Mali said. “We have to discuss these things now. I am afraid if we don’t, we will forget about them.” There were several shouts of approval.

“OK,” the eagle said and the meeting went on long into the night. They discussed everything all over again and wound up with a list of demands that ran to several pages. The animals knew in their bones that democracy and solidarity must begin on day one or they never take root.

Then I heard the eagle call our names. He was inviting Alice, Ivy and myself to talk at the meeting.

I told the animals how impressed I was with the way they carried out their meeting. I told them humans had a lot to learn from them, especially their willingness to work on everyone’s problems and not just those of the more articulate.

I suggested that they not threaten to feed the keepers to the tigers and crocodiles, since they would need the support of humans when it comes to the negotiations. Everyone needs allies. Anyway I’m not sure, I said, our tigers and crocodiles are eager to eat them. Alice and Ivy spoke in a similar congratulatory manner. Then the animals went home: tigers and deer side by side, crocodiles and monkey, those who had spoken and those who had been silent. They helped Mali back into her enclosure. What a job that was! They assured the lady hippo she looked very nice the way she was.
They cared for one another and worked to solve one another’s problems, and they will succeed, we believe.

* * *
We all have problems—whether we are rich or poor, old or young, good-looking or not.  If we work together, give and take, compromise with one another and encourage one another, we can end pork barrel scams, find other ways to help the poor, and create a country of justice and peace. We can be as wise as the animals.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Draw Good from Evil

By Denis Murphy

One good outcome from the pork barrel scandal—maybe the only good outcome—is that in the future no government official will be able to tell poor people: “We don’t have money for what you want.” We now know there is money, and it’s up to the citizens and perhaps especially the poor to seek what is justly due them.

Janet Napoles is accused of having gained P5-6 billion in real estate. In addition, she most likely has money in bonds, trusts, cars, jewels, etc., and she is only one of a few hundred individuals who grew rich in the pork barrel scam. What is the total loot? Is it P100 billion? Or P500 billion? Then there is the Malampaya Fund and other funds we may hear about in time. Certainly there is money enough for hungry, jobless, sickly, homeless people and for young people who want to go to college as their way to escape poverty, or for people who want to start a small business, or buy a small piece of art to brighten a poor home.

Some urban poor people seek a way by which they can continue to get the benefits they once received from the pork barrel, such as help in times of sickness and death, but now without the corruption.

While the poor and others search for such a good solution, there are steps that can be taken immediately to lessen people’s suffering, now that we know there is adequate money. An example of such a step can be the widening of PhilHealth benefits to include all the medical needs of poor and near-poor families, and at a cost the poor can afford. We can make PhilHealth our universal-healthcare program.

Medicines and laboratory tests and other out-of-hospital expenses can be added to the benefits that people receive. Enrolling fees can be reduced, so all families can afford the program. A young man friend of ours died in Baseco because his family didn’t have money for a doctor at the Philippine General Hospital, and he was put instead on the charity waiting list at No. 176. He died before his turn came. The operation by the doctor who would be paid could have been done in a matter of days. The family also lacked money for the medicines and tests that the operation would require.

In the Covenant with the Urban Poor signed by President Aquino on March 6, 2010, there are sections on improving conditions in the slums, including legal electricity and water connections, more adequate drainage, toilets, garbage removal, and good policing.

Can officials chosen by the President negotiate with Meralco, Maynilad and Manila Water to improve the supply of light and water in all slum areas? Such an improvement—namely, legalizing the connections—can save families P1,000 a month on average. Can the government enter into a public-private partnership contract with a construction company or two for adequate drainage and environmental risk reduction measures? There can also be provisions for toilets and waste disposal. Much of this elementary construction work can be done by the people themselves if they had the funds needed.

Perhaps the most significant contribution that society can help provide our urban poor brothers and sisters is good policing. Drugs are the great problem. People have told me that “almost every day someone in our area is shot dead.” The bodies are left untouched on the ground for hours to make sure everyone has learned it isn’t wise to disagree with the drug bosses. The use of drugs constantly grows. For talented young men the drug business is the best paying and most prestigious work, and often the only work, available.

Democracy and human vitality die when drugs are powerful, and we may end up like the great cities in Brazil—hostages to the pushers and their bosses. The wider society must help, but the poor must demand change. It won’t come sailing into Manila Bay at sunset.

What should our attitude be to the politicians who have betrayed their solemn oaths and the people they are supposed to represent?

Hatred is understandable, but it is not enough. We must seek repentance on the part of the guilty, as well as fitting punishment. Luke’s Gospel has an example of these twin needs. As Jesus is walking on the streets of Jericho, he realizes that the despised tax official Zacchaeus is in the branches of the tree above him. Jesus says: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly for today I must stay in your house.” Zacchaeus came down and, realizing he was forgiven, said: “Behold, half of my possessions I have given to the poor and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus was as corrupt as any of our pork barrel villains, and in addition he was a traitor to his people because he served the Roman occupation forces.

If the guilty ask forgiveness from God and the people and repay what they have stolen, as Zacchaeus did, maybe like the tax collector they can find forgiveness. Otherwise, there is prison.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Thursday, October 24, 2013

World Habitat – A Call for Decent Housing

 Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.          Telefax: 4264118          Tel.: 4264119 / 4267615
Ref:  Princess Asuncion      Mobile phone: 0908 1967450

About five hundred urban poor assembled today in Anda Circle, Bonifacio drive at 5PM to celebrate world habitat month. The group with their colorful placards calling for decent housing marched to the Ninoy and Cory Aquino monument in Padre Burgos Street, Roxas Boulevard.

The Task Force Anti-Eviction composed of various people’s organizations and NGOs such as the Urban Poor Associates (UPA) and Community Organizers Multiversity (COM) said the Ninoy and Cory monument is a reminder to everyone to help the poorest of the poor of our country through mass actions to support a call for decent and affordable housing in the city.

TFAE together with the people held a small program at the monument. Some of them rendered songs and dances. At 7PM, 500 people all together lit the candles that brighten the night. They read a statement that encourages everyone to participate in promoting adequate housing a priority.

The group also prayed that the government help in the rehabilitation of the communities and to provide mass housing to the thousands victims of disasters in Bohol and arm conflicts in Zamboanga.

Jeorgie Tenolete, president of Kabalikat in Baseco, Tondo, said, “Our community in Baseco has been long proclaimed but without the help of civil society it would not be able to survive threats of demolition. We are asking the government to implement the Baseco Development Plan to show its sincerity.”
“We also asked our authorities to ensure that our brother and sisters who suffered from calamity and war may not just get aid but safe and affordable housing, Tenolete added”

UPA data shows that there are 100,000 families living on waterways that are threatened of eviction.

Liza Condino, COM community organizer of fisher folk in Laguna Lake said, “the government plans of building a dike-road around the lake has a good intention to avoid flooding in the lake side, but it will cause the relocation of 45,000 families in far areas.”

Condino reiterated that they do not oppose the flood control project but it is important the government involve the people in planning the project and to explain to them that a massive moving of people will do tremendous harm to families. She wants to secure that the families can decide their own future.

TFAE also demanded that the President hasten the implementation of the covenant he signed with the urban poor on March 6, 2010 at Del Pan Sports Complex.

Ricardo Narcilla, president of United Chrislam along the waterway of Estero De San Miguel, urged the President to fast track the four on-site housing projects in Estero De San Miguel, Quiapo and San Sebastian.

Narcilla added, “Our neighbors, about 88 families, were already demolished. We fear that we will also be evicted if the housing project will not be started within the year. We know that our president hands are full, but we needed him for the implementation of the project.”

TFAE is also lobbying for the House Bill No. 2791 filed by 16 congressmen lead by COOP-NATTCO Representative Cresente Paez. It seeks to amend several sections of UDHA to strengthen the protected right of every Filipino to a decent home, and provide sanctions upon those who violate the mandate of the law.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Nila and her mangroves

Nila Mendez, 57, who, according to her neighbors, cares for the mangroves of Baseco as if they were her children, told us she was asking God that near the end of her life He give her a small nipa hut on stilts alongside the mangroves, but out of the reach of floodwaters. There, she said, she would rise at dawn and watch her mangroves blowing in the wind and growing strong. It was such a pretty scene she described that my wife and I prayed: “Why not two houses, Lord? One for Nila and one for us?”

Meanwhile in his retirement home in Antipolo, Bishop Julio Labayen, OCD, also rises at dawn, says Mass, and then watches the acacia and fruit trees in his compound. “God is in the trees,” the bishop told us when we visited him not too long ago.

Nila spends her days tending to the mangrove trees that protect the western end of Baseco from the storms that roar in from Manila Bay. She removes the rubbish that people have thrown among the plants as well as the garbage that comes from the bay and the Pasig River. She waters the plants during hot summer days. She gets her water from a well she dug in the sandy ground near the plants. She protects the plants “because they are the children of God.”

She fights with people who don’t listen to common sense. She is there all day long, like one of the old pagan gods at the edge of the rice fields, and she does all this freely. Her son gives her food. Kabalikat, the people’s organization, gives her a little money from time to time and some food. But she is basically a volunteer.

During the habagat (monsoon) in July, a storm broke the bamboo fence protecting the plants from the garbage. A total of 259 plants died, according to Nila. She seems to know each plant. She went right away to Kabalikat to get help. She gathered an army of volunteers and repaired the fence.

Tending to mangroves in an urban-poor area is hard work, Nila told us. “Taking care of them is like taking care of human beings. I tell young people, ‘Take care of mangroves and in the future they will protect you and your families. You’ll remember me then, because I will be buried right there near the mangroves.’”

Many know of Bishop Labayen’s long struggle for justice for farmers and for the tribal people in the mountains behind Infanta, and his and his people’s heroic efforts for many years to save the forests there. Only a few know of Nila’s story. She left college in Bohol at age 17, when she became pregnant and married a man she described as a boozer, a womanizer, a violent man who beat her, and a gambler. He had all the vices, she said. She paused to reflect, and then added, with an amused shake of her head: “I know everything about men.”

Isn’t there some relative in every family who is supposed to look out for the women of the family and make sure they are treated fairly in life? I think of Sonny, Don Vito Corleone’s son, in “Godfather.”

Nila came to Baseco in 2007, but she had been in Manila long before that. She worked in factories; she scavenged; she waited on customers in shops. She worked in the “Wet and Wild Karaoke Bar” as waitress, singer, accountant and manager. She worked with a Chinese man named Yu. “Were you his girlfriend?” a woman in the group listening to us asked, and everyone laughed. She sang in different bars, she said. She must have been a pretty young woman, with her sleepy eyes.

“If the plants are happy, I am happy and God is happy,” Nila said. “I tell Papa Jesus that the plants are not so strong, so he should help them and not let the water lilies come near them.” She speaks a different theological language than Bishop Labayen, but it carries the same essential message: We are all God’s creatures. He lives in all of us.

She showed us wounds on her arms and legs. “I get wounds, but no infection from leptospirosis (rat infection). I get so wet when the storms come, I’m afraid I’ll get a fever, but Papa Jesus helps me. Papa Jesus, I trust you!”

She said she tells young people: “Respect the plants; take care of them. Some listen to me.”

Such a dedicated woman can inspire a community to plant groves of mangroves to protect the people’s homes and give life to millions of fish and a home for small birds. It seems that Nila has tapped into traditional rural values linked with the soil, plants and animals. If the ecological and environmental movements can also tap into these values and avoid all touches of elitism, our movements will have a huge, widespread success. We will have a rich, irresistible future.

* * *

Urban agriculture is spreading in Baseco. We were told that 500 of the 700 or so full-time members of Kabalikat have urban gardens. The women listening to us told us they were each growing about P30 worth of vegetables every week. They said they were planting camote tops, pechay, tomatoes, and a long list of other vegetables.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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