Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Urban Poor Echoes Pope Francis, “Defend the Poor and the Weak”

Urban poor groups held their 27th Kalbaryo ng Maralita (Calvary of the Poor) today reechoing the call of Pope Francis, “Defend the poor and the weak”. With them were members of housing rights organizations including Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), and different people’s organizations from Tondo, Pasig, Quezon City and Laguna Lake.

The group marched from Liwasang Bonifacio to Plaza Miranda led by 40 urban poor people simulating flagellation.


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.

Jennylyn David, resident of Manggahan Floodway, Pasig said, “we gathered today in a hope that with the call of Pope Francis to defend the poor and the weak, our government would listen to our plea. We plea that the government will halt/ stop evictions set on May 15 for the families in Mangahan Floodway and other urban poor living in danger areas to give way for the flood control-project.”

“We fear that it would lead to displacement of thousands poor families. We do not oppose the flood control project but we hope the government will understand our sentiments that while it is valuable, it must not come at the expense of displacing thousands of poor families like us already marginalized by society,” she added.

UPA data shows that the first three years of the present administration had the highest number of eviction cases compared with the past presidents. This shows that the President has more to do to fulfill the covenant he signed with the urban poor in March 6, 2010 at the Del Pan Sports Complex, Tondo Manila.

UPA pointed out that the land is the basic problem in resettlement matters as it is in all in-city and near-city housing of the poor. The government should now provide the land as it will be more difficult to do so as the years go by. We ask them to acquire resettlement land before they evict or plan to evict.

The flagellants shirts were bloodstained with the words of the poor people demands such as, provide quality education for the poor, end hunger, implement on-site housing and include the poor in the decision making that concerns their welfare.

At 9 AM Manila Auxilliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo led the mass.  
“Just like our Pope being consistent with his call to defend the poor, we believe that it is true that in housing and similar problem areas the voices of the poor come closest to being the voice of God and that we must listen to them,” Marlon Llovido, UPA senior community organizer concluded.

Kalbaryo as a tradition has united the urban and rural poor in seeking to build a society of justice and prosperity for all. Anti-poor policies and strategies are still in existence, hence the continuous creation of slums in urban areas. If no serious action is taken, the poor will get poorer. The urban poor want a stop to government unjust actions. The Kalbaryo is a gentle way of reminding us of our obligations to our brothers and sisters. -30-

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pope should take a new look at liberation theology

By Denis Murphy

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Soon after the papal election was over, there were two images on my mind. One was of Pope Francis on the balcony of St. Peter’s in his white soutana, seemingly frail in the wet and chilly Roman night.

The other was of a lovely, gracious Muslim woman lying dead in her car after being shot by masked men for helping the poor of Karachi. We received news of her murder that same day.

Unlike most Catholics, I could not rejoice at the sight of the new Pope. I had two problems. One was the suggestion in the media and from Jesuit friends that as Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, he may have acted poorly in matters involving human rights and Christian loyalty during the military junta years (1976-1983) in Argentina. He may have allowed the torture of two of his fellow Jesuits, the reports said. I asked myself, couldn’t the cardinals in the conclave have found someone more heroic? Someone perhaps like Perween Rahman, the Muslim woman killed because she refused to leave the poor? Courage is also a Christian virtue.

The story of the two Jesuits began when Bergoglio, then the Jesuit superior, learned that the two men working in an urban poor area would be arrested, which in those days often led to torture and death. He ordered them to leave the area. They refused, and he dismissed them from the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). They were arrested and badly tortured and later dumped on piles of garbage. Sometime during the night of their arrest, Bergoglio reached the military and they were not killed. Much later, the two were offered reentry into the Jesuits, and one refused.

What else could Bergoglio have done? He could have gone himself to stay with his men. He could have asked other Jesuits to go with him. Possibly their large number may have given the military pause. I think this is what Fathers Horacio de la Costa and Benigno Mayo might have done. Our urban poor people do it: If an area is threatened with eviction, the residents of other areas come to help. What would Archbishop Oscar Romero have done?

We have, I believe, a right to expect a degree of heroism from the man who heads the Holy Catholic Church we profess in the Creed. Heroism is not as rare as we may think.

The second hesitation I have is not with the new Pope himself, but about many conservative Church officials. They simply do not deal kindly with people who disagree with them. They are harsh and display a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. I don’t sense any interest among them to understand the roots of the nonconservative disagreement, though nonconservatives are a huge part of the Church, maybe the majority.

I hope the Pope will throw a line of hope to them that things can change. Perhaps he can begin by reopening some topics for discussion, such as the role of women in the Church. The women who want to be priests are not the enemy. No one believes more firmly in the Gospel than they do.

Thousands in Karachi mourn Parween. She was an architect by training, but instead of becoming rich designing homes for the well-off, she chose to spend her life with the poor, helping them gain land-tenure security and improve their houses and communities. In the poor areas she struggled with the racketeers who robbed the poor of their land, and even their drinking water. The racketeers cut the water mains, take control of the water, and then sell it. Some of the poor have no decent drinking water.

When the social fabric of Karachi fell apart in recent years, Parween redoubled her efforts. She said the following at a meeting of housing people in Bangkok in 2011: “The situation in Pakistan is indeed very bad—the Taliban, the bombs, violence, the disasters. Yet everywhere we look we see signs of hope. We look on these with eyes of respect and try to support them, and make them strong. The links we make with each other are a powerful way to do that.”

It is not pleasant to feel alienated in some important way from the Pope. A Catholic hopes to find at the heart of his or her Church a totally concerned, totally dedicated, compassionate human being. It is easier to see the Pope erring in matters of doctrine than in loyalty.

In the days that followed, however, I began to question my first reactions. Knowledgeable people denied that the Pope had ever compromised human rights during the military junta years. I heard voices: “The Almighty said to Job, who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance?” Could that be me? I wondered. “Were you there when I laid the cornerstone [of the earth] while the morning birds sang in chorus? Have the gates of death been shown to you?” (Job 38:1-2, 4, 7,17)

Perhaps the new Pope sought God’s forgiveness long ago, and has been forgiven. Jesus can say of him as He does of the sinful woman: “Much has been forgiven because she has loved much.” (Luke 7:36-50)

I hope the Pope takes another look at the theology of liberation. It is true, as he said in a Mass with the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, that we don’t want the Church to be just another “compassionate NGO,” but we don’t want it to be ineffectual in its efforts to end hunger, illiteracy and powerlessness. The theology of liberation provides a Christian framework for the people’s efforts to organize themselves, analyze their problems, choose their solutions, and take appropriate action. It isn’t perfect, but it is the only theology that fits comfortably with the poor who struggle in an organized, democratic and nonviolent way for their human and God-given rights. Also, the development of poor people is a science. The Gospel can and must inspire the process in a Christian context, but it can’t substitute for the science needed.

Hopefully, with the new Pope we are closer to becoming the Church of the poor.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Urban poor dreams

Young Blood
By Princess L. Asuncion

My fiance, Ritche, has a friend whose house was partly demolished without a court order on the behest of the family that claimed the lot on which the house stood. The friend’s house was somewhat saved when he quickly filed a case in court.

After years of litigation, the parties came to a compromise. The lot claimant offered to dismantle the makeshift house of Ritche’s friend and turn over to him whatever usable materials remained.

The friend declined, saying that he could not bear the sight of his house being torn down by other people. He said every crashing sound of a hammer or wrench of a crowbar tearing apart the house would be like a bullet ripping into his body.

He couldn’t leave the house behind. He couldn’t let it be torn down by strangers. So finally, he asked for three days, and he personally dismantled the house, every part of it. He packed the parts in boxes and brought these to his new lot where he intended to live with his old and sickly parents. That’s where the house is now.

This story is not unfamiliar to urban poor men and women, and children, too. They value their houses as much as Ritche’s friend did. The first step our society must take to help our urban poor people is to understand them—to understand, first of all, their love for their dwellings, unattractive as these may be to us. Such an attachment cannot be measured. The sentimental value of a man’s house is life itself.

This was true in the case of Myrna Porcare, a community leader who was killed while protecting her house. I met her on the morning she was killed. I have her on video speaking about the piece of land where she had lived for more than 20 years with 1,000 other families on a 2.4-hectare site in Pechayan, North Fairview, Quezon City.

Myrna wanted to stop the security guards hired by the land owners from fencing the land, because they were going beyond what was stated in the court order. When she tried to stop a guard, she was killed by a shotgun blast in the stomach. Her son came to her aid and was also murdered.

There are many urban poor people who will sacrifice and even die for their houses. These are their treasure. The urban poor value everything around them, including their houses, in a very special way. No matter how bad we think they are, their houses are beautiful to them.

“A person doesn’t need to be a legal expert to understand what these poor families live through,” Ritche told me. “You only have to be human to understand.”

In the “Panunuluyan” play that the urban poor presented last December with the Philippine Educational Theater Association, titled “Maryosep,” I played the role of Aling Hing, a poor woman pregnant with her sixth child and a victim of a violent demolition. It was a hard role to play. The character’s thoughts were so different from mine, but after three months of rehearsals I came to think like Aling Hing. When the director told me that the demolition team was coming to wreck my house, it was not my own thoughts that made me angry and full of energy to act; it was the feelings of anger and love that Aling Hing would have had. I came to internalize her love and anger.

Another woman in that play was Maryjane. She is a real person. She had dared audition for the play although she has eight children. Her youngest child was then six months old, and she had to ask her husband’s family to take care of the child temporarily. Her husband recently died of tuberculosis.

Maryjane didn’t need special motivation to cry; every time she began to deliver her monologue in the play about the hardships of the poor, she burst into tears.

As I watched Maryjane, I reflected on the hard life that women like her have to endure, and how very few of us appreciate the way they carry on despite the difficulties of raising their children well. I have learned that urban poor women and men still dream. Poverty has shaken them, but they haven’t given up.

Think of the poor man who took his house apart piece by piece and carried it away with him. Imagine Maryjane and her eight children in the slum, and her dream of becoming an actress.

Princess L. Asuncion, 26, is a media advocacy officer of the Urban Poor Associates, an NGO that works for the housing rights of the poor.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Parola fire—joy and sorrow

By Denis Murphy

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Recently in Parola, Tondo, a fire driven by tornado-like winds destroyed 100 hollow-block houses in which an estimated 300 families lived. We walked a few days later in the blackened ruins. It looked as if we were moving through a prison block of fire-scorched cells. The alley, however, was alive with children playing, men rebuilding, and the banging of hammers on roofs of GI sheets.

There were tragic stories. A two-year-old girl was trapped in her house. The neighbors told us they could hear the little girl crying for help even over the roar of the wind and fire. The crying went on for some time. Young men tried to reach her, but couldn’t. Then the crying stopped, and hours later firemen carried out the small body.

There were happy stories. One-year-old Rafael Iscala was trapped on the upper floor of his house with his aunt. His mother watched helplessly from the alleyway and then two hands appeared at the window; it was the aunt holding the baby. After a few seconds of hesitation, the aunt dropped the child. Men from Oceanlink Trucking caught him 15 feet below.

We met Rafael later in the relief center. When the crowd of children there heard his story, they looked up at the little boy in his mother’s arms as if he were the world’s first baby astronaut just back from outer space. Rafael accepted the attention with great modesty and his thumb in his mouth.

The survivors we met were happy to be alive. Laurie Cantero, the mother of four young boys, was grateful: “At least I still have my boys.” The little girl died only a few meters away. We asked Fe Galaban, a grandmother who lived with three of her own children and five grandchildren in her house, if she still believed in God. She was surprised at the question. “Siyempre (of course)! I don’t blame God. God didn’t do this.” The neighbors call Aling Fe “Mama.” When the mothers work, she watches their children.

The people are generally not critical, but some questions should be asked. The government did a good job with relief work. There is a new evacuation center built near the Del Pan Sports Center where the people were able to go. There is more than enough food there. On the other hand, the men doing the repair work have to labor by themselves. If they have money or the ability to borrow, they take out a loan from the bumbay at the usual 5-6 interest rate. If a man or woman head of the household has no money, there is no repair work. We didn’t see any cooperative repair work. “Kanya-kanya,” Vicente Mendiola said. “That’s all there is.” If a man has male relatives, they will help, but the neighbors are busy with their own houses. If people leave their newly bought housing materials unwatched, these will be stolen by outsiders. Even the burned lumber and GI sheets recovered from the ruins of the fire are stolen.

The government can take advantage of such fires and disasters to reblock homes and subsidize house repair. If a small area were rehabilitated, it would be a model for the rest of a large area—for Parola, for example.

Nowadays, as much time is given to rehabilitation as to emergency relief. If we don’t move ahead, we drift and fall back. Disaster can be totally tragic, or it can lead to new and welcome initiatives.

Joseph Estrada and Vice President Jojo Binay were there to give food and money. Liberal Party people were not seen in the fire area, nor were priests or nuns. No one brought the people together to plan better ways of rebuilding, or to pray. It’s not too soon to talk of the future. Such talk gives hope and a purpose in the hard situation.

Ironically, the house where the fire began is neat and swept clear of all debris, while most of the houses are still full of rubble.

There were hundreds of little children in the new relief center. At 4 p.m. the loudspeaker announced there was “merienda” on the first floor for children, and suddenly the children stampeded through the corridors and down the stairs. Step out of the way or be trampled. The children were laughing: It was all a game.

Parola lies at the mouth of the Pasig River. There are approximately 12,000 families packed into some 10-12 hectares of land, and it has so far defied efforts to develop it. The land was proclaimed for the homes of the residents by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Recently, the mayor took steps to get land titled for the people. A workable plan is still needed.

We left Parola with mixed memories. The people are resilient and sensitive to the sorrow of others. Not all of them, however: There are hungry people and bad guys who steal from the victims. The children are unmatched anywhere. The government, the Church, the political parties and the NGOs must do more. They all gave relief but now development is needed, which is more difficult to organize. Can the government, the people and all other groups develop a plan that will improve the lives of all the poor of Parola? “Kanya-kanya” is not enough for people. They have to unite and cooperate with one another to establish their own influential place in this society.

We will remember the two-year-old girl and her cries for help. We will remember young Rafael falling calmly 15 feet with his thumb in his mouth. We will remember Fe Galaban, the grandmother who was surprised when she was asked if she still believed in God.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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