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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