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 (

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Urban poor want pork retained

Letter to the Editor

How can government leaders afford to enrich themselves with public money?

More or less, 21 million informal settlers are struggling to survive because they don’t have jobs or access to healthcare, education, potable water, etc. Meanwhile, those who are supposed to help them, as a matter of law and duty, are stealing billions of pesos that are intended to liberate them from poverty. Without the whistle-blowers, the extent of their plunder would have not been revealed. We have always suspected so much taxpayer money was being lost to corruption, but we never imagined the extent revealed so far.
Prominent politicians have been implicated in the pork barrel and Malampaya Fund scam, as well as in the DAP (Disbursement Accelaration Program) scandal. But now the blame has shifted to President Aquino. And aside from the pressure to abolish the pork barrel, there are now calls for his resignation, even threats to impeach him.

What happens now to those who stole people’s money? President Aquino is not perfect, but he is definitely not a thief. Are we really serious in our effort to rid government of corruption? If we are, then we should start presenting solutions so public money doesn’t fall into greedy hands. If the President has any explaining to do, so be it but, first of all, let’s go after and punish the thieves.

A week ago we gathered leaders from the Tondo area, from the  esteros  and relocation sites to get their opinion on the pork barrel. Unlike most of the elite that joined the Million People March in Luneta, they feel the pork barrel can stay as long as there are checks and balances to ensure that money allocated for development would be spent properly. They asked: “If you remove the pork, where will the poor get the money to spend for emergencies?”

The people suggested that fund allocation and implementation of the projects be removed from the hands of the legislators and new mechanisms be set up for close monitoring of the disbursements and projects. Fund allocations should also be made public so that the intended beneficiaries can monitor the disbursements in their respective areas.

Urban Poor Associates,

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Democracy and Respect

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

We carry our democracy, as we do our faith, in fragile earthen vessels, to use St. Paul’s words. Although we know from experience that democracy can be lost in the country, we are still careless in how we act as democratic citizens. We forget that democratic government, in which free men and women hand over part of their freedom to one of their peers to lead them in a search for the common good, is one of the supremely great achievements of human history. It can be lost, however, like grace and innocence.

Respect and humility are essential parts of the good citizenship needed in this aggressive age, both on the side of the ordinary citizen and on the side of the elected officials. Even if we disagree with what our presidents decide—even if they sink us in debt or drag us into war—they remain the embodiment of the entire people’s aspirations and are still deserving of respect. Our presidents are not Moses, but some of the thunder, smoke and lightning that surrounded Moses on Mount Sinai still surround our presidents, even in their weakest moments.

A secret service agent in Washington or in Manila may have lost all respect for the president as a man, but the agent is still willing to “take a bullet” for him because of his respect for the office and the entire people.
We should criticize, but without hostility. Isn’t that the core of the nonviolent teaching of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King? Nothing of lasting good comes from hatred, insult, or ridicule.

Presidents, in turn, should respect ordinary citizens. An example of how respect can be shown by a president is seen in the decision of US President Barack Obama to punish Syria for its use of poison gas. He was, and maybe still is, determined to launch the missiles, even if 80 percent of the American people and the great majority of men and women everywhere in the world, from Pope Francis down to the poorest scavenger, oppose such a strike.

The American president has in that country’s law a legal right to make such decisions. If it were a technical matter of pipelines or mining practices, or concerns over the best use of interest rates, a president may justifiably think the ordinary people do not know enough about the matter to question his decision. The Syrian affair, however, is a matter of war, and people in the United States and around the world know all about war. President Obama, I believe, should listen to the people and respect their judgment in such a matter.

Is there an issue about which President Aquino may feel compelled to change his mind and do what the great majority of his people want him to do? Though I am not an economist, it seems clear the President has been very hesitant to interfere in the workings of the marketplace. He has let business people continue on the road they were on, albeit with a concern to limit corruption and to increase the country’s competitiveness. As a result, we have an economic surge that is jobless and its benefits are skewed toward the well-off members of society.

A case can be made that by an overwhelming majority, the Filipino people would want the President to intervene in business activity to secure more jobs for the unemployed and to narrow the income gap between rich and poor, if they had a chance to vote on the matter. They would surely want him to try to do both.

As Presidents Obama and Aquino get deeper into their administrations, they should ask more insistently than ever if there is something very important that all the people want them to work on. It may be the key to the historical success of their administrations.

President Aquino, in his “Covenant with the urban poor” (March 6, 2010), promised to examine the possibility of public works programs where workers would receive both food and cash for their labor: “We will create large-scale public works programs that can generate a substantial number of jobs for poor men and women. At the onset of our term, we will emphasize labor-intensive public works programs that can generate significant numbers of jobs for our poor people and give them access to at least the minimum amounts of money, food and dignity needed for their daily survival and wellbeing. Recognizing that the primary and most important resource of our country is its people, we will emphasize the creation of jobs that empower the work force, jobs that build capacity and create opportunities for the poor and marginalized.”

There is much manual work to be done throughout the country. On TV we see hundreds of men digging out a village lost in a mudslide in Zambales. Why can’t we dig safe places for the families threatened by mud flows before the damage happens? We are still not doing a good job of replanting forests; farm roads need construction and sea walls need to be built around our low-lying cities, such as Malabon. Millions of poor families need decent housing.

One of the great dangers we face is the generation of young men growing up in our slum areas with no work and no skills. In 18th-century England, these young men were taken into the navy. In the Bronx of my youth, the young men who didn’t like school or office work joined the Marines. Maybe public works programs are our solution. We have the problems, and we have the young men to do the work. Mr. President?

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lessons from a departed sister

On July 9 I got one of those phone calls from overseas we always fear: My sister Maggie, a member of the Sisters of Charity, was very sick. The next day my wife Alice and I were on that long flight across the dark Pacific with plenty of time for somber self-centered thinking. Irish pessimism told me Maggie was dead, though we didn’t know for sure. I was alone now, I realized. All the others I grew up with—brothers, Maggie, parents, cousins—all were gone. If there was no one left to talk to about those days, would the memories themselves pass away? I also realized I had lost the best sister any man ever had.

I learned many things in the days after Maggie’s death. I had, for example, a small glimpse of God’s care of his aged followers; I learned of incidents in our family history that may have influenced what I have wound up doing in life: I recalled special memories of Maggie here in the Philippines, when we visited the Mangyan in their village outside Calapan, Mindoro. And I realized once again that the kindnesses we show people remain in their memories long after all other memories of us have faded.

At my sister’s funeral Mass about 200 Sisters of Charity attended. Nearly all are retired. The youngest nuns are in their 50s; only 10 percent of the nuns can put in a full day’s work. As an institution, the Sisters of Charity of New York are comparable to a retired person close to God after long years of loyal service. During the Mass I watched the older nuns prepare the ciboria and other vessels for Holy Communion. They were like sisters (small “s”) in their mother’s kitchen preparing a meal. They were so at ease, so at home there at the altar, so close to one another that God, who is mother and father, was clearly among them, chatting with them and helping shoulder to shoulder. God has a special love for the poor, the Church teaches. He has an equally special love for the old people who have served Him loyally all their lives. I was very happy Maggie was with the Sisters.

Cousins told me our great grandfather was evicted by England in the 1800s from the small farm he had outside Cork City, Ireland. The Murphys walked into the city without land or money and became what we now call “urban poor.” I’ve often wondered how I wound up in life working with urban poor people in Manila, especially those in danger of eviction. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the branch.

I remembered the day we went with Maggie to visit the Mangyan outside Calapan. We knew the Holy Spirit nuns who worked there, especially Sisters Magdalena and Victricia. The Mangyan gathered after dinner to greet the visitors. They sang and danced and told stories of their past. When Maggie’s turn came, she talked about the people of New York City and their tall buildings, crowded and noisy streets, and subways. She described how people went underground in the morning to get a train to work and came up at the end of the day. As she talked we noticed the people were troubled.

Much later Sister Victricia told me the Mangyan understood that New Yorkers lived underground like snakes and other wild animals. They felt so sorry for New Yorkers that every Sunday they prayed for them at Mass. Politicians like Mayor Michael Bloomberg may take credit for the progress that city has made in recent years, but maybe it was really due to the prayers of the Mangyan people.

In dealing with the illnesses of old people, Maggie, like most doctors and nurses, had her own bag of tricks. Kindness and street smarts are needed. In the last conversation we had by phone only a week before the fateful July 9 call, she told me about Henry, 87, who was a regular patient at her clinic for old people in Richmond University Medical Center, Staten Island  (the old St. Vincent’s Hospital). Henry complained of fits of sneezing. My sister examined him but could find nothing wrong. She did notice that every time he touched his chest, he started sneezing. She finished the examination, then told him in a very serious tone of voice:

 “Henry, you must not touch your chest ever again. Can you do that?”

“Yes, Sister.”

“Promise me now, you won’t touch your chest.”

“Yes, Sister.”

He returned a few months later. The sneezing had stopped and he said he had never again touched his chest.

All the people I talked with about Maggie—patients, colleagues, fellow sisters, friends and relatives—mentioned her unfailing kindness. The people we most admire in life are those who show kindness to all.

Meanwhile in the United States, columnist Charles M. Blow wrote in the New York Times (Aug. 10) of signs that Americans are becoming a people without pity or kindness. A cross section of Americans was asked, “What factor was most responsible for the continuing poverty in the country?” The respondents were given a list of possible causes. The cause singled out by most people interviewed was: “Too much welfare prevents initiative.”

To these people, poverty wasn’t due to a lack of education or of opportunities to work. Instead, they made the victims the guilty party. The poor are guilty because they are poor. The same results might be found here if such a test were administered. The Philippines cannot compete with other powerful countries if it relies solely on the skills of the capitalist world. It can compete and find its own appropriate mix of capitalism and culture if it remains a country of kindness and pity. Each people must moderate capitalism in their own way.

One more anecdote. My sister attended a community organization meeting in Lucena, Quezon, in 1982. One morning, instead of attending the sessions, Maggie, Fr. Tom Steinbugler and myself went to a nearby beach to swim. Suddenly there was a cry of shock and pain from Tom. He was bent over in the water. We got him up on shore and saw he had been bitten or stung by a jellyfish across his stomach. He had a hard time breathing.

My sister told him to bend over and breathe deeply. She told me later she didn’t know what to do. Tom later told me he feared he might die, and might have to go to confession to me. I thought we should urinate on the wound, but no man can pee on his own stomach, and I knew he’d rather die than have me pee on him. There was all this confusion, and then a woman from a fisherman’s shack farther up the beach came running with the traditional cure, vinegar. We put some on the red ugly wound and soon the crisis was over. The woman had seen our problems and knew right away what to do.

We were three very well educated persons there, but none of us knew what every adult and child in that area must know—that vinegar is the cure for a jellyfish sting. They also knew it was foolish to go in the water in the jellyfish season.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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