Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Poor Look for Fairness

By Denis Murphy
10:28 pm | Sunday, January 5th, 2014

We shouldn’t be surprised if God focuses all His concern this Christmas on the men, women and children of Tacloban and the other battered areas of the Visayas. We shouldn’t be surprised if He creates a storm surge of hope, peace and courage that sweeps over the victims and prepares them for the long effort to build anew with solidarity and vision.

The task ahead is so huge, so far greater than anything the country has done since recovering from World War II, that I am surprised more of our leaders are not talking explicitly of God’s help. Is there perhaps too much self-reliance? Is there overconfidence?

* * *
On Dec. 17 the urban poor of Metro Manila and their friends met to agree on the advice they would give to government and agencies working with the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” They were aware many groups of experts had already made suggestions on what should be done and what should be avoided. Still, they felt they had a special point of view and an organizing experience that would be appreciated by the poor people of the Visayas. Their advice is basically a request for government and others to encourage poor people to participate in all phases of development and to treat everyone fairly.

Half of the day at Ateneo de Manila was given to the presentation of suggestions by experts in and out of government, actual survivors of the storm and urban poor men and women. In the second half of the day the participants voted for the 13 most valuable suggestions. Nearly 180 people attended the workshop, but the number had dropped to 117 people by 6 p.m. when the vote was taken. The meeting was organized by UP-All, Urban Poor Associates, FDUP, PHILSSA and CO Multiversity. Here are the results:

• Number 1 with 90 votes. We need a social action structure that includes all the people willing to work: experts, Church, NGOs, fishermen and people’s organizations.
• Number 2 with 72 votes. We need programs that stress community values (solidarity,
sharing, democracy and equality), and pursue short and long-term goals.
• Number 3 with 60 votes. Here the people make a simple statement: “Distant relocation is no solution.” This refers in particular to families who may be moved from the 40-meter no-build zone. Where will they be sent? Will they have a choice of solutions?
• Number 4 with 59 votes. Have regular cluster meetings among LGUs, NGOs and people’s groups.
• Number 5 with 56 votes. The poor want a simple, transparent reporting of resources received and delivered, of plans made and rejected, of all successes and failures.
• Number 6 with 56 votes. Use community organization. In other words, get the people themselves involved in assessing, planning and acting according to their own lights.
• Number 7 with 52 votes. Treat everyone equally, especially in the 40-meter issue. In other countries there were efforts to remove poor people near the sea and replace them with resorts and businesses.
• Number 8 with 37 votes. Families should receive insurance for what they lost in the typhoon. In matters of health they should have full coverage.
• Number 9 with 28 votes. Do not let prices spike. Do something effective.
• Number 10 with 25 votes. Have common goals. All people must benefit equally. Perhaps it will be good to set up a special complaint office.
• Number 11 with 25 votes. Make sure there are at the end of the reconstruction agencies continuing to provide water, light, medical care, policing, day care and fire prevention.
• Number 12 with 19 votes. Encourage LGUs and barangays to adopt barangays.
• Number 13 with 2 votes. This suggestion wanted higher penalties be delivered by courts if people are guilty of stealing relief goods, hoarding, unjust allotment of land, etc. The suggestion was that these be made heinous crimes and therefore not bailable. Only two people voted for it. Why? Maybe the poor think it’s a useless recommendation. Even if only two people voted for it, why don’t we raise the stakes? If people decide to take advantage of a crisis, they should be fittingly punished.

The suggestions of the urban poor are in many ways similar to those of other groups. Their wish is for structures that would involve the poor, even in the planning. They stress justice and equality, fair treatment of all. They want community values highlighted, such as, solidarity and compassion. They want every child to have a chance for a healthy, well-educated and happy life.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates [].

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