Friday, February 28, 2014

59 Families in Estero de San Miguel-Legarda Relocated in Muzon, Bulacan

( Barangay Muzon, San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan Province.)

Urban Poor Associates (UPA) helped 59 families of Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda find  near-city relocation. The 59 families were relocated in Muzon, Bulacan last February 28. The relocation was facilitated by Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) and National Housing Authority (NHA).

(NML leaders assisted families relocated in Muzon, Bulacan.) 

The 59 families were provided with houses that have space for a loft in Barangay Muzon, San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan Province. This is a 45 kilometers away from Manila. As of February 5, the relocation site has 3,560 families’ occupants. The site is a 30-hectare resettlement and every house have an average floor area of 22 square meters and a 40 square meters lot area. The developer is Lak-K Builders Co. The Muzon resettlement site was allocated for families living along waterways.

Venus Grecia, an Estero de San Miguel-Legarda settler said, “We are thankful to UPA and our people’s organization, NML since they assisted us in our transfer in Muzon. We are very happy that finally we have a place we can call home.”

(Venus, wearing blue, together with her sister and brothers at their own unit in Muzon, Bulacan.) 


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Urban Poor Call for the Amendment of UDHA

26 February 2014. Task Force UDHA Amendments composed of Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies Inc (Philssa), Peoples Alternative Study Center for Research and Education in Social Development (Pascres) and various peoples organizations from different cities attended the committee hearing on Housing and  Urban Development meeting today at Speaker Yniguez Hall, South Wing Annex Building, House of Representatives that discussed the amendments on House Bill 2791 entitled “Strengthening and Securing the Rights of the Urban Poor Against Evictions and/or Demolitions and to Provide Adequate Housing” introduced by Representatives Cresente Paez, Leonor Robredo and et al.

 Celia Santos, UPA UDHA Advocacy Officer said, “We are happy that finally our proposed amendments on House Bill 2791 are now being discussed in the committee Hearing under Congressman Alfred Benitez. This bill will ensure that the rights of the poor for decent housing will be given a priority.”

This bill aims to further secure the urban poor from eviction and demolition of their homes and from relocating them in distant places lacking basic services and livelihood opportunities, thus clarifying the definition of “resettlement areas” that it must be within and/or near city areas. 

Last February 19, President Benigno Aquino III graced the presentation of the first urban on-site medium-rise building model unit through a people’s plan at Claro M. Recto High School, Legarda, Sampaloc, Manila. The house is set three meters back from the estero. It is energy efficient and resistant to floods, liquefaction and earth shaking.

Filomena Cinco, President of Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda said,  "It took us five years to realize our dream of on-site housing along Estero de San Miguel. We have asked the help of UPA, our NGO partner to get architects that will tell the government that the project can be done. Through House bill 2791, the government will not just tell urban poor people living along waterways that they must be evicted because they are in danger areas. With the bill, waterways dwellers can seek proper technical and scientific study to opt for on-site housing and a public consultations will be done.”

Cinco added, "Our proposed UDHA Amendments is not just a protection to urban poor people rights, more than that it will protect the government and the public to secure that poverty alleviation and risk mitigation can be achieved."


Friday, February 21, 2014

Trapped in unbreakable gridlock

Denis Murphy

One day the long lines of cars taking people home from work at the end of the day will slow to a crawl and finally stop. The roar of traffic will cease and a silence, alarming in its completeness, will take over. Soon one or two drivers will blow their horns in annoyance and then all the drivers will unite in a piteous plea to the gods of traffic to come to their aid. There will be no answer; the gods have left Edsa, C-5 and all of Metro Manila. They leave behind hundreds of thousands of cars trapped in unbreakable gridlock. The cars we were so proud of are now junk for the ages.

We should have known this moment was coming when we found that young bankers in Marikina must leave their houses at 6 a.m. to get to their offices in Makati by 9 a.m. Lawyers in Novaliches must leave their homes at 5:30 a.m. to get to a hearing in Makati at 8:30. There are no longer special rush hours; there are traffic jams at high noon and late at night.

We should have come to our senses when we found we were spending more money on parking spaces in Metro Manila than on the housing of poor families. The first six floors of the new Napolcom building at Edsa and Quezon Boulevard, for example, are given to parking cars. Whole buildings are given over to parking. The costs involved far outweigh the funds given to housing the poor.

We should have realized traffic was moving toward a tragic crisis when we saw increasing examples of road rage. Recently on Edsa, two businessmen crashed into each other. The two leapt out of their cars, drew their guns, and started firing. Unfortunately, an innocent passerby was injured. The two gunmen must have had their guns on the seat beside them, ready for action.

We should have realized that in a poor country where there isn’t enough food or medicine for every child, we should not keep spending money to build the flyovers, tunnels and elevated highways the cars demand. We barely managed in the past to keep up with the increase in cars, but we are falling behind (traffic is slowing): The patient is dying. The Department of Public Works and Highways estimates that it will have spent P1 trillion (12 zeros) on highways from 2011 to 2016 (Urban Roads Project Office). President Aquino has given the urban poor of Metro Manila affected by flooding P50 billion for the same five years, which is 5 percent of the total given the cars. The money given the poor is appreciated, but it is clear that the housing fund pales in comparison with that given to highways and cars. We can’t compare the two amounts in every regard, and there are other funding to be figured in, but the comparison gives some idea of the imbalances involved.

Finally, we should have stopped and taken a good hard look at our traffic problem when the Japan International Cooperation Agency told us that P2 billion was being wasted each day in Metro Manila because of the terrible traffic-fuel losses and unused work hours.

What must be done? The starting datum for a fruitful discussion must be that there are simply too many cars, and their number must be radically reduced, by up to half perhaps. There will be no hope of smooth-flowing traffic ever again if the cars are not seriously culled. Cars are the heart of the problem. Trucks, buses, bad driving habits, poorly-maintained vehicles and bad policing are much less crucial. In Metro Manila, 1.6 million cars were registered last year (DOTC/LTO, September 2013). If the number is limited significantly, we will not need new, expensive infrastructure; the present highways and flyovers will be enough. The money saved can be used for a first-class bus system. The reduced number of cars will allow for speed. Our young businessmen and lawyers will be able to board an air-conditioned bus near Cubao and arrive in Makati in 20 minutes, just enough time to read the papers.

How do we limit the cars? We must limit them, so there must be a way:

• We can do it through fees. If you wish to take your car on Edsa or other main arteries on work days, you pay a steep fee. To make this scheme acceptable, there must be a good public transport system as an alternative. Fees and new transport must appear at the same time. Singapore and other cities have used this method.

• The government buys back cars beginning with the oldest models. In addition, it gives the owners a lifetime free pass on the new bus system it will put in place. It offers other inducements as necessary.

• Up to 6 a.m. cars can travel freely. After 6 a.m. they must have special licenses. After 10 p.m. they can drive freely.
The prospect of a complete breakdown of traffic may seem farfetched, but remember, we once thought typhoons with 300-kph winds and seven-meter-high storm surges were far-fetched until Supertyphoon “Yolanda” leveled the Visayas. We need our creative people, young and old, to put their minds to this problem: How do we limit cars so that our traffic transport system can get us where we want to go swiftly and comfortably? In New York they now charge $14 to cross a bridge in a car, and $28 back and forth. It has lowered the number of cars coming into the city.

This is not a wacky search. We must limit cars, or you will look out the window someday and see an unbreakable Gordian Knot of stalled traffic.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Presentation of Estero de San Miguel micro Medium-Rise Building

Videos related to Estero de San Miguel micro Medium-Rise Building:


Urban Poor First On-Site Shelter through People’s Plan

19 February 2014. President Benigno Aquino III graced the presentation of the first urban on-site medium-rise building model unit through a people’s plan today at Claro M. Recto High School, Legarda, Sampaloc, Manila. It was also attended by DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson, Urban Poor Associates the partner NGO for the project and Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda, the people’s organization and the beneficiaries of the micro Medium Rise-Building.

The first urban poor on-site housing is a national government program in pursuit of providing decent housing in the city for poor people instead of relocating them far from the city when there is need of removing them from danger areas. The housing design was conceptualized by the green architect Felino Palafox and put into work by Architect Albert Zambrano of Mapua Institute of Technology, School of Architecture. The house is set three meters back from the estero. It is energy efficient and resistant to floods, liquefaction and earth shaking.

UPA point out that people build the city as this is the first housing that was made possible through a people's plan, the people secured the architects who made the plan and the people worked with the government to get all the licenses and funding. Some 105 families will benefit.

Filomena Cinco, President of Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda said, "We are very happy that finally after five years our homes are built along the Estero De San Miguel, where we have lived for more than 20 years. Finally, our pains, tears and struggled turned into sweet victory-- the model housing unit is an inspiration for all informal settlers dreaming of decent and affordable shelter."

Cinco added, "We will do everything to make our community peaceful, healthy, and clean to continue become a model of hope that things can be done as long as we, poor people are united and organized."

Alicia Murphy, field director of UPA said, "pushing for on-site housing took a lot of hard work of the people's organization. NML unity was tested and harassed through those years of struggle to attain land tenure security.  This work shows that housing can be done in the city through collaboration between people's group and the government. The project reflects the vision of the Late Secretary Jesse Robredo and has been whole-heatedly supported by Secretary Mar Roxas, Secretary Dinky Soliman and President Noynoy Aquino."

Murphy concluded, “we are hopeful that this housing will be imitated in other urban poor areas and in the three priority esteros, Estero de Quiapo, Estero de San Sebastian and Estero de San Miguel-P.Casal, so that we can have a healthier workforce through decent and affordable housing."


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Boats for Tacloban Fishermen

Urban Poor Associates (UPA) together with Holy Spirit Sisters (SSPS) turned-over 40 boats to fishermen on February 13 at Barangay 90 Payapay, San Jose, Tacloban City.

Fishermen together with their wives and children gathered by the shore as Bishop John Du and Fr. Hector Villamil blessed the boats. The fishermen asked the Lord to drive away unfavorable wind from their boats and to always calm the sea. They prayed for fervent protection against typhoon like Yolanda.

The boats are painted blue with length of 20 feet and width of 18 inches. It has motor engine, paddle, nets and as part of disaster preparedness, a life-jacket.

Rene Labucay, beneficiary of the boat and resident of Barangay 90 said, “I know that this boat will bring us luck because the boat united all the fishermen. We worked hard in making the boats and that what made it different from all the gifts we have received after typhoon Yolanda.”

“We are very grateful that the Holy Spirit Sisters chose our barangay to distribute the boats. We are also thankful that the sisters brought UPA and the local organizers to help our community be organized. We are very happy and felt loved by many people who helped us,” Labucay added.

Sr. Marie Claire Manding, SSPS said, “The livelihood project in Tacloban is a collaboration of the South and North Holy Spirit Sisters (SSPS) provincials. We are planning to increase the number of beneficiaries by providing 125 boats or more. This signifies the 125th year of foundation of SSPS congregation in the whole world. We would also like to extend our gratitude to all the donors who believed in the project. This entire activity is a celebration of life.”

UPA partnership with SSPS resulted after UPA held a forum last December 17, 2013 entitled “Build Back Better” that aimed to ensure that the people of Tacloban will be consulted in all aspects of national reconstruction, including land, houses, health, jobs, administration, and hygiene kits.

Alicia Murphy, UPA Field Director said, “UPA helped in organizing Barangays 89 and 90 two areas hard-hit by Typhoon Yolanda, where the beneficiaries of the boats live. We aim that the organizing of 2,000 families will not only be for the livelihood program but eventually decent and resilient permanent housing.”

“We are thankful with DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman who gave us tents and generator for the construction of boats,” Murphy added.

The fishermen put up peoples organizations called Yolanda Survivor Fishermen Associations to help them have a dialogue with the government agencies who can help in providing solutions to their needs. The women are also creating an organization that will focus on the needs of women and children.

The group earlier distributed 14 pedicabs. The drivers are now earning 100 a day. It also helped them transport all their belongings every time there is call for evacuation. The Holy Spirit Sisters and UPA are also doing a Saturday feeding program that aims to give 165 children in Payapay a nutritious meal.

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


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How are we doing?

Denis Murphy

It’s been more than three months since the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” Maybe it is time for President Aquino to talk to the nation about the progress made to date in the reconstruction, and how he evaluates the work. What guidelines does he feel must be reaffirmed? What are the great priorities for action? Maybe it is also time to refocus the country’s energies on this enormous task, the most complicated work of its kind since the reconstruction after World War II.

The Senate plans its own investigation of the Yolanda work. That, too, is welcome. We can count on the Senate to reveal the political backdrop to the work down south. The reconstruction work is so immense that we need many other evaluations.

Here in Manila we hardly hear details of the work. We have our basketball games, movie festivals, and Senate inquiries; these hold our attention while 5 million survivors of Yolanda and more survivors in Bohol, Zamboanga and Eastern Mindanao fight for decent survival. For many, the work undertaken in the Visayas and Mindanao is as remote as the war in Sudan.

Reconstruction is really too important a work for the nation’s future economic and cultural health to allow political and money-making considerations to guide decision-making. Yolanda is the great crisis of this generation. What solidarity can exist in the nation if we allow hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters to go homeless and hungry? Who will respect our leaders if they fail to lead by example of hard work and honesty? What face will we have in the international community?

Among the guidelines the President might reaffirm is the policy that families cannot be removed from their homes unless they consent to be relocated on a permanent basis to a site they have approved, to concrete houses with a clear road to a title in the future. There should be work available in the relocation area. Fishermen’s families can be relocated, but there should be a facility along the shoreline, a wharf perhaps, where they can store their boats, prepare and market their fish, or send the fish to larger markets, and sleep when convenient. Fishing is the only income these families have.

The President might see to it that agricultural workers who find their crops and trees in ruins will receive seeds, fertilizers, plows and other forms of assistance, and be benefited by land reform. Why not? It could make the difference between simply “building back” and “building back better.” I think the people of the nation would like to hear the President reaffirm that the recovery will be characterized by people’s participation and will be community-driven. Democracy is often the first casualty in a crisis.

The reconstruction work is as complicated as life itself. How complicated it is is seen in a community discussion held late in January in Tacloban City. The people, mostly fishermen and their wives, were discussing new fishing boats, relocation, a fisherman’s wharf, improving the tents provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and feeding programs for children. And then a middle-aged woman stood up to tell the people there: “We discuss these things and we need them all, but we also need bras, panties and sanitary napkins. It’s impossible to keep our clothes dry in all this rain. Oh, yes, the men need briefs, underwear. They’re human, too.” The crowd laughed.

People would also like to hear from “reconstruction czar” Panfilo Lacson. What is his assessment of the overall work? What is he concentrating on? Is he mostly concerned with big businesses, as rumors have it? What are the major problems he faces?

People would like to know the overall financial situation of the recovery effort. Did the country get the funding it hoped for from the UN, international NGOs, and individual countries? If there is less funding than expected, where will cuts be made? How was the local financial contribution?

Have people been arrested for hoarding, raising prices artificially, stealing resources, and profiteering in other ways? Has anyone been punished? Most people will assume, I’m afraid, that if some people have not been arrested, the old crimes are taking place with impunity.

A wise and learned priest told me this story a few days ago about St. Alberto Hurtado, a 20th-century Jesuit priest in Chile who held doctorates in law and in education  and worked with labor unions, youth and the homeless. He marveled at the closeness of the poor to God. One rainy night Hurtado was late for a big meeting. He was running to his car to catch up when he saw a sick old man sitting in the rain. He gave the old man the money he had in his pocket and ran on. Then he stopped. He went back to the Jesuit house, took all the food in the refrigerator, and gave it to the man. He took off his coat and wrapped it around him. And as he watched in amazement, the tired, ravaged face of the old man turned into that of Jesus.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Monday, February 3, 2014

‘Build Back Better’

By Denis Murphy

The international slogan for reconstruction work after disasters—“Build Back Better”—promises both a return to what existed in the past and a much better future. It offers reassurance and hope. We can easily build back after Super Typhoon “Yolanda,” but will we be able to build in a way something that truly offers victims a better future? This may be the main question facing the government in its reconstruction work in the Visayas.

We can return our fishermen and farmers to their old, pre-Yolanda and materially poor life conditions, but can we enrich their lives? Returning people to their previous lives of poverty is no big deal; helping them find or build better lives, that is the real, great achievement.

And this requires that we not only provide houses for the victims of Yolanda, but that the houses are in relocation sites that are acceptable to the people and that are up to international standards in terms of size, durability and attractiveness; and that the families get land tenure security.

On a larger scale, the question is: Will reconstruction work result in a society that is more equal in income and in political power? Will the income gap between the rich and the poor narrow somewhat? Will the poor and near-poor have a greater voice in the decision-making that affects their lives? Will democracy prosper?
There are worrisome signs indicating that the poor would be lucky to get back what they once had, inadequate as it may have been. What are some of these signs?

For one, there seems to be a large communication gap between the poor and the key decision-makers. In mid-January, in Tacloban, wives of fishermen told people working with Urban Poor Associates and the Holy Spirit Sisters that their children were still hungry and in growing danger of malnutrition. They pointed out that their tents, given by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), get wet inside when it rains; and cold rain blows through the tents; and adults and children get drenched when they try to sleep. The people in charge are no doubt willing to give more food and provide flooring materials for tent occupants, but they aren’t aware of these needs of the poor.

Food for children and some type of flooring could be provided  if the top decision-makers knew of these needs. They are caring human beings, after all; and the food supplies and flooring materials are available. But this sort of “response gap” indicates that the top officials are unaware of the day-to-day concrete reality on the ground. What is not known cannot be fixed. And do the decision-makers appreciate the intangibles that make people’s lives “better,” such as land reform, propoor law enforcement, land tenure security and many others?

The items that make life better for poor people are most often  considered matters of social justice. But the increasing reliance being placed on the business sector for such things by the reconstruction officials worries us. Big business can “build back”—it can provide houses, boats, seeds, fertilizer, etc., but it doesn’t have a very good record on “justice issues,” such as land reform, land tenure security and propoor law enforcement.

There is a role for all sorts of people in the reconstruction effort, but this doesn’t mean the business community should spearhead the overall movement. Can we employ business resources and intelligence in the pursuit of goals and execution of plans that a wider number of interest groups, including the poor people themselves, decide on?

Public skepticism about the openness of big business to so-called justice matters was heightened by a CNN report last Jan. 25 from the Economic Forum in Davos. It noted that income equality was extensively discussed at the meeting by the participants, but there was little indication the mostly wealthy businessmen and women there were prepared to do anything to narrow the gap. “They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk,” the commentator summarized. Do Filipino businesspeople differently inclined in their response to this concern?

We have to provide rice and coconut farmers with seeds and fertilizers. In addition, we should institute land reform, the kind that would definitely improve their lives. Maybe the coconut farmers could also get back the coconut levy collected from them during martial law.

The fishermen need new boats and nets, and also the assurance that the municipal waters will be reserved for them, and that all other laws meant to help the marginal fishermen will be observed.

Indeed, the reconstruction project faces a big decision on the issue of relocating families from within the “40-meter no-build zone.” Like all relocation undertakings, this one inevitably raises more questions: For example, will it allow wage-earning fishermen to have a marina-hostel of sorts at the shore, where they can also sleep when necessary, so they can continue fishing in order to support their families? The marina-hostel will serve as a “fishing jump-off point.”

Relocation we know how to do; we know the mistakes to avoid, the biggest of which is the lack of jobs in distant relocation sites. Designing and building the facility for the fishermen will still take a great deal of consultation and discussion with the fishermen. We should get busy. For them, relocation without the marina-hostel is not even “building back.” And the challenge is “building back better.”

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates 

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