Monday, June 30, 2014

Night rains

Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Denis Murphy

Many of us lie awake these nights listening to the rain race across the city, wave after wave. We may be grateful for the dry homes we have. We may feel the hostility of the wind and rain and think of the poor people trying to get through the night in  kariton  hauled up on the sidewalks, or the people sleeping in doorways, allowed to do so by the security guards out of simple compassion, or the people in the shanties of the slums where mothers gather the children as close to them as possible to keep them dry and comforted.

We may think of the “Yolanda” survivors’ tents that leak whenever it rains, and we can sense the people’s fear that another typhoon is upon them. After some time we may realize very well that as a people, we haven’t done nearly enough for our poor brothers and sisters and their children. We can do much better.

Each city is supposed to acquire land and provide housing for its own landless poor. No city does enough. The national government is supposed to support the local initiatives with advice, funds and models. Despite the efforts of many good people, not nearly enough is done at the national level either. The country’s war on poverty is in a trough. Little happens that is very good or very bad. We hear a monotonous “no” from the government when working people, including teachers, ask for a salary raise. Land reform ends this month—unmourned, it seems. It ends “not with a bang but a whimper,” to use T.S. Eliot’s words. There is little movement in any direction. It may take a presidential election to wake us up.

It all comes down to the President to get something going. It is his team. Can he do something to renew hope in the poor that concrete good things will happen to them? What actions can he take that will kick-start meaningful development and recapture the trust in him that the poor had at the beginning of his term of office? I suggest that he proclaim land for the poor in four areas of Metro Manila. Others may have other suggestions.

Last June 7, 5,000 people led by Bella dela Rosa, Marlon Querante, Lito Tejada and Rowena Nevado walked 10 kilometers around the Manggahan Floodway to air their desire for a proclamation that would give them land tenure security and banish the sword of eviction that has dangled over them since the floodway was constructed in the 1970s. There are 40,000 families living on its banks.

Nearby in Lupang Arenda, some 63,000 families also want a proclamation. Arenda has grown almost unnoticed to the size of Cagayan de Oro or Dagupan. In Slip Zero, Tondo, a group of strong women has led 200 families on a 15-year search for a proclamation, and in Isla Puting Bato, 1,000 families want a chance at a new life.

Proclamations offer a new life, in that the poor get to own a piece of land that they develop with their neighbors into permanent, attractive and truly democratic villages. Proclamations don’t cost the government any outlay of cash, and they are very popular. They can be issued within a month.

The President has only one small proclamation to his credit. Why should we think he will proclaim land for half a million people in the four areas? First, he may have begun to listen to the criticism of his economy, coming from persons like Pope Francis. Rarely has a pope spoken so sharply on any subject as Francis has on the evils of economies like ours. Maybe the President, through his trips around the country, has seen that things are far from well and adjustments have to be made on his plans.

To proclaim the areas just mentioned will give many families a kick-start toward decent urban living, but, equally important, the proclamations will hopefully kick-start the administration toward a more direct service to the poor that will complement the many moves of assistance that the President has made for well-off business people.
A certain disenchantment has set in between the poor and the President. They like him and admire him for his honesty, peace-keeping and firm foreign policy, but he has become a remote figure. When was the last time he visited an urban poor area, or a rural barrio, or a fishing or tribal village, or a factory, to talk to the people? Such symbolic visits and conversations are important. How will the President know the people’s problems and their sorrows unless he listens to them? How will they know that he is aware of their problems and sincerely cares what happens to them?

Maybe the President will see the value of direct action and visit Negros one day with soldiers to arrest the hacenderos who use the law and violence to frustrate land reform. Maybe, he’ll go to Tacloban and see the poor families in tents that leak when it rains and turn into ovens when the sun is out, and he’ll take charge of the hunt for land for relocation. Maybe, people hope, he will realize he has done more than enough for the rich and powerful and must turn his attention to his poor brothers and sisters.

Such presidential action may invigorate the government and send a surge of energy through the ranks and bring back among the poor some of the hope they had in the early days of his administration.
Proclaim Manggahan, Arenda, Slip Zero and Isla Puting Bato, Mr. President.

We must work while we have the light, Jesus told us, “for the night comes when no man works” (John 9:4).
The end of his presidency and his great chance to help is drawing rapidly to an end.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Make it look easy, Indonesia

Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Denis Murphy

INDONESIA, the Philippines’ sister republic to the south, has solved one of the great cultural-political dilemmas of modern times: It has shown that Islam and democracy are compatible. Most talk on this matter focuses on the West and the Middle East and is very negative about the chances of the two cultures living in peace with each other. Just recently, for example, the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was seen by some writers as “the death of political Islam.” Indonesia has solved the problem and made it look easy. There was none of the riots, battles, or furious demonstrations we have seen elsewhere.

Wardah Hafidz, an Indonesian woman who has led national urban poor movements for years, told us: “It will not be Islam’s fault if it and democracy part ways. It will be the fault of the people’s culture and history.” Wardah views Islam from the point of view of the very poor, from which point of view both poor Muslims in Indonesia and poor Catholics in the Philippines see their God as the source of all mercy and loving care. They don’t see why that Holy God of theirs would be interested in politics.

We should remember that Indonesia is the third largest democratic country in the world, with 200 million people. Some 86 percent of them are Muslim, so it is the largest Muslim country in the world. It is a democratic and Muslim giant, so what happens there has significance for both democracy and Islam.

We were still interested in seeing how Islam was lived out in ordinary life among the people, so we went last May 30 to a political rally of presidential candidate Joko Widodo in Surabaya. Except for the language, it was like any political rally in Manila, Davao or Cebu. The grounds were packed with young and old, mostly poor people, but many well-off people as well, about 12,000-15,000 all together.

Widodo spoke softly, as if he were in a conversation with the crowd; he told jokes that had the people laughing. It took the people a second or two to understand the meaning of his jokes, it seemed to me, and then they laughed as though they saw then how the funny story could make a political point. He talked very briefly and then was whisked through the people, who pushed in to see and touch him.

It was his third stop of the day that began at dawn 1,000 kilometers away in Jakarta. He would fly to Bali for the final stop. When I asked myself what person he called to mind, I thought of Abraham Lincoln—that is, his manner and plain dress spoke of Lincoln. We’ll have to wait to see what he does for his country, should he be elected.

One night we visited a community along the Surabaya River. The government had allowed the families to stay near the river if they would chop three meters off their houses and build a road instead. They did that with a great deal of suffering, but now they have permanent homes along a lovely waterway. Late in the evening the young girls and women danced—this was the modern, naughty, total-effort dancing we see in Manila. Some wore the veil (hibab). I watched an old woman near me in full Muslim dress. Her face wasn’t covered in the way we often see in other Muslim countries. She was beaming like she would burst as she imitated the young women as best she could. Faster went the music, and she looked for someone to bump hips with. Alas, I was the only one near her. She wasn’t ready for that meeting with the secular world.

At a seminar I asked a young Muslim girl wearing the veil what the Koran had to say about the poor and helping the poor. Her name was Habi (Love). She told me: “Muslims are told we should be with the poor people. It is a demand to live in peace and modesty and to love and care for the poor people in need.”

Muslims seem just as much at home in the politics and democratic and secular world of Indonesia as Christians are in Manila.

Indonesians speak softly, even when they are angry, but that doesn’t mean they are all gentle people. There is a movement now in Indonesia urging people not to forget the past, and to remember the estimated one million people—communists, communist sympathizers, people simply interested in justice and a better life, and personal enemies—who were slaughtered by the army of General Suharto in the mid-1960s as he climbed to power.

Sri Wiyanti Eddyono, formerly of the National Commission on Women and a longtime pro bono lawyer for urban poor causes, told me that the people are also asked to remember the plunder of the Suharto years and the human rights atrocities in East Timor and Aceh, and to watch out that the friends and relatives of Suharto don’t rise again to power.
We, too, should not forget. The Philippines has had just as many sorrows and villains as Indonesia.

The people I met are well aware of the limitations of their democracy, just as people here are aware of this country’s weaknesses. They are especially worried about the growing income gap between the rich and the poor, and the strains it puts on democracy, and the growing power of foreign investors and multilateral lending institutions.

Most of all, the people we met wanted their leaders to be close to and listen to the people, and include the opinions of the people in their decision-making.

Leaders of the Philippine government also need to listen more carefully before they decide what to do with the poor. It is frightening in a way to find the government deciding how and where the poor in the areas devastated by “Yolanda” will live, when there has been almost zero consultation with them on housing matters, according to a recent Oxfam survey. Only 7 percent of the people interviewed in the study had been consulted in any way on the question of housing.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Urban Poor NGO Appeal For Respect to Land Rights

Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.          Telefax: 4264118          Tel.: 4264119 / 4267615
Ref:  Princess Asuncion-Esponilla      Mobile phone: 0908 1967450

13 June 2014. Urban Poor Associates, (UPA) a housing rights advocate held a first forum on Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) or Republic Act 7279 to Yolanda survivors and International Organizations Friday 9 AM-12 Noon at the Grand Stand Session Hall, Sta. Cruz Street, Tacloban City. The forum is an appeal to respect land rights and to allow Yolanda survivors to have access to transitional housing in their existing places while in wait for the permanent housing. 

Atty. Ritche Esponilla, UPA Legal Counsel said, “The forum aims to provide understanding of UDHA / RA 7279 to ensure that the affected families will have an informed decision on their housing options.”

Celia Santos, UPA UDHA Advocacy Officer based in Tacloban said, “This is an effort to lessen the suffering of affected families living in tents by educating them on their land rights particularly on the right for an adequate consultation. Consultation does not happen in most disasters stricken areas based on Oxfam study.”

According to a recent Oxfam Briefing Paper on permanent relocation, 81 percent of the people interviewed “stated they are not aware of their rights regarding permanent relocation,” and only 7 percent of those interviewed said “they had been consulted by a government official at the barangay, municipal or national level about the relocation process.” (New and Old Wineskins by Denis Murphy, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 29, 2014)

The forum supports:
1. Immediate implementation of the repair or rebuild on-site for transitional housing in affected areas.
2. Transitional housing for those who opted outside the affected areas.
3. Make public the correct land inventory per barangay so, that people can effectively participate in choosing housing and land options as mandated by the UDHA law or RA 7279.
4. Speed up the construction of permanent housing in safe areas with decent housing, basic services and available jobs.
5. In the meantime, put in place safe evacuation areas, identify evacuation areas per district if possible per Barangay, make a community drill on complete disaster preparedness program and to ensure that when disaster hit, there is an abundant food supplies for affected families. 
6. Respect everyone land rights.

Mary-Ann Guinoohan, a resident of Barangay 89, San Jose District, Tacloban said, “We are happy to be informed of our housing rights. This is the first time that someone explains to us that there is a law protecting poor people housing rights. We are hopeful that in the meantime, the government will give us transitional housing on the site especially that rainy season has started.”

The forum was supported by the Office of the Vice Governor, Commission on Human Rights, International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Community and Family Services International (CFSI).


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Urban Poor 10K Walk, An Appeal for Floodway Proclamation

Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.          Telefax: 4264118          Tel.: 4264119 / 4267615
Ref:  Princess Asuncion-Esponilla      Mobile phone: 0908 1967450

News Release
7 June 2014. 

2000 urban poor joined today a 10 kilometer walk, to appeal to President Benigno Aquino III for a proclamation for land tenure security and socialized housing in the Floodway that will benefit 20,000 residents. The walk stretches from Taytay, Cainta to Pasig Floodway to stress that people has the right to live in the city. This is also a call to engage all affected families to demand from the government a just and humane response for safe and secure settlement of informal settlers families(ISF) living in floodway, Rizal.

The 10k walk was initiated by Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Exodus Homeowners Association, Damayan Homeowners Association, Pag-asa Homeowners Association, Maharlika Homeowners Association and Alliance of People’s Organization Along Manggahan Pasig.

Urban poor along the stretch of floodway have long been a beneficiary of three Presidential Proclamations (PP) that aim to provide socialized housing. PP 458 and PP 704 were issued under President Fidel V. Ramos and PP1160 under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

PP 458 S. 1994 reserving portions of Embankment in Manggahan Floodway, PP 704 S. 1995 reserving a portion of public domain in Taytay,  and PP 1160 s. 2006 reserving portions of the Berm slopes of East and West Floodway. These were later revoked by President Arroyo through an Executive Order 854 in 2009, shortly after Typhoon Ondoy without sufficient technical and legal basis. 

Marlon Quirante, President of Exodus Homeowners Association Taytay, said, “We want President Aquino to lift EO 854 that totally revokes our rights for a decent housing. We have been crying for his help to implement socialized housing for families of floodway.”

Quirante added, “We have even gathered 10,000 signatures to support our cause. We are hopeful that through our mass actions President Aquino will be guided to act with compassion to protect our housing rights.” 

President Aquino signed a covenant with urban poor that set the legalization of settlement in Manggahan, Floodway. The covenant inspired the people of Floodway to develop a disaster-resilient community through a housing design suitable in the area of the Floodway.

In parting, Bella dela Rosa, President of Damayan Homeowners Association said, “We will do everything to push our on-site housing. In today’s walk, we also gave emphasis on the need to amend Urban Development and Housing Act (RA7279) to ensure that all poor people will have access to a law that serves poor people interests.”


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