Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tondoman’s last flight

Commentary : Tondoman’s last flight

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 27, 2008

I once wrote a short story about a Filipino superhero by the name of Tondoman. He could fly like other superheroes, but unlike them he could be wounded and even killed. Like all of us he had to risk everything when he went to help the poor. He wore a blue and white costume with a long red cape and a golden “T” on the chest.

He was active in Manila’s Tondo district in the 1970s. You may remember the many good things that happened to the poor during those years. He was at the height of his powers then, but he was already in late middle age and soon after his powers disappeared.

We don’t hear much about the old age of superheroes. It is not a nice time. They can never marry, so they are alone in their last years. They are poor since they cannot take money for their services, much like the true faith healers. They have no close friends and most leave their families behind when they became superheroes. In many ways it is a curse to be a superhero. The life of a superhero calls for total dedication to the cause of justice, a life that is rewarded with an old age of loneliness and near poverty. They do receive a small pension—and powerlessness.

The following is what happened to Tondoman in the last years of his life.

He lived alone and very simply in a small apartment on Leveriza St., a kindly old man who was well liked by his neighbors. No one there knew about his past feats. Then one day a woman by the name of Maria who was about half his age came to see him. She told him the country needed him.

“The poor are suffering,” she told him. “Come back and walk among us once again.”

She was the daughter of one of the leaders he had worked with in Tondo years before.

“I have no powers,” he told her. “They’ve left me.”

“We will pray together and in the morning the powers will be back,” she said with the assurance of the true believer in the value of her cause.

“I don’t think I want to go back. I’ve come to believe it’s not good in the long run.”

“I hate to hear people talk about ‘the long run,’ Tondoman. It’s usually bad for the poor.”

“But it’s true, Maria. Look at Gotham City. Have the people learned to solve their own problems? Not at all, and neither has Police Commissioner Gordon. Whenever there’s a problem, they flash the Bat sign on the night sky and Batman comes to save them. It’s no good. The people never develop.”

“That’s the long run. We need you now. It’s an emergency.”

He remembered the many times people had come to him with emergencies. He smiled remembering some of the things he had done. Soon he was lost in reverie.

He remembered that years before, he had one day snatched the president of the country from the golf course, took him 2,000 feet in the air and told him that he would drop him if he didn’t give the urban poor people of Tondo the land they wanted. It was only a threat. He didn’t intend to drop the president, but something went wrong, the president moved suddenly or something, and Tondoman lost him. Down the president plunged screaming at all the world. Tondoman fell like a rock and caught him just a few feet off the 18th fairway. They were so close they could smell the grass. Then he took the president up high, and made believe the fall was intentional. He told the president he would drop him for good if he didn’t give the land. Sure enough, the people got the land.

He returned back from his old memories. “No, I don’t think a superhero is good for the people. They should do things themselves and not rely on superheroes or politicians or anyone. That’s what I feel now. After we won in Tondo, everything stopped. They weren’t ready for the next problem.”

“Tondoman, please come and talk to us anyway. I boasted I could get you to help us. Come to our meeting with your costume on and talk to us. Say whatever you will.” They prayed and the next morning his powers were back.

He flew off to the meeting, remembering the great flights of the past. The crowd at the meeting cheered when he arrived, but he sat them down and told them what he had told Maria.

“Yes, you must have supporters, but you yourselves must decide what you want to do and be in your lives. You must lead. Don’t rely on anyone, even on superheroes. Rely on God. God alone is always dependable and always seeks your good. It’s bad for your leaders to rely too much on them. They are then free to do as they want. We should instead watch them to make sure they do their work properly.”

“We can’t fly or do all those other things. We need you.”

“You really don’t. You have no idea how much strength and wisdom you have within yourselves until you begin to depend on yourselves and not others. Jesus told us, if you have faith you can say to a mountain get up, fly to the sea and throw yourself in! If you have faith, you can fly, at least as far as God intends you to fly. Believe in yourselves, believe in God.”

There was a thoughtful silence when he finished. They sat quietly, some with their eyes closed. Time to leave, he told himself.

He barely made it home. He flew just above the treetops. He couldn’t go higher. He was like a plane running out of gas.

He made it home, hung his costume in the closet for the last time, and sat down to have a night cap. Now for the rest of my life, he thought.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

©Copyright 2001-2008, An Inquirer Company

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dave’s wish

Youngblood : Dave’s wish

By Shella V. Espineli
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 23, 2008

Dave is a timid 10-year-old boy, who is small for his age. He is the fourth among six siblings and a hard-working Grade 5 student of mine. Three elder brothers and a sister are somewhere in Davao. He is the oldest among his brothers in Manila, and so his mother expects many things from him. He has to do the household chores—marketing, cooking, cleaning the house, washing dishes, doing the laundry and baby sitting. Before all this, he has to sell pan de sal and maja blanca starting at 4 a.m. and kamoteng kahoy at 10 a.m. He attends a tutoring class late in the morning and regular school in the afternoon. He sells tahong on weekends.

Whatever he earns he turns over to his mother to buy their food for the day. Sometimes he saves P3 to buy bread, or for his baon or to keep it in his coin bank, wishing to save enough to buy a pair of beautiful shoes for school.

No matter how tired he is, Dave never absents himself from the tutoring program and tries his very best to understand the lessons. He comes even without lunch, though sometimes he brings a small amount of rice. If he has viand, it’s fried tadpole (which may be poisonous), or stir fried chicken skin with soy sauce, or powdered milk. Quite often, his classmates share their food with him.

One time a teary-eyed Dave told me he wished he could play, dress and eat like the other children. They, too, are poor but have a little more.

Dave’s mother wants the young boy to do everything, and sometimes he is scolded. His stepfather just got a job in construction but his income is insufficient for the family’s basic needs. Dave can’t stop selling early in the morning with his best friend Joshua, 11. They share everything: left-over bread, family problems, home work—even dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. According to Dave, they have promised each other that they would remain friends whatever happens. They believe education is the key to success.

For Christmas, Dave wishes that his savings will be enough to buy a pair of second-hand black shoes he has been eyeing in a neighborhood ukay-ukay. He says they are of good quality and he can use them in school. They cost P15.

If he has still some money left, he will buy clean clothes and if there is some more, he will buy food. He thinks fried chicken, spaghetti, mixed vegetables and ice cream would make a nice noche buena.

He also wants things that are a little harder to get: a happy family and finishing school together with Joshua. Surely someone who is up and selling pan de sal at 4 a.m. and never misses tutoring class or regular school, deserves a break some time. Isn’t that what Christmas is for?

(Ivy Shella V. Espineli, 26, tutors 50 poor children in Baseco as a member of Kabalikat, a people’s organization.)

©Copyright 2001-2008, An Inquirer Company

Monday, December 22, 2008

By the side of the road in Tondo

Commentary : By the side of the road in Tondo

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 22, 2008

WE sat with 12 women leaders of the urban poor at the edge of the homes that line the R-10 road in Tondo. Across the road stood the North Harbor piers. The women discussed the meetings they had had with the Maynilad water company about securing regular water in their area. It was hard to hear them over the roar of the big container van trucks that came within a few feet of us. It had rained a little while before, so the air was fresh, but not for long with all the trucks. Young boys and girls still half naked from playing in the rain squeezed through the group to get to Aling Marieta’s sari-sari store to buy candy or food items for Mama.

The women began with water, but later talked of hunger in the area, politics and family planning. When they talked of family planning Aling Marieta gave her opinion that the best method was to vasectomize the men. All the women agreed, even those who said they were pro-life. To the women it seemed eminently fair.

The families now pay on average P30 a day for the water they buy from private persons, or P900 a month. For this money they get 200 liters a day, which is below the minimum of 250 liters recommended by the World Health Organization for lower-income families. If the women can’t afford the amount of water recommended, they can’t clean the children or dishes and can’t take good care of their sanitation. Diseases result, but then there is no money for medicine.

If they had the Maynilad water, they would pay about P4 instead of P30 for the 200 liters they now buy, or a savings of about P780 a month. With this money they can increase their family food budgets by 25 percent a day on average; they can send all their children to school; they can afford medicine, storybooks, copybooks and new clothes and they can buy all the water they need.

The big obstacles are the fees charged by Maynilad: for a mother meter that would provide water for 30 or so families the fee is at least P20,000; for individual meters the fee is P7,000. The people are willing to pay, but little by little out of the money they save on water. They cannot easily manage a big down payment.

Cannot Maynilad and the people sit down and work out a solution to this fee problem? It seems a public utility backed by the government has some obligation to provide affordable water to the poor. Lawyers say there is a social welfare concept inherent in such an enterprise. In the worst of Metro Manila’s slums—the so-called danger areas—almost no family has legal and inexpensive Manila Water or Maynilad.

Legal electric connections could provide similar savings for the poor. An effort by the government to make sure the poor have affordable light and water would be a wonderful anti-poverty measure (families could save about P1,500 per month). There is little room for corruption in such a program.

Hunger, the women said, is increasing in the area. Most families now combine breakfast and lunch. They talked of the “pagpag” chicken business which flourishes there. Scavengers get the garbage of Jollibee, sort out the chicken remains, wash them and package them into: bones with a little chicken still on them, which sell for P20 a kilo, and bones with a good amount of meat which cost P40.

The women seemed to enjoy sitting together in the late afternoon and appeared rather lighthearted when they talked of politics and family planning. It was hard to know if they were really serious. When they came to politics, they mentioned support for only one candidate: Joseph Estrada. “Erap pa rin,” they repeated. They discussed vasectomy with devilish delight.

We all felt better after having talked with the women. They are poor, but they are buoyant, thoughtful when they have to be and caring of one another and their families. The families can thrive if the children could get a good education and they had a decent place to live and enough food. What a waste if they can’t.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His e-mail address is

©Copyright 2001-2008, An Inquirer Company

Friday, December 19, 2008

Joseph and Mary's search for lodging dramatized at UP Diliman

12/19/2008 | 06:46 PM

Speech delivered by Chairperson Leila M. de Lima of Commission on Human Rights (CHR) upon receiving the "Urban Poor Person of the Year Award"


on the Occasion Organized by the Urban Poor Associates

Palma Hall, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City
19 December 2008

delivered by
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat.
In the past six months, we have gained so much ground in our fight to promote the right to an adequate standard of living and more specifically, the right to adequate housing. All the efforts of the Urban Poor Associates had paved the way for various forums and dialogues, where we have gotten the attention of the personalities who can most efficiently enact the changes that we need in relation to housing and forced evictions.

Patapos na ang binubuong draft amendments ng Urban Development and Housing Act, ayon kay Senador Noynoy Aquino. Pinag-aaralan na ng Korte Suprema ang aplikasyon ng Writ of Amparo sa mga kasong sangkot ang economic, social and cultural rights, pati na rin ang mga kaso ng iligal na demolisyon. Ipinahayag na ng Komisyon noong ika-6 ng Nobyembre ng taong ito sa Omnibus Resolution on Forced Evictions and Demolitions ang panawagan na pansamantalang itigil ang lahat ng demolisyon habang hindi pa nakabubuo ng panibagong patnubay mula sa Metro Manila Council sa pamamalakad ng sapilitang ebiksyon. Kamakailan lang, ipinarating ng Komisyon ang Omnibus Resolution sa United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at lubhang sinusuportahan ng pandaigdigang komunidad ang mga hakbang itinutupad natin para sa karapatan ng mga maralitang nananahanan.

Maraming salamat sa karangalang handog ninyo para sa akin at sa Komisyon. Ngunit naayon lang na palakpakan din natin ang ating mga dakilang bayani sa Urban Poor Associates, na pinangungunahan ni Mr. Denis Murphy. Palakpakan din natin ang ating mga sarili, ang mga komunidad na ipinaglalaban ang kanilang mga karapatan sa pamamagitan ng pagbubuklod at hindi sa paraan ng dahas. Ang karangalang ito ay para sa ating lahat.

Hindi natin alam kung ano ang tunay na dahilan kung bakit hindi na natin nababalitaan ang mga malawakang demolisyon sa kasalukuyan. Ito ba ay dahil may nangangarap na tumakbo sa eleksyon ng 2010? Hindi rin natin alam kung totoong pinag-aaralan na ng Metro Manila Council ang mga panibagong guidelines para sa demolisyon. Sa mga nakabasa ng Omnibus Resolution, hindi natin alam kung nagbabalak ang Department of Foreign Affairs na irekomenda sa Executive Department and pag-iimbita sa UN Special Rapporteur para suriin ang totoong kalagayan ng maralitang nananahanan.

Sa ngayon, mas marami pang tanong ang naidulot ng ating pagtugon sa problema ng kabahayan. Kung tutuusin, wala pa tayong tunay na tagumpay na nakamit. Ang mga nawalan ng tirahan, wala pa ring makamtam na relokasyon at pabahay. Bukod sa Omnibus Resolution, wala pang LGU ang nagpahayag na ipinagbabawal ang demolisyon sa kasalukuyan. Sa ngayon, hindi natin alam kung kailan isasabatas ang panibagong UDHA, at kung matutugunan nito ang mga kahinaan ng naunang batas.

There are still many more questions left unanswered. While we wait to see if the enormous efforts of the Commission and the Urban Poor Associates will bear fruit, we must remain vigilant. Hindi maaaring mawalay tayo sa ating minumungkahing makatarungang polisiya sa pabahay. We should not waver in our effort to organize communities, to generate further support for the cause of protecting the right to adequate housing.

Pansinin ninyo kung saan tayo nagtitipon ngayon. Unibersidad ng Pilipinas – home to the brightest Filipino youths, the most active student movement in the country. It is home to the most diverse set of students, rich and poor, militants and moderates. The most open, exposed and compassionate minds of the intelligentia are here. The struggle to bring to their attention the conditions surrounding government efforts for urban renewal must be made known not only to the urban poor, but to everyone, and it can start here in UP. Maaaring kakailanganin natin ang mas malawakang supporta para sa mga mungkahi natin. After all, human rights are for everyone, and therefore it is of every person's concern to protect them.

There are many who turn a blind eye to the plight of informal settlers. Mga nagbubulagbulagan ba. Yet, how can anyone who cherishes his or her own rights not be concerned about the rights of his neighbors? Ang hinihingi nating pagmamalasakit ng ating mga kababayan ay hindi nakabatay sa awa. Nakabatay 'to sa kung ano ang makatarungan.

To those of you who are here today, the urban poor groups, to the students of UP, to the public in general, this assembly here represents not an appeal for sympathy, but a show of power - the power of collective action, the power of organized civil society, the power of collaboration between the government and its constituents, the power to bring change to circumstances that are not just, that are not humane. I ask all of you who are here today, whether you are part of the urban poor groups who continue to suffer from inhuman evictions, or part of the student community, or the general public, to stand in solidarity with us. I ask all of you to speak to everyone you know about the struggle to retain dignity in an age of modernity and so-called civilization. Hindi pa natin nakakamtam ang tunay na katarungan para sa maralitang nananahanan. For this reason, we must never let up, we must never be lulled in our own comfort, we must never stop supporting the causes that work to bring justice to every Filipino.

Adequate housing is only one right among a deluge of rights. And yet, to some people, it is almost everything that they can ever have, a humble symbol of their own dignity in a world infected with inequality. Iilan lamang sa kabuuan ng mga karapatang pantao ang karapatang magkaroon ng sapat na kabuhayan, sapat na kabahayan, mamuhay nang may dignidad. Ngunit para sa maraming Pilipino, ang sariling bahay ay siyang pinaka-simbolo ng namumuhay ng mayroong dignidad. It is such a small, yet important thing that we take for granted. For this reason, this deprivation should not continue for anybody.

More work has to be done. I ask all of you to be steadfast, patibayin ang inyong mga kalooban. We have not achieved enough yet. Gather your courage, gather your families, your friends, neighbors, gather your employers, your employers' children, gather your customers, gather people on the street... tell them what a failure Urban Renewal has been for decades. Tell them about the failure of our laws to protect the dignity of informal settlers, of ordinary Filipinos. Tell them, so that they may know, and that they will someday join us in our struggle.

Muli, maraming salamat sa karangalang ito at sa pagkakataong dumalo sa pagtitipon ninyo. Thank you. Mabuhay po kayong lahat.

Urban Poor Re-enact Joseph and Mary’s Search for Shelter


Urban Poor Re-enact Joseph and Mary’s Search for Shelter

19 December 2008. In celebration of their 22nd Panunuluyan, over 500 urban poor people marched this morning at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City repeating the question asked by Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: "Do you have a decent place where we can stay?"

Aside from the dramatization of Nativity story, there was also a Mass and the awarding of the “Urban Poor Person of the Year Award”, an annual prize given to the person who has done the most for the poor that year or in his or her lifetime.

The prize this year was given to Chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The award cites Atty. de Lima for the “compassion, legal skill and courage” she has shown in defense of the urban poor people’s housing rights.

Led by children in angel costumes, urban poor people together with housing rights advocates marched from the Oblation to Palma Hall of the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy.

Participants included old people, victims of demolitions, relocated railroad families, leaders of people’s organization, various non-government organizations, urban poor friends and sympathizers from all over Metro Manila.

On the steps of Palma hall, marchers were greeted by clouds of angels announcing the good news and prophetic trumpets.

The event is sponsored by the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Community Organization of the Philippine Enterprise (COPE), Urban Poor Alliance (UP-All) and Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA).

“Panunuluyan exemplifies that what happened to Jesus is happening again to the urban poor now. The sufferings of Jesus are the sufferings of the urban poor today. Jesus had no place to live as a baby and at the end he was oppressed and killed by the powerful,” said Ted Añana, deputy coordinator of UPA.

“Basically the urban poor issue is the same as that of the farmers pushing for agrarian reform. Both are concern with land. The farmers need land to till while the urban poor need land to live on,” Añana explained.

There have been successes in the urban poor in 2008. According to UPA, there were fewer evictions during the last months of the year. UPA noted the efforts of the CHR particularly its Resolution No. A2008-052 issued last November 6 recommending the imposition of a moratorium on evictions and demolitions of homes of underprivileged and homeless citizens.

The following are some other victories the urban poor wish to celebrate this Christmas: Plans to evict everyone in Baseco, Port Area have been junked; Advances were made in respect to people’s housing rights and amending the Urban Development and Housing Act; the release of P300 million for relocation in Montalban of evicted families and the commitment of a large sum for similar work; preparation of Tanza, Navotas as a relocation site for the thousands of families who will be moved from the R-10 roadway; in-city or near-city relocation became the norm for evicted families rather than distant relocation to sites 50 kilometers and more away, according to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who also said relocation sites will be fully prepared before people are transferred; progress on the local housing boards in Quezon City and elsewhere have been made; there are no large scale evictions. Plans to evict the people of Del Pan and in other sites along the Pasig River and many esteros were cancelled. -30-

Monday, December 15, 2008

MEDIA ADVISORY: Panunuluyan 2008

Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters and Photojournalists


The urban poor request your presence at the 22nd annual celebration of their Panunuluyan to be held on December 19 (Friday) beginning at 8:00 AM.

Led by children in angel costumes, over 500 urban poor people will march from the Oblation at the UP-Diliman to Palma Hall of the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, where a 15-minute skit will be staged.

The Panunuluyan re-enacts the search of Joseph and Mary for a shelter where the child Jesus might be born. We see this event in the light of the urban poor’s search for homes, peace and a decent life.

We will have Mass, a dramatization of Panunuluyan, a review of the year’s successes, and the awarding of the “Urban Poor Person of the Year Award”, an annual prize given to the person who has done the most for the poor that year or in his or her lifetime.

The prize this year will be given to Chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The award cites Atty. de Lima for the “compassion, legal skill and courage” she has shown the urban poor in defense of their human rights.

There will be games for children, singing and lantern-making contests. We will provide lunch. Please join us and bring your friends.

The event is sponsored by the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Community Organization of the Philippine Enterprise (COPE), Urban Poor Alliance (UP-All) and Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA).

Photo ops: Clouds of angels, prophetic trumpets, and more on the steps of Palma Hall.

Panunuluyan 2008
Date: December 19 (Friday)
Time: 8:00 AM - 12:00 NN
Assembly Point: Oblation, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City
Venue: Palma Hall, U.P. College of Social Sciences and Philosophy


8:00-8:30AM : Assembly @ UP Oblation
8:30-9:00 : March to Palma Hall
9:00-10:00 : Photo-Ops
10:00-10:05 : Doxology / Opening Prayer
10:05-10:20 : Short Skit
10:20-10:30 : Introduction of the Urban Poor Person of the Year
10:30-11:00 : Awarding of the Plaque
: Message from Chairperson Leila M. De Lima
11:00-12:00nn : Mass
12:00nn : Lunch
1:00-1:30pm : Presentation of Victories, etc.
1:30-2:30 : Lantern Contest/Games
2:30-2:45 : Announcement of Winners
2:45-3:00 : Final Remarks/Closing Prayer

Task Force Anti-Eviction
c/o Urban Poor Associates
25A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Quezon City
Tels (632) 426–4119/ 7615 Telefax (632) 426– 4118

Monday, December 08, 2008

MEDIA ADVISORY: Urban Poor To Support Farmers’ Final Effort to Push Land Reform

Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters


Urban Poor To Support Farmers’ Final Effort to Push Land Reform

Unless a miracle happens, Congress will be writing finis to an unfinished reform program - the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Urban poor settlers will support farmers’ final effort to push for extension and revision of CARP, which is set to expire on Dec. 31.

Just like the landless farmers, leaders of the urban poor sector believe that equitable sharing of land and resources will help cure the root problems of poverty and urbanization.

An estimated 16.5 million, roughly 30 percent, of the urban population continue to live in informal settlements and slums, sometimes built on riverbanks, railroad tracks and other high-risk areas, with limited basic infrastructures and services, without legal security of tenure and under constant threat of eviction.

In this regard, the Urban Poor Associates (UPA) request your presence at a press briefing to be held at the Max’s Restaurant tomorrow (December 9) 11:00 AM.

The farmers, in solidarity with similarly poor urban communities, their advocates and the religious shall join hands on December 10 (Wednesday) to press for the dawning of equity and justice through the passage of CARP extension with reforms.

Date: December 9, 2008 (Tuesday)

Time: 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Venue: Max’s Restaurant, Elliptical Road, Quezon City Memorial Circle

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Running Priest in Baseco for CARP extension

Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters and Photojournalists


Running Priest in Baseco for CARP extension

As part of his 157-kilometer run for the extension of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the running priest Fr. Robert Reyes, together with some 30 community leaders will stage a run today (Dec. 6) starting at 8:00 AM from the Herminigildo Atienza Elementary School at the Baseco, Port Area in Manila to the office of Department of Agrarian Reform in Quezon City.

There are serious concern that once the year ends without passing a law extending it and by including reforms, the plight of landless farmers will hang in the balance; and that those who are supposed to be beneficiaries under the CARP, would have no other means or legal remedies at all to seek ownership of the lands they till.

Two decades after the land reform law took affect, thousands of hectares of land all over the country have failed to be awarded to farmers.

Date: December 6, 2008 (Saturday)

Time: 8:00 AM

Assembly Point: Baseco, Port Area, Manila

Thursday, November 27, 2008

UN regret about Philippines housing rights situation


UN regret about Philippines housing rights situation
Committee calls for changes in housing rights policies

27 November 2008. The key United Nations body on economic, social and cultural rights has criticized the human rights performance of the government of the Philippines and recommended significant policy changes.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on Nov. 24 issued its Concluding Observations, after reviewing the Philippines’ record concerning implementation of international human rights law in the field of economic, social and cultural rights during the past twelve years, since the Committee last reviewed the Philippines.

The Committee regrets that most of its previous recommendations relating to the prevention of illegal forced evictions have not been acted upon by the State party, and remains deeply concerned about the large scale forced eviction of urban families carried out for the purpose of urban renewal and beautification, which has reportedly affected over 1.2 million people in the period between 1995 and 2008.

“We are happy that the Committee’s findings on illegal, forced evictions ratify our own findings. People cannot be thrown out in the streets like rubbish as has happened so often here,” said Ted Añana, deputy coordinator of Urban Poor Associates (UPA).

Although diplomatically worded, the finding on housing rights and evictions represent a stinging rebuke to the record of successive governments in addressing the living conditions of the urban poor, according to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international human rights organisation that has been heavily involved in the UN process, along with a coalition of Philippine groups.

“These findings show how little progress has been made in past twelve years to improve the life of the urban poor”, said Dan Nicholson, Asia and Pacific Programme Coordinator of COHRE. “It’s time for the government to take clear action to remedy the wrongs of the past twelve years.”

“Philippines laws and international standards continue to be violated as forced evictions take place. We call on the government to impose a moratorium on forced evictions until the recommendations made by the UN Committee can be implemented. This means reinstating the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor or another body with real, legally binding powers to enforce laws such as UDHA,” continued Nicholson, in reference to the widely flouted Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) of 1992 (Republic Act No. 7279). “Local governments that violate the law should be prosecuted, as UDHA allows.”

“It’s time for a whole new approach to relocation – which involves real consultation with and involvement of communities, to ensure that relocation sites are close to livelihoods, schools and healthcare facilities, and have power and water before relocation takes place,” said Nicholson.

“Meanwhile, the current budgetary allocation for housing, and particularly for important projects such as the Community Mortgage Programme, is inadequate. We call on the government to increase spending on housing from 0.5% of the budget to 2%, including a real increase for the CMP,” continued Nicholson.

“Some governments in Philippines are complying with their obligations, such as the government in Naga City”, said Nicholson, referring to Mayor Jesse Robredo and the Naga City government, who last year won a prestigious COHRE global Housing Rights Protector Award. “Others – and I must single out MMDA one of the worst offenders – must be reined in by the national government and courts of the Philippines”.

COHRE and local partners, including the UPA, will be organizing a series of events to publicize the Concluding Observations in coming months.

“We look forward to working with government, civil society and the UN to implement these recommendations”, concluded Nicholson. “We don’t want to go back to the Committee again in five years to find out that the situation still hasn’t improved. The people of the Philippines deserve better”.

In its concluding observations, the Committee:
• “Notes with concern that an estimated 16.5 million, roughly 30 percent, of the urban population continue to live in informal settlements and slums, sometimes built on riverbanks, railroad tracks and other high-risk areas, with no or limited basic infrastructures and services, without legal security of tenure and under constant threat of eviction.”

• “notes with concern that the percentage of the national budget allocated to the realisation of housing programmes ... is not sufficient to increase the supply of social housing units for members of the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups.”

• “remains deeply concerned about the large-scale forced eviction of urban families carried out for the purpose of urban renewal and beautification” which have affected more than 1.2 million people since 1995

• notes with concern “the inadequate measures to provide sufficient compensation or adequate relocation sites” for evicted families.

The Committee urges the government to:
• “allocate sufficient funds for the realisation of programmes aimed at providing security of tenure and affordable housing”

• “ensure the effective implementation of ... laws and regulations prohibiting illegal forced evictions and demolitions”

• “reinforce the mandate of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP)”

• “undertake open, participatory and meaningful consultations with affected residents and communities prior to implementing development and urban renewal projects”;

• “ensure that persons forcibly evicted from their properties be provided with adequate compensation and/or offered relocation” in accordance with domestic law and international human rights standards; and

• “guarantee that relocation sites are provided with basic services ... and adequate facilities ... at the time the resettlement takes place”.

The full text of the UNCESCR Concluding Observations can be found at:

For more information, contact:

Dan Nicholson, COHRE Asia and Pacific Programme Coordinator, at, +855 17 523274.


Monday, November 24, 2008

MMDA clears Baclaran Church of street vendors

11/23/2008 | 01:13 AM

MMDA to clear sidewalks with vendors
11/22/2008 | 12:15 PM

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A watch in the night

Commentary : A watch in the night

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: November 14, 2008

I FOUND MYSELF the "bantay" at my mother-in-law's bedside very early in the morning the day before she died. Everyone else was sleeping or busy somewhere. The only sound in the hospital room was the breathy "choo" "choo" "choo" of the ventilator every few seconds. Medicines dripped from six bottles suspended over the bed. It was icy cold in the room, but she was in deep coma and no longer cared. At times I went close to look at her face: her head hung at an awkward angle on the pillow; her tongue half protruded from her mouth, pushed aside by the oxygen tube. It wasn't the woman I had lived alongside for 32 years. Outside Chinese General Hospital crowds already made their way into the North Cemetery for the All Souls' Day vigil.

My mother-in-law, Carmen Laroco Gentolia, reached 89 the day before. Her husband was also 89 when he died four years earlier. He had been in a coma that lasted for years, and she wanted none of that: "Don't do that to me," she often said. "No machines. No tubes stuck in me. I'll pull them out, if I can. Let me go. I have asked God to forgive my sins, I'm ready. Let me go." Her children had promised they would.

My wife and I went to live with her family 32 years ago soon after we married. She had never talked to an American and suddenly there I was in the middle of her life. I often caught her studying me, wondering perhaps about God's funny ways. I'd be eating, look up suddenly and she'd be watching me closely, much like an anthropologist watching a tribal ritual.

Over the years, through good times and bad, my mother-in-law and I grew to be at ease with one another. In the end she was the only member of the family to come with me to the barangay court when I brought a case against our neighbor's very noisy dog. My wife and the others in the house were too embarrassed to come, even if the dog was the marathon barker of all time and bothered everyone. "Imagine, taking a dog to court," I heard them whisper. Lola not only came with me, she spoke eloquently on my behalf. We won and the dog was remanded from behind our house to another place where we wouldn't hear him.

She had a full life. Nine children were born and six survived. She was a great, great-grandmother, whose life extended over five generations. She served her parents, her children and husband for 80 years. But it wasn't all toil. She "escaped" from her parents' home in Pangasinan to marry the man she loved. When she found it hard to live in Sorsogon, she went in 1943 by small sailboat along the coast, in danger of storms, robbers and Japanese soldiers on a trip to Manila that took months to finish. She took her eldest daughter who was still a baby with her. She had the good times of every mother--the weddings, graduations and successes of her children.

Nothing happened during my watch, and soon dawn was up in Manila. I had once written a novel titled "A Watch in the Night." The phrase is from Psalm 90 where the Psalmist compares our short life to that of the Immortal God: "A thousand years in your eyes are merely a yesterday. / But humans you return to dust, saying, 'Return, you mortals. / Before a watch passes in the night you have brought them to their end.'"

She died the next day in the early morning. When we got to her bedside, her face was at peace as if she were sleeping, but she looked very content. She seemed to be saying, "I have won." Her chin was out just a little in her triumph. We were left with the cold room, rain in the streets outside, but she was home with her loved ones. We see rain. She now sees, I thought, the Living God.

They wrapped her in the sheet like a mummy and we followed the gurney through the hospital to bring her to the hearse that would carry her to the funeraria. At one point we watched the gurney go over a little pedestrian bridge that joins two buildings at the Chinese General Hospital. It was a symbol of her passage from this world to one where the martyrs and the saints would meet her and bring her to the Lord she served so well.

The Psalmist also writes: "You take hold of my right hand. / With your counsel you guide me / and at the end you receive me in honor." (Ps 73).

Her children made her very comfortable in the last years of her life. Someone was always with her to talk. If she wanted crabs, they hurried to Hi-Top; if it was palabok, they went to Cubao. Her most faithful companion, however, was our dog, Titanic, who has also grown old. They sat side by side all day, watching the TV, she on her chair, Titanic on the couch. Any program would do--horror movies, old Tagalog films, quiz shows, it didn't matter. There were more important things to think about.

We often worry about the growing immorality of the world, and yet 50 percent of all people are mothers just like Lola, who live lives full of love and service, who have always tried "to do the right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with God." (Micah 6:8)

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His e-mail address is

Copyright 2008 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Group seeks UN’s help vs gov’t human rights violations


13 November 2008. In her speech during the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) review in Geneva, Switzerland, Chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged the Philippine government to impose a moratorium on demolitions and forced evictions until consultation and resettlement provisions are implemented.

CHR’s appeal was made during the 41st session of the UNCESCR on November 11-12 which reviewed government compliance with its economic and social obligations including providing adequate and accessible shelter to its constituents especially to the homeless.

De lima also asserted that the country’s housing law, Urban Development Housing Act (UDHA) of 1992 should be amended to extend its protection against summary evictions to people living along railroad tracks, rivers and other areas considered danger zones.

Judge Ariranga Pillay of Mauritius, a member of said UN body, noted the unusually high number of Filipino families forcibly evicted from their homes indicating that these incidents had not abated since the committee first raised this issue to the government back in 1995.

Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) director Severo Catura who was also in the review admitted that there were indeed incidences of violations of housing rights but he assured the UN committee that these were going to be addressed.

Catura also stated that the PHRC already partnered with the CHR in the effort to investigate and monitor housing rights violations particularly forced evictions.

Civil society groups in its alternative report to the committee during the review, estimated that 85,370 families or 505,355 individuals had been evicted since 1996 to 2008 mostly due to urban beautification and infrastructure projects such as the NorthRail and SouthRail projects.

“More than half of these evicted families were displaced during the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and also mostly due to the clearing operations of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) led by chairperson Bayani Fernando,” the groups, led by the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), said.

The report on the implementation of the right to adequate housing was prepared by UPA, John J. Caroll Institute on Church and Social Issues, Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan) and the Foundation for the Development of the Urban Poor.

Aside from the housing rights group, several non-governmental organizations also made reports on the implementation of social and economic rights such as access to food, employment, water, education, and health services.

Based on the civil society report to the UNCESCR, Filipinos' enjoyment of economic and social rights was gravely compromised by certain government priorities, policies, and practices such as the Philippine Mining Act, automatic appropriations for debt servicing, corruption, and unclear population agenda.

Furthermore, issues of concern raised by the UNCESCR back in 1995 such as lack of judicial powers of the CHR, vulnerable situation of children, non-completion and weaknesses of the agrarian reform program, and privatization of health services are still part of present realities.

The civil society report backed by more than one hundred organizations was facilitated by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), research arm of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and the UPA.

Major contributors to the NGO report were the Saligan, Center for Migrant Advocacy, Homenet Southeast Asia, Philippine NGO Coalition for Food Sovereignty, Medical Action Group, Freedom from Debt Coalition, and Education Network – Philippines. -30-

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hiding Behind Numbers

Press Statement

November 6, 2008

Hiding Behind Numbers

On the eve of a United Nation's (UN) review of Philippine efforts to improve the quality of life of its people, the country landed fifth (5th) among the world's most hungry nations with 40% or 4 out of 10 of Filipinos admitting they experienced hunger in the past year according to recent survey of Gallup International.

Despite this bad news, government delegates to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) hearing on November 11-12 in Geneva, Switzerland are most likely to say it has implemented policies and programs to satisfy social and economic rights such as access to food, employment, housing, education, and health services.

Moreover, the government in its submission to the UNCESCR painted a rosy economic picture citing reduced poverty from 45.5% in 1988 to 30.4% in 2003 and an average 3-5% growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Gross National Product (GNP) and key sectors of the economy from 2001-2004.

The official report, while acknowledging some weaknesses like lack of spending on public education, also claimed general improvements in the nutritional and health status of Filipinos based on indicators such as infant and maternal mortality rates.

However, civil society groups admonished the government not to emulate Joc-joc Bolante, a former agriculture official implicated in a P700 million fertilizer scam, who kept on evading the truth behind legal technicalities. The administration could not always hide behind statistics and jargons, glimpses of the real situation of its people would inevitably come out in the open like the results of the Gallup hunger study.

Based on the civil society report to the UNCESCR, Filipinos' enjoyment of economic and social rights was gravely compromised by certain government priorities, policies, and practices such as the Philippine Mining Act, automatic appropriations for debt servicing, corruption, and unclear population agenda.

Furthermore, issues of concern raised by the UNCESCR back in 1995 such as lack of judicial powers of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), forced evictions, vulnerable situation of children, non-completion and weaknesses of the agrarian reform program, and privatization of health services are still part of present realities.

This is not surprising since the government failed to heed most of the UNCESCR recommendations made thirteen (13) years ago including increased budget for slum upgrading and affordable housing, fast tracking of the agrarian reform program, and designating a body that would prevent forced evictions.

To put back on track its compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), civil society groups call on the government to take the following steps:

a.) enact legislations on reproductive health, social pension for the elderly, anti-prostitution, patients' rights, mandatory food labelling, Food Security Act, domestic reflection of Precautionary Principles, and Magna Carta for Women;

b.) repeal or amend Mining Act, anti-terrorism law, National Building Code;

c.) prioritize basic services and agriculture development in the national budget and not debt servicing, spending for services should be aligned with internationally and locally recommended standards such as WHO prescription of 5% of GDP for health;

d.) reform mandates of the CHR and other redress mechanisms to give them appropriate powers, make them more independent and insulated from politics, and facilitate civil society participation; and

e.) Aggressively lobby foreign creditors for debt moratorium and/or cancellation / repudiation of onerous and illegitimate liabilities.

The civil society report backed by more than one hundred organizations was facilitated by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), research arm of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and the Urban Poor Associates (UPA).

Major contributors to the NGO report were the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan), Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), Homenet Southeast Asia, Philippine NGO Coalition for Food Sovereignty (PNLC), Medical Action Group (MAG), Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), and Education Network – Philippines (E-Net).

Philippine NGO-PO Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

Contact Persons: Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan Dr. PH (433-1714)

Renato Mabunga (436-2633)

Ted Añana (426-4118)

Read on - Philippine NGO Network Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on
Economic, Social,and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Thursday, November 06, 2008



IN 1995 the UN issued its concerns about the Philippine government’s failure to comply with the international treaty, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and gave a list of recommendations about housing rights, to the Philippine Government in order remedy the rampant commission of forced evictions, a prima facie violation of the right to adequate housing. A reading of the UN document shows that the Philippine Government from former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Estrada to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo barely complied with the recommendations. Specifically on forced evictions, monitoring by NGOs has shown:

Since 1996 to June 2008 the Philippine Government has failed to stop forced evictions committed by third parties but has itself committed forced evictions considered gross violations of human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing, General Comment No. 7 on Forced Evictions and in violation of its 1997 Constitution and the Urban Development and Housing of 1992 or RA 7279.

Adequate protection and due process were not observed;Advance or prior notice was largely not complied with;Consultations with the affected families and communities were not conducted.

Nearly 50% of those evicted were not provided relocation. The government’s failure to provide relocation to nearly half of the evicted families violates the UN’s document on Forced Evictions which says “Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights.”

Thousands of families were rendered homeless and were made vulnerable to other human rights violations, such as the rights to work, education, health, food and water, and the right to be protected against “arbitrary or unlawful interference” with one’s home. Moreover, the government and the courts did not provide compensation to the evicted families

Nearly a fourth of the evictions carried out were violent. Many were injured and some were arrested. Vulnerable groups, namely the children, women and elderly suffered the most. Children were traumatized and many stopped attending school. Pregnant women gave premature births or lost their babies. The elderly were reduced to living without shelter, under the sun, the rain and the cold, endangering their health.

The Government attempt to correct this situation was a failure. Its Executive Order No. 152 empowering the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor as the clearing house for the compliance of Section 28 of the UDHA was largely ignored by government agencies, such as MMDA and some LGUs. In February the clearing house function was transferred to LGUs, but its IRR has not been issued. Thus no clearing house function at present exists.

The Government tolerated or ignored national government agencies and local government units which used other laws, such as the Civil Code on nuisance, the National Building Code or PD 1096 to evict poor families without the legal protection or dues process contained in domestic and international laws. UN guidelines on Forced Evictions says: “The State itself must refrain from forced evictions and ensure that the law is enforced against its agents or third parties who carry out forced evictions.”

No court decision at the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court has as yet been rendered recognizing the right to adequate housing of poor families and thus providing them legal protection against forced evictions. Lower courts continue to issue decisions based solely on property rights, either of the government or private entities, ignoring or rejecting arguments protecting the housing rights of the affected families.

Congress, on the other hand, has not exercised its oversight function on the compliance of government agencies with the UDHA. It has not initiated efforts to plug loopholes in the UDHA.

The Philippine Government is in breach of the international treaty. It must therefore exert extra efforts to remedy this situation.


The Philippine Government must:

1. Prosecute all those who commit forced evictions either through the courts, ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights, or administrative bodies

2. Establish an independent body with the power to ensure compliance with domestic and international laws against forced evictions, including the power to suspend or stop forced evictions.

3. Order all government bodies that there is only one law, the UDHA, specifically its Section 28, in conformity with General Comment No. 7 on Forced Evictions, to be followed when carrying out just and humane demolitions/evictions and that they should not use any other laws and regulations such as the National Building Code or PD 1096, the law on nuisance, including ordinances such as the MMDA Ordinances No. 03-96 and No. 02-28. Moreover, clarify and instruct all government agencies and units that there is no cut-off date in the UDHA.

4. Establish a special court on housing rights at the lower levels as well at the level of the Court of Appeals, make it obligatory for the Philippine Judicial Academy to include a course on housing rights in its curriculum for judges and a similar course in the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) for lawyers, lower or remove court fees in housing rights cases involving the urban poor, and process expeditiously court cases involving forced eviction and similar cases, extend Writ of Amparo and habeas data to economic, social and cultural rights violations, such as illegal demolitions.

5. Hold twice annually oversight hearings, separately or jointly by the two houses of Congress, on the compliance of the UDHA, in particular Section 28, by government agencies and units, amend certain provisions of the UDHA such as stiffer penalties for those who commit forced evictions.

6. Government should be asked to keep statistics on evictions.

For the UN CESCR:

1. Get commitments from the Philippine government that it will invite fact finding missions from UN Rapporteurs, including the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing.

2. Send letters of inquiry or concern to the Philippine government regarding reports and complaints of forced evictions by civil society organizations, as what the former CESCR chairman Philip Alston did on the report of massive forced evictions because of the 1996 APEC.

3. Persuade the officials of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government to undergo seminars on housing rights and forced evictions to be conducted by UN housing rights experts.

4. Send letters of inquiry and concern to ODA donors and foreign investors on their obligations to avoid forced evictions in their projects in the Philippines.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Media Advisory: Press Briefing on the Civil Society Report on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters

November 4, 2008

Media Advisory

Press Briefing on the Civil Society Report on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

On November 11-12, 2008, the Philippine government will present before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) in Geneva, Switzerland its report on how it fulfilled the socio-economic entitlements of its constituency among which are the rights to food, health, housing, work, education, social security, and water.

In line with this, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and Urban Poor Associates (UPA) cordially invite your news organization to a press briefing to present the major highlights and recommendations of the Philippine civil society alternative report on the same set of rights also submitted to the UNCESCR.

What: Press Briefing on the Civil Society Report on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights

When: November 6, 2008 (Thursday), 7:00 PM

Where: Red Palace Seafood Restaurant
132 Malakas St., Brgy. Central
Diliman, Quezon City

Contact Persons: 1.) Bernardo D. Larin (433-1714, 0927-4241551)
2.) Jonal Javier (436-2633, 0920-6728892)

Monday, November 03, 2008

A day in the zoo

Commentary : A day in the zoo

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: November 03, 2008

MANILA, Philippines - Here in New York city, polls reveal that some 80 percent of women and a slightly lower percentage of men feel they are severely stressed by the damage done to the country’s economy in the past month. No one has asked for my advice on what to do. But if they did, I’d tell them to spend a day at the Bronx Zoo, preferably on Wednesdays when the admission is free and the park is packed with thousands of children from the city’s schools. I’d advise them to listen to the children, watch how they react to the animals and learn from them. In fact, any zoo will do, or any park, beach, woods or rural area as long as there are children and small animals. No zoo is too humble, the Bronx Zoo or Manila Zoo; any strange animal, big or small, is as good as any other.

I went to the zoo with my wife, daughter and two young special children, brothers whom my daughter teaches, and one of their friends. I was surprised first by where the boys wanted to go: the Mouse House and the Reptile House, not the gorillas, big cats, rhinos or grizzlies. The two places overflowed with little children holding hands, wandering in the semi darkness of these houses, standing wide-eyed in front of white striped African mice or tiny turtles that look like leaves and twigs, Norway rats and strange lizards, including a chuckwalla who stared back with cold black eyes. Huge, powerful men looked after the little children, teachers and parents. Some of them could have been on loan from the New York Giants offensive line. They were not very good at answering the children’s questions, however.

We overheard a little boy say to his companion in front of another exhibit, “Watch those turtles. They’re gonna eat the fish. I have a turtle, I know. Trust me.”

They waited and waited, but the turtles never moved. Two high school boys had overheard the little boy and stayed to watch. They waited and when nothing happened, one of them said, “F— it, let’s go.”

The older we get, the less patience we have with new things, animals, people or ideas.

Another group of children watched an exhibit of shrimps. One of the shrimps chased the others. “Look at that crab go,” a little boy said.

“That ain’t no crab, it’s a frog,” a friend corrected.

Another boy wanted to see the sharks. Unfortunately, they were far away in the Coney Island aquarium.

Whether it was a shrimp, a motionless python, or a mouse the children appeared to look on them as friends, as if all of us and the animals were members of one family. It is very close to the way tribal people, such as the Mangyans and Negritos, look at nature. They look with awe, respect, open-heartedness and friendship.

(On the Staten Island ferry a day later, we saw another example of children’s openness. A small, curly-haired, Hispanic boy of 3 or 4 years old tried to make friends with a family of very orthodox, Hasidic Jews. The Jewish little boys had ritual locks of hair falling by their ears and wore brown and white clothes that looked like uniforms. They looked shy and not used to carefree ways. The little Hispanic boy ran around them and even put his head in the family’s baby carriage to kiss the baby. For him all kids were friends and family. The Jewish children were surprised at first, but soon they, too, were all playing.)

At around 12, we heard children all over calling for lunch so we went for hotdogs. Later, the two smaller boys with us bought foot-long rubber snakes. One of the boys told us he was going to put the snake in water and when it grew to be 14 feet long, as he was sure it would, he’d give it to his mother. There was no suspicion his mother might not want a 14-foot snake in her house.

The biggest excitement was caused by a peacock running loose among the children.

We watched sea lions torpedo through the water in their pool. A small Afro-American boy told us, “My grandma swims like that. My mama, too.”

We walked in the sunshine with the trees turning red and yellow and the air full of the aroma of flowers, popcorn and cut grass, and then we went to the Siberian Tiger exhibit where the tigers roam on a hillside and the people view them through a glass wall. The tigers pacing the hillside sometimes came only inches away from the little children who had their faces pressed to the glass. One tiger grew in size as he came nearer the glass wall until he looked enormous. “Tiger, tiger, burning bright…” Adults backed off, but not the children. They waved. The Burmese have a saying that may relate to the children’s reaction: “A tiger never kills an innocent person.”

We have alienated ourselves from nature, so much so that the weather and animals (except household cats and dogs) have become just problems we have to deal with. This attitude has closed us off from large branches of the family God has given us. We have filled in the vacant space with concern for money and power. We can recover the proper point of view by watching the children—they teach us that there is more to wonder at and cherish in nature and one another than money or power can offer.

We walked out of the zoo at the end of the day, very content. The lines of little children still holding hands walked along beside us. The children looked happy but very sleepy, and I knew the big men watching them would have quite a job getting them all home safely. But no one would regret the day.

Denis Murphy works with Urban Poor Associates. His e-mail address is

©Copyright 2001-2008, An Inquirer Company

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

20 years of CMP

Philippine Star
Letters to the Editor

20 years of CMP

Monday, September 15, 2008

Almost 20 years ago, in a squatter settlement in Taguig called Joseph Sitt, a program with the prosaic name of Community Mortgage Program was launched.

The name was chosen on purpose in order to cloak with the mantle of financial respectability what was in reality a risky social undertaking: long-term mortgage loans to squatters, or in the more politically correct term: “informal settlers.”

We now hear that the financial world is reeling because of sub-prime mortgages. How much lower than sub-prime are loans to squatters?

And yet, after 20 years there is this inexplicable statistic: of all loans of all past housing programs of all the government financing agencies, the best repayment record is that of the Community Mortgage Program.

We extol, and with great justification, the housing program of Gawad Kalinga. But GK can only go where the problem of land tenure of the squatters has been resolved. And GK can not be supported by international social lenders or NGOs because beneficiaries are not required to pay for their houses. And so, we must give great credit for their accomplishments to the GK organization, their primary religious backers — the Couples For Christ movement, and their institutional, corporate and individual donors.

In contrast, CMP beneficiaries have to: a) organize and form legal associations, b) determine group affordability through socio-economic surveys, c) undertake structure mapping and allocation of land areas, d) negotiate with land owners, e) arrange long-term mortgage financing, f) secure the necessary government approvals and licenses, and g) effect collection and repayment of individual amortizations. At the second phase of the program, the occupied lots are surveyed and titles issued to individual members.

Moreover, unlike GK which can only operate where housing sites have been donated, CMP is now being implemented in all our highly-urbanized cities and municipalities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

While a single GK organization implements their program, a nation-wide group of NGOs are assisting urban poor groups applying for the program. In addition, groups from third-world countries in Asia and Africa have come here to study the program and launch their own versions of it.
Why is the CMP in such great demand?
Here are some reasons:

1) CMP addresses only the most pressing problem — legal land tenure. (Experience has shown that once land ownership is achieved, self-help basic services and home improvement capacities surprisingly follow.)

2) CMP is undertaken directly by the beneficiaries. (NHA or any other branch of government does not participate in land acquisition or site development.)

3) Both landowners and informal settlers benefit. (In many cases, landowners have received no benefit from their property for 20 or more years, while the settlers have been for the same period under constant threat of eviction.)

4) The CMP has the best cost-benefit ratio of any government social program. (The land areas occupied by individual families are so small that even at current market values per square meter, monthly amortizations are affordable even to the urban poor.)

5) Probably most important of all, CMP beneficiaries are not uprooted away from their places of employment, schooling, family and friends.

It must be said, however, that the CMP has still not solved its major problem: it still takes two years from loan application to payment of the land being purchased. Consequently, there is an ever-growing backlog of pending applications and thwarted dreams. It appears the current CMP implementors are still viewing the program as a financial (sub-prime?) instrument rather than as government’s most cost-effective social program for the urban poor.

Nevertheless, credit must be given to those responsible for having given security of land tenure to almost 200,000 families.

And so, as we approach CMP’s 20th anniversary, I would like to pay tribute to the following: 1) Bimbo Fernandez of Cebu’s pioneering Pantabayayong, Bill Keyes of Freedom to Build and Fr. Jorge Anzorena (Magsaysay awardee) of Selavip whose work inspired CMP’s creation; 2) the late Chuck Doble while in HIGC and Monchet Albert while in NHMFC for CMP’s implementing mechanics; 3) Sonny Belmonte while in GSIS and Joey Cuisia while in SSS for their courage in providing initial funding for the program; and 4) the congressional housing committee chairs, Amado Bagatsing and Pong Biazon for their much appreciated budgetary support for the program.

May their tribe increase. — Teodoro K. Katigbak, former chair, HUDCC; chair, Urban Poor Associates, Foundation For the Development of the Urban Poor

Monday, October 20, 2008

Promdi city

"Promdi city"

Episode aired on October 16, 2008
Airing on October 20, 2008
Monday night after Saksi

Kara David moves into a resettlement site in Cabuyao, Laguna for her upcoming I-Witness documentary.

In a unique social experiment, she discovers what it's like to live in a remote relocation area after having spent years in the big city.

She spends almost a hundred pesos on transportation alone just to get to the site. She is given a unit so bare, it has no water or electricity. Kara spends her first day buying kitchenware, a mattress and charcoal for cooking.

She asks her neighbors for help in finding work. They have jobs cleaning softdrink bottles in a far-off refinery. Instead of spending 80 pesos a day on tricycle and jeepney fare, they leave their homes by 4 am and walk many kilometers to work. After cleaning more than 50 cases of softdrinks, Kara makes P161 pesos.

In between working, Kara meets up with mothers who talk about the difficulties of adjusting to relocation. The common story of provincial lasses seeking their fortune in the big city takes a 180 degree turn with these women who have lived for decades by the railroad tracks and must now learn the basics of rural life. They laugh about learning to plant produce and till the fields for the first time, and discuss the lack of entertainment in their new neighborhood.

Kara David takes a very personal approach to documenting life in a resettlement area. Catch her special episode "Promdi City" this Monday late night on I-Witness.


Isang eksperimento ang susubukan ni Kara David sa kanyang dokumentaryo ngayong Lunes. Siya'y makikitira sa malaking resettlement site sa Cabuyao, Laguna kasama ang ilang pamilyang nagmula sa tabing riles. Dito niya mararanasan ang kondisyon ng mga bagong lipat.

Magsisimula ito sa pagco-commute ni Kara galing sa kanyang bahay papunta sa site sa Cabuyao, Laguna baon lang ang P1000. Sa biyahe pa lang, mababawasan na ng isandaan ang pera niya dahil sa layo ng lugar. Pagdating sa unit na kanyang titirhan, malalaman ni Kara na wala itong kasangkapan, tubig at kuryente. Kakailanganin niyang bumili ng mga gamit gaya ng kaldero, baso, higaan, uling, walis at kung anu-ano pa.

Magpapatulong si Kara sa ilang kapitbahay upang humanap ng mapapasukang trabaho. Umaabot ang ang pamasahe ng P80 kada araw papunta sa kanilang papasukan, kaya nilalakad na lang ito nila. Alas 4 ng madaling araw kung umalis ang mga papasok sa Calamba para maglinis ng ni-recycle na bote. Buong araw nagtratrabaho ang mga tao rito para kitain ang P161 sa paglilinis ng daan-daang bote.

Pangkaraniwan na ang kuwento ng mga galing probinsiya na naghahanap ng kapalaran sa siyudad. Marami sa makikilala ni Kara sa Cabuyao, kabaliktaran ang dinanas. Naninibago sila ngayon sa paggapas ng palay at sa buhay magsasaka dahil nagmula sa mga tabing riles ng Makati.

Isang kakaibang pagtalakay sa buhay sa loob ng mga resettlement sites. Ito ang susunod na dokumentrayo ni Kara David para sa I-Witness.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Manila Archbishop leads Mass for the urban poor in Baseco


Manila Archbishop leads Mass for the urban poor in Baseco

19 October 2008. Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales went to the Port Area this morning and lead a Mass in Baseco to pray and show that the Church is one with the urban poor community’s struggle for a better life.

Hundreds of Manila’s urban poor settlers attended the Mass held in the Baseco covered court. The poor wanted Cardinal Rosales to come and say the Mass and the Manila Archbishop welcomed the rare opportunity.

Rosales’ visit delighted the Baseco community. “Sana ay maging socialized housing ang Baseco at di na baguhin pa. Naging maayos na ang buhay namin. Kami ay natutuwa dahil nandito si Cardinal at siya ay sumusuporta sa aming kahilingan. Sana ay pakinggan ito ni Presidente Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” said Jeorgie Tenolete, president of Kabalikat sa Pagpapaunlad ng Baseco, a people’s organization.

Baseco residents have the problem of land tenure insecurity: they fear they can be removed from their homes at any time and for insufficient reasons. The 10,000 families in Baseco fear they will be evicted due to the government’s reclamation project and sent 50-80 kilometers away to remote and jobless areas.

The land was proclaimed for them by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2002. They believe powerful and well-connected businessmen want the strategic area for commercial purposes.

The government cites a 2004 soil analysis that predicts the soil in Baseco will liquefy if there is a strong earthquake nearby. The study concludes that no homes are safe and all the homes must be removed. This is because the reclamation done in Baseco by the government used garbage instead of good soil and rocks, the analysis states.

A cloud of secrecy covers the government’s real plans, according to Urban Poor Associates (UPA), a housing rights NGO. “The residents should be told what the plan is, and if there is no plan then government should put that in writing and continue instead to upgrade the area as the proclamation states,” the UPA said in a press statement.

UPA invited the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) to attend the Mass in Baseco. However, PRA officials could not attend the Mass due to “some unavoidable circumstances.”

In a letter sent to UPA, PRA General Manager and CEO Andrea Domingo informed that the PRA is presently complying with the directive of President Arroyo to reclaim 10 hectares at the bayfront of the Baseco area. “Upon completion of the reclamation works, PRA will turn over to the agency that will undertake its development as site for socialized housing. Beyond this PRA will no longer have any participation in the project,” the letter read.

“We’re asking the President to issue the implementing rules and regulation (IRR) that will lay down the processes and steps leading to the families’ ownership of the land and to convene the Project Inter-Agency Committee,” said Ted Añana, UPA deputy coordinator. -30-

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters and Photojournalists



We wish to invite you at a Holy Mass with Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales in the Baseco urban poor area on Sunday, October 19 at 9:00 AM. The Mass will be held in the covered court in Baseco, near the Baranggay Hall.

The poor face the problems of most Manila families – high prices, poor services, etc. – but in addition they have the problem of land tenure insecurity: they fear they can be removed from their homes at any time and for insufficient reasons. The 10,000 families in Baseco fear they will be evicted due to the government’s reclamation project and sent 50-80 kilometers away to remote and jobless areas.

Your support is needed if there are to be solutions to these problems. Please come and pray with the Cardinal and the poor and show that we are all one with their struggle for a better life.

We are also inviting poor people from Parola, Navotas and other parts of Tondo.

Date: October 19, 2008 (Sunday)

Time: 9:00 AM

Venue: Covered Court, Baseco Compound, Port Area, Manila

Demolition in Calamba, Laguna, turns violent

10/13/2008 | 07:51 PM

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Roots of democracy

Commentary : Roots of democracy

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: October 11, 2008

Not long after the $700-billion bailout of banking institutions was announced, we walked down lower Broadway to Wall Street, the “ground zero” of the recent financial disaster. It was a bright sunny afternoon, but Wall Street was deep in shadows.

Wall Street is so narrow (perhaps only 12 meters from the buildings on one side to the buildings across) and the buildings are so tall that the sun shines on it only at high noon.

We sat on the steps of the old Federal Reserve building where George Washington delivered his first inaugural address and waited for something to happen that might explain the collapse, or at least show how the people involved would react.

The street was quiet because traffic was not allowed, except for the sleek, soundless limousines of the very rich. Hundreds of people milled around, mostly tourists and also dozens of policemen eyeing everyone, including people on the steps with apparently nothing to do. Nothing happened. No crowds protested Wall Street’s ruinous behavior. None of the powerful came out to apologize, or tried to atone for the financial crisis by harming themselves, as bankers did in the Great Depression. The tourists, as always, posed for pictures. One of their favorite shots was the flag-bedecked New York Stock Exchange. Another was the larger than life statue of Washington beside us. An Asian TV reporter stood on the pedestal of the statue as he made his report and seemed to interview the old president.

There was an aura of gloom, however — as if the street was aware the good times were over. A few days later, an article would appear in the New York Times under the headline: “Wall Street, R.I.P.”

The collapse of the finance world is hurting every citizen in various degrees — because people are losing their houses and ordinary workers’ pensions are tied up in the devalued stocks. But there were no rallies or protests anywhere, no crowds of investors calling for justice. There was no organized people’s reaction reported anywhere in the country.

People reacted individually, emailing their representatives in Congress, responding to TV polls and man-in-the street interviews, but they did nothing together; there was no social protest. Nowhere was it clear that ordinary people had gathered together, discussed the problem and decided what they as a group would do in response to the Wall Street failure.

The financial collapse seems to be not a concern of angry mobs wanting their money back from banks. People are still behaving as individuals, not as an organized group. The concern is for ordinary people’s thoughtful actions agreed on in their own associations after discussion.

The same pattern appears in the presidential election. Most American voters make up their minds by themselves based on what they learn from their families and the media. There are few associations that bring people of a certain class or work group — or people who share the same interests — to discuss who of the candidates can best do the things they want done. The labor unions and the ethnic Catholic parishes and other ethnic groupings often did this in the past, but the unions are now weak and for the most part the ethnic parishes and groups have largely disappeared. What emerges in group discussions is that people are more inclined to vote based on their own intuition or “gut feeling” rather than on rational self-interest.

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville published his “Democracy in America,” which remains one of the very best analyses of American democracy and maybe of all democracies. He found that the role of voluntary associations (cooperatives, political clubs, special interest groups, occupation groups, ideological groups) was crucial in American democracy. He wrote: “Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations …. In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine [these associations] is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.”

He said that if the vitality of these associations dried up, democracy as Americans knew it would falter. The associations are the foundation of national movements. They are the cradle of responsible and effective action and politics. Between elections, the associations keep the pressure on government to fulfill its promises.

Philippine democracy can produce people power movements and thousands of NGOs and other types of associations. The first challenge is to increase their number and to encourage the associations to widen their agendas to include national and political problems. The second challenge is, as De Tocqueville said, to unite or combine them into a powerful reality for the common good.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

Copyright 2008 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Governments must end forced evictions and address global housing crisis at the root of global financial crisis

On the occasion of the World Habitat Day, 6 October 2008, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) calls upon governments to end forced evictions and other housing rights violations. COHRE further urges governments and other relevant agencies to direct the necessary resources towards addressing the acute housing crises in both rural and urban areas. COHRE is convinced that the unmet demand for adequate housing provided the primary target for the predatory lending practices that have led to the current spate of worldwide bank failures and the ensuing global financial crisis. The realization of housing rights for the world's poor majority must not now be sacrificed in the name of international economic "recovery" efforts.

World leaders can no longer continue to ignore widespread violations of the fundamental human right to adequate housing. Millions of people continue to be forcibly evicted from their homes and lands. In Beijing, 1.5 million people have been displaced to create space for Olympic venues, for city ‘beautification’ projects in advance of the Olympics, as well as in the context of other urban development projects. This massive displacement of persons and communities is ongoing today. In Abuja, Nigeria, the Federal Capital Development Authority selectively used the City’s Master Plan to forcibly evict more than 800,000 during the period 2003 to 2007. Over three years after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, in the United States, thousands of families are still being denied the right to return to their homes. In Cambodia, over 50,000 people were forcibly evicted during 2006-2007 for agro-industrial and development projects. Indeed, even Luanda, Angola, which hosts this year’s World Habitat Day celebrations, has similarly undertaken large-scale forced evictions, involving many thousands of persons, in the recent period.

Ongoing housing rights abuses have also taken other forms. In Burma, cyclone Nargis survivors have reportedly been forcibly returned to their villages by the Burmese government, despite the absence of adequate rehabilitation. In Sri Lanka, the government has threatened to forcibly close transitional shelters in Colombo, in advance of any durable solution for persons displaced by the 2004 tsunami. Indigenous communities such as the Brazilian Quilombos and the Bedouin in Israel have been arbitrarily deprived of their land, despite the adoption by the UN General Assembly in September 2007 of the Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, which sets out extensive commitments to maintain the integrity of land tenure for such groups. The Roma in Europe face extensive racial segregation in housing, enforced through forced eviction practices, matters comprehensively banned by international law. The recent period has seen dramatic intensification of such practices by the Italian and French governments in particular.

While countless people continue to be driven into homelessness, governments are abdicating their responsibility to ensure access to affordable housing and public services. In some cases, governments are even scaling down commitments made previously to meet the growing demand for affordable housing. For example, in the post-communist world, social housing systems have been dismantled in a number of countries, with few or no protections introduced to protect persons forced by these acts into extreme poverty. The widespread neglect of rural infrastructure including water, sanitation and housing coupled with increased land alienation has led to growing rural-urban migration. In addition, the fast pace of urbanisation in many developing countries has far exceeded local government capacity or willingness to provide basic amenities to city residents, including adequate housing, water, electricity and sanitation. Such urbanisation has resulted in the creation of vast slums where residents live in sub-standard housing conditions, without access to even the most basic services.

While inadequate living conditions and forced evictions affect all residents, women and girls all too often bear a disproportionately greater burden. Violence, vulnerability to abuse and exploitation, inadequate provision of services, housing insecurity, and lack of privacy are common experiences with profoundly gendered dimensions.

There are, however, inspirational alternative approaches. In one leading example, Naga City, in the Philippines, has enacted landmark legislation mandating city government agencies to establish a partnership with community organisations to work towards security of tenure and improved living conditions for its residents. Naga City has also adopted a range of adjunct policies with a view to finding long-term solutions to problems of lack of security of tenure faced by the urban poor as well as to promote slum upgrading.

A major housing rights victory was recently won when the City of Johannesburg implemented the voluntary relocation of 450 residents of two inner city slum buildings to two newly refurbished buildings. This successful relocation was possible due to an order by the Constitutional Court of South Africa that directed the City government to engage in meaningful consultation with affected persons.

COHRE urges governments to take cognisance of this and similar progressive approaches to securing the right to adequate housing for all. COHRE further urges all governments to take immediate steps, as specified by international law, to address the spiralling global housing crisis. In particular, COHRE urges that governments worldwide:

- End, without delay, the practice of forced eviction
- Respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing including the right to water and sanitation for all
- Promote development processes that minimise displacement
- Devise and implement plans to address homelessness and inadequate housing in consultation with affected persons and communities, and their representatives
- Take steps to mitigate the impacts of inadequate housing on marginalised groups, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, and children, and
- Celebrate the work of housing rights defenders, and work toward their inclusion in policy frameworks to resolve outstanding housing rights issues


Friday, September 26, 2008

A changing of the guard?

Commentary : A changing of the guard?

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: September 26, 2008

In a small rented room in the Baseco Compound in Manila’s Tondo district that serves as the office of the people’s organization Kabalikat, some 20 leaders, mostly women, waited for the arrival of two young princes of Philippine politics, Senators Manuel Roxas II and Benigno Aquino III. Manila Mayor Fred Lim and former secretary of education Florencio Abad were also expected. The room is used for a tutoring class, so the people were squeezed into the children’s small chairs.

There is a countrywide consensus for a more democratic, egalitarian and participative government, but what would it look like in the concrete? People want a changing of the guard, an end to the “trapo” [traditional politico] system, but how would the new politicians act? People in that small room that morning saw some signs of what this new politics might be like.

Lim came first. He stayed on the street outside the room, gathered crowds of people, children especially, and gave them P20 bills until the bags of money he brought with him were empty. He talked to Roxas when the latter arrived, and then went away.

Roxas went around Baseco for an hour or so, an area of 56 hectares at the mouth of the Pasig River. It is home to about 10,000 families. One woman he met told him she paid P6 for a 20-liter container of water, which translates to about P300 for a cubic meter. Ordinary users of supply from Manila Water Co. pay only P10 a cubic meter. The poor pay more in every conceivable way.

Finally, the two senators and Abad came into the meeting room and spent the next two hours talking with the people. They listened as the people explained the problems they faced with light, water, drainage, incomes and schools, and how at present they feared they might be removed from Baseco, even though the land was proclaimed for them by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2002. They believe powerful and well-connected businessmen want the strategic area for commercial purposes.

The government cites a 2004 soil analysis that predicts the soil in Baseco will liquefy if there is a strong earthquake nearby. The study concludes that no homes are safe and all the homes must be removed. This is because the reclamation done in Baseco by the government used garbage instead of good soil and rocks, the analysis states. Other engineers say it is still possible to build safely one-story or two-story houses, provided ordinary building precautions in such a hazardous area are taken.

A cloud of secrecy covers the government’s real plans. Understandably, the people fear they will be evicted and sent 50 or 80 kilometers away, far from their work and the children’s schools, and that they will be replaced by offices, harbor facilities or houses of the rich.

The people told the senators they believed the proclamation gave them ownership rights, and on that basis they, with the help of Gawad Kalinga and Habitat for Humanity, built 2,000 neat, one-story houses. Another 1,000 families built in a government sites and services program. The remaining families have built as the poor have always built: shacks of secondhand materials wherever there was space. The people believe these steps strengthened the ownership rights, and they feel they cannot be evicted arbitrarily.

They told the senators that they should be told what the plan is, and if there is no plan then government should put that in writing and continue instead to upgrade the area as the proclamation states. The senators promised to help them find out what they could about the government plan.

As the morning went on, there were signs of a changing of the guard, from the old-style politician, or trapo, to a newer, more democratic style.

Lim may not be the best example of the trapo, though he very often refuses to meet with groups of poor people. He does help in his own way. In a more democratic style the senators visited the poor, they listened patiently and they offered to do what the people wanted them to do.

The senators took part in a dialogue with the people that was informal, friendly, one in which each side treated the other with respect. Perhaps that’s the essence of new governance: respect, willingness to enter into dialogue to form solutions, and cooperative action. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, however. Everyone hopes the senators will maintain their opening to the poor.

There were signs within three days after the meeting that the senators had begun to do what they promised.

The experience of Mayor Jesse Robredo in Naga City and Mayor Tomas Osmeña in Cebu City shows that the urban poor will vote in overwhelming numbers for the candidates who have helped them between elections. The poor are a more reliable constituency for a politician than the business and special interest groups they usually serve.

It would be wonderful if politicians took the poor seriously and won their votes, not by handouts, but by performance, by solving the very serious problems the poor face.

Is there hope of a changing of the guard?

Dennis Murphy works with Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

Copyright 2008 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Mindanao right on our doorstep

Commentary : Mindanao right on our doorstep

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: September 06, 2008

MANILA, Philippines—Mindanao, with its Muslim-Christian troubles, is far away and beyond the experience of most of us. There is, however, a Muslim-Christian struggle on our doorstep. And this we should be able to understand and recommend solutions to.

Some 376 Muslim families who are clustered tightly around their mosque have been resisting government efforts to evict them and their mosque from the reclaimed land in Manila Bay near Baclaran Church. The government wants them and the mosque out; the people want to stay alongside their mosque.

Evictions are a common problem between government and urban poor people these days, but this particular eviction is complicated by Muslim belief. The president of the people’s organization, Abdelmanan Tanandato, says Islamic law forbids the destruction of houses of worship, including Christian churches. The Muslims on the reclaimed land believe they cannot allow the destruction of their mosque. They must defend it. Their imams have told them they can’t leave the mosque. The government believes it must clear the land, which is very valuable and destined for commerce, luxury housing and casino use.

Years ago in Lahore, Pakistan, I saw proof of what Abdelmanan told me. I visited a huge urban poor area that had been demolished by the government. It was literally leveled; not a stone left upon a stone. One small building, however, a Catholic chapel, stood untouched in the middle of the field.

Abdelmanan says that when the Marawi uprising took place on Oct. 21, 1972, a month after the declaration of martial law, angry Muslims were determined to destroy the properties of Christians, but they didn’t touch the churches in Marawi, Catholic or Protestant.

The Muslims now living on the reclaimed land left Lanao del Sur when the Muslim-Christian war broke out in 1972. Some first went to Iligan which, shortly thereafter, had its own troubles, and so in the end many of them wound up in Manila. They have been on the reclaimed land since 1992; the mosque was built in 1994. They are employed like other urban poor people, many are vendors. “If you have only P500 as capital, you can buy and sell something there in Baclaran,” Abdelmanan says, “even hairclips.”

There was a violent demolition on the reclaimed land in 1999. Houses were destroyed and people were hurt. As a result the families moved closer to the mosque. In June this year, the demolition team came again, but hundreds of Muslim men faced them, spread out across the barren land prepared to fight with wooden clubs to protect their homes and mosque. The demolition team left. The government has offered large amounts of money, but the Muslims did not move.

At that time both Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino and Bishop Broderick Pabillo spoke to the government on behalf of the people, and the tense situation has calmed down somewhat. There is no change in basic positions, however.

What is the solution in Baclaran? Before investigating, people on both sides should be aware that they look at Moro-Christian problems through a lens of centuries-old bias and suspicion, which make any peaceful solution difficult to arrive at. In addition, the Muslims in Baclaran suffer from society’s general prejudice toward urban poor people.

If the government proceeds with the demolition and eviction, the people will resist—violently most likely. Scores will be injured. Some may be killed. The government will then eventually have to destroy the mosque, a sight that has a good chance of appearing in every newspaper in the world. Will the violence end there? Will there be revenge attacks on Christian churches, for example? The Muslim people believe it is God’s will that they defend the mosque. People must obey government’s laws, St. Paul tells us in Romans, but his precept presumes the laws do not contradict the laws of God as we know them.

If the government allows the mosque to stay, it will remain amid the office buildings, luxury housing and casino facilities that will be built. Why not? The Catholic Church has a church on the reclaimed land. The two religious houses can remind the rich and powerful, including the gamblers, that there is more to life than money and pleasure. They will stand guard reminding the rich to enjoy while they can, for all things are fleeting.

Does this case shed any light on the problems of Mindanao? Probably not much if it does at all, though it does highlight the possibility that alternative ways of thinking can provide good solutions. Insanity can be defined, it is said, by repeating the same actions year after year and expecting different results. We have evicted tens of thousands of poor families. The National Housing Authority says there have been 130,000 poor families evicted from Metro Manila since 1984. The question can be asked, is the city any better off as a result?

The same solutions have been tried for years and years in Mindanao with the same unsatisfactory results. Are there alternate actions, alternate solutions?

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

Copyright 2008 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.