Commentary : Amputations and evictions
By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: March 09, 2009
METRO Manila is going to see more and more evictions in the future as two powerful forces collide over land. On one side are urban poor families seeking a place to live. On the other side are groups demanding infrastructure, business centers, luxury housing, beautification, a clean environment, parks, recreation centers and malls. Between 1996 and 2008, some 85,000 families were evicted in Metro Manila. The numbers will increase.
Evictions are like physical amputation; they are traumatic events that tear apart a person’s world. There are no good amputations, and there are no good evictions. The most people can hope for in the case of amputation is good medical care and a helpful prosthetic. The hope in evictions is for the humane and just care promised by the Constitution (Article XIII, Section 28) and a decent relocation. They never make up for the lost limb or home.
As a way of making evictions palatable, the Charter of the Urban Poor asks that before infrastructure is approved for funding it must be studied in a public transparent fashion to make sure it truly serves the common good and not the narrow interests of a few powerful persons, and that the housing rights of the poor are ensured.
Is, for example, the extension of the C-5 from Old Balara to the North Luzon Expressway so intrinsic to the common good that 30,000 families have to be evicted? Are there no alternate ways to speed up traffic? If it is necessary, can the number of families evicted be limited by passing the road through the Capitol Hills Golf Course and not through the densely crowded urban poor areas of the University of the Philippines? Are there plans for quality relocation? Does the government have the P4.5 billion cost of relocating 30,000 families (NHA allots P150,000 for every relocated family)?
If the answer to any of the questions is negative, the infrastructure should be rejected or at least reworked.
The clean-up of Manila Bay and the river systems feeding into it, which was ordered by the Supreme Court recently, is another example. As soon as the decision was made public, some government agencies targeted the 70,000 families living along the banks of the waterways as the culprits and planned their eviction.
A public examination of the project would reveal that the main causes of pollution in the waters are the industries along the banks and the human waste of a million toilets flowing into the rivers and esteros. The major polluters are not the urban poor who cause only a small fraction of pollution, which can be controlled as Amelita Ramos showed in her Clean and Green Program. Those who want to clean up the waterways should begin with human waste treatment plants and disciplinary measures for industry. To do that, very few poor families have to be moved. Relocation of the 70,000 families will cost up to P10.5 billion. If there is no funding for relocation which is a basic human right, there should be no evictions.
The NorthRail-SouthRail project is the champion example for the need to examine proposed infrastructure publicly and intensely before committing funds. The project is now six years old. Billions of pesos have been spent. Some 49,000 families (as of October 2008) were evicted and relocated. In return for all this there is a 125-kilometer gray scar of crushed concrete running from Clark Field to Calamba, Laguna. Maybe, like the Great Wall of China, it is visible from space. In the North not a shovelful of earth has been moved. In the South some old tracks have been replaced with new ones, but there is no sign they are for the modern high speed trains that were once envisioned, which required a 30-meter wide right of way. The government has refused to put new money into the NorthRail (Business World, February 23).
It’s not just errors in implementation. Some planners say the NorthRail should have gone East of Mt. Arayat into Nueva Ecija and the provinces there where a train would have made great sense in carrying farm produce to market and opening up areas for development. On the West side of Arayat the train wasn’t really needed. The West Side is already developed. The choice of going West of Arayat only served to enhance the value of properties of some powerful persons, the planner said.
Finally, is there any need to evict poor people for the Metro Gwapo Program? It doesn’t attract investment: among all the reasons given by investors for the lack of investment in the Philippines, beautification is never mentioned. Far ahead in investor’s concerns are corruption, inadequate infrastructure, high costs of electric power and similar reasons. Investors don’t care if there are poor people living under bridges.
If the urban poor community, the Church and other civil society leaders see the government is doing its best to limit evictions and spend government money wisely for its infrastructure, there will be more willingness to accept some evictions. Otherwise it will be confrontation pure and simple.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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