Thursday, May 14, 2009

A case study of the Metro Manila railway project in the Philippines (by Narae Choi)

MPhil.Thesis_Narae.Choi -

This thesis was submitted for the Degree of Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) in Development Studies at the University of Oxford. Since it has yet to be published, I recommend strongly that you contact Narae Choi at before citing it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

1 hurt as tension grips demolition in Taguig

05/13/2009 | 11:33 PM

Demolition in Taguig temporarily stopped

05/13/2009 | 12:33 PM

Tension grips demolition in Taguig
05/13/2009 | 11:14 AM

Tension grips scheduled demolition in Western Bicutan, Taguig
05/13/2009 | 07:53 AM

Calcutta, Dhaka and the Poor

Calcutta, Dhaka and the Poor

by Denis Murphy
Saturday, 02 May 2009

There have been huge changes in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and Dhaka, though the symbols of poverty remain: the rickshaws, pavement people, forlorn beggars and vast stretches of slums.

In Dhaka I came upon an old woman and a baby squatting by the side of the path. The woman was bent over the baby and had it wrapped in her faded red sari. They looked inconsequential, the two of them, like a bag of old leaves you could pick up and walk off with easily. There was no tin cup for begging, and they weren't there the next day. I watched a line of rickshaw drivers pass by. In Dhaka the rickshaw is pulled by bicycle power. The drivers were all small, dark and looked as if they had just been condemned to death. They work on average 12 hours a day in traffic so chaotic it makes Manila's look genteel.

In Howrah, Calcutta's sister city, we met a group of outcaste people-scavengers, sweepers, garbage men-who live near a giant garbage dump. We talked about their eviction: the High Court had ordered the outcastes be removed because of the pollution caused by the dump. About a hundred men stood around us talking while clouds of flies landed on their hands and faces. No one moved to brush away the flies, even from the faces of the babies that some of the men held.

The danger for visitors in seeing such poverty is that we may believe we are dealing with people who are somehow less than human, who only think of food and have no hope in life, or pride in their culture and history. We may believe they are unable to work in organized ways to change their situation, and that they have no sense of justice and human dignity. I was lucky enough in Calcutta and Dhaka to have friends who allowed me to understand a little more about these poor men and women.

In Dhaka I was able to talk to six Bengali Muslim women working with an NGO called Shelter for the Poor. They were organizing the slumdwellers of Dhaka to get land tenure security for their families. According to the United Nations' Habitat such security of tenure or freedom from eviction is a necessary pre-condition for urban development. The women said other NGOs offered water, light and health programs which were good, but if there were evictions, they would lose all those good things. "Land, land," they said, "that's what we need."

All six had taken part in protests against evictions. In one protest rally 100,000 persons employed a Mahatma Gandhi-like method by sitting down in one of the main intersections of the city. The police beat the protesters. Two of the six women showed the welts left by the policemen's lathi canes across their shoulders and legs. This was several years after the event. The women were thoughtful, funny and seemed to enjoy one another. Heh, I said to myself, these are not the fatalistic stereotypes we imagine the Dhaka poor to be.

The outcastes of Howrah said they had already taken a petition to the High Court signed by 250 of their 400 families. They wanted the Court to explain why it ordered them removed and the garbage left untouched. They will not go to their Member of Parliament who they found cared nothing about them; but they will see the mayor and if they get no explanations, the leader said, "We will fight under the banner of our organization." I was told their organization was a national federation of outcaste people. "We will rally and send petitions and keep after the government till they talk to us."

"We have lived here 70 years," they said. "We have city water pipes and two schools and 200 - 300 of our children go to school. We want a space in this world. We need it more than the garbage dump does." Such is not the talk of fatalists.

I think if we were able to go deeper in our relationship we would appreciate how much they love their children, their Muslim beliefs and have hope in India and Bangladesh.

Traditional culture is very much alive. At an anniversary celebration in a rural village a 45-minute drive from Calcutta, poor women recited the 100-year-old poems of Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Both Calcutta and Dhaka are parts of historic Bengal. A seven-year old girl performed classic thousand-year-old Indian dances later in the program.

It would definitely help human solidarity in Manila if the well-off could come to know the poor a little better than they do. Ignorance of one another creates stereotypes that have little to do with reality, but set people against each other.

If we know the poor people of Tondo, Payatas or the esteros, we'll marvel at their determined efforts to raise their families. In crowded huts with leaky roofs, and the smell of the garbage pile never far away; with so little food each day that the children cry for more till the mother has to slap them to make them stop, with no place to escape from the noise and crowds and the demands and threats of the world, they keep at it day in, day out, working and nurturing, hoping their children will be better off than themselves. Looked at it this way, their lives are gallant. They believe deeply in God. The slums are abrim with love; they are special places of love, not the urban jungles some people talk about.

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

Friday, May 08, 2009

Mangyans of Paitan, then and now

Commentary : Mangyans of Paitan, then and now

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: May 06, 2009

My wife and I were at the graduation Mass in the Mangyan Mission in Paitan, Mindoro Oriental, just before Holy Week. It was our first visit there in 35 years. When I looked to see whose hand I would hold as we prayed the “Our Father,” I saw three beautiful Mangyan children, three little girls, looking at me, their eyes bright with intelligence and curiosity. While her companions giggled, the girl next to me reached up her hand shyly and we said the prayer. When it was over, she thanked me.

It dawned on me as the Mass went on and I followed the little girls up to Communion that a culture that could produce such lovely children surely had the wisdom and inner resources to prosper in the modern world, with a little help from its friends. There were always various signs of cultural strength, but back 35 years ago, many people, even those friendly to the Mangyans, doubted there could be much progress.

It was agreed then that there were three essential realities that had to be in place for the Mangyans to be on the road to prospering: ownership of the land, control of their education system, and strong tribal solidarity—none of which could be had without a long struggle. The Mangyans needed a place of their own from which they could view the outside world at a distance, as it were, and decide what parts of it they should adopt and which to reject. They needed control of their own education to teach them to choose wisely, and they needed unity and trust among themselves, and a determined spirit.

People doubted that the Mangyans had the needed determination and willingness to struggle year after year for these goals. They had no stomach for controversy, people felt. The Mangyans wanted the land, but they refused to face up to the lowlanders invading their land. They were gentle to a fault. When they finally decided to put someone in jail for drinking too much and making noise, they felt so sorry for him that all the barrio officials spent the night in jail to keep him company.

They wanted education, but they took their children out of school to work and allowed their girls to marry very young. As a people, it appeared to many, they lacked confidence in their ability to achieve anything of worth.

When we returned 35 years later, we found the situation totally different. They now have title to the reservation of 200-plus hectares the American officials gave them in the 1920s, and they are completing their claim for ancestral domain, “for the whole mountain,” as one man said. They succeeded in this, we were told, by their tireless, dogged efforts over the years: hundreds of visits to offices in Manila; hundreds of court appearances; endless paper work and refusal to give up, no matter how difficult government officials made the effort. They withstood insults and setbacks. In the end, they got not only land, but they learned how the modern world works and how to deal with it. They became a confident, united people in the process.

They now have their own elementary school where their education graduates teach. They have their award-winning Tugdaan Mangyan Center for Learning and Development, which is under a Mangyan principal and teachers. The students study academic subjects, food processing, herbal medicines and similar subjects, all from a Mangyan perspective. Everyone calls them, “our schools,” “our teachers,” “our food processing.” Girls now marry at an older age.

The students have models in the teachers they see before them and in the Mangyans who built the schools and the furniture. They have their parents at their back saying, “Don’t be like us. Study, and learn the skills you need to earn a living.” They are pulled and pushed to do better.

How could such a change take place in 35 years? Surely we must praise the people who have achieved so much, yet manage to remain as friendly as ever. When an old Mangyan friend greets you after a long separation, you know, what a loving smile can really look like.

Then there are the people who helped: Sr. Magdalena Laykamm, the first of the Holy Spirit Sisters to live in Paitan, who learned the language and who set the nuns’ tradition of seeing the good of the people where others saw little. There was Sr. Victricia Pascasio, a key to the struggle for land; Ben Abadiano, who started the Tugdaan; and the SVD priests, such as Fr. Ewald Dinter, who have given their lives to this tremendously difficult work, walking sometimes 12 hours a day on a handful of rice and soy sauce to reach settlements high in the perpetual fog of the mountain top. Father Dinter is, as missionaries should be, an expert in Scripture and anthropology, and has hundreds of mountain tales.

There are others: Sr. Celerina Zabala and the sisters among the Mangyans today, and the government people who helped.

In the end, however, it is the people who reached deep down in their culture to find the courage, toughness and solidarity needed who must be acknowledged. Their schools and other successes speak of their culture’s values as clearly as the three little girls we prayed with at Mass.

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

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