Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Santa in Balintawak

Inquirer Opinion / Columns

Commentary : Santa in Balintawak

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 29, 2009

IF you would like to know how it feels to be a presidential candidate, a movie star or even a pope, just dress up as Santa Claus and go to a poor area of Metro Manila. You will need bodyguards to protect you, not from pickpockets and addicts, but from the crowds of children who will drown you in their affection and excitement if you are not careful.

I was Santa Claus this year to hundreds of young children of the scavengers and market workers who live against the wall of the GenTex Compound in Balintawak. When we were near the place, I put on my red Santa jacket, white wig and whiskers and began to wave to people along the way. Everyone, even the tough guys stripped to the waist who looked as if they were ready at any time for a knife-fight and the tired-looking women, smiled back and waved. If I waved back and forth quickly, the people waved quickly, and I felt like Noynoy Aquino or Manny Pacquiao. When I waved slowly the crowds waved slowly and I felt like Pope Benedict XVI. I knew how he must feel speeding through crowds in his pope mobile. Everyone recognized Santa; everyone was glad to see him. It was an exhilarating feeling.

The sponsors had given me bags of candy to distribute to the children. Be careful doing that! Hundreds of children coming at you to get their candy is scary. Don’t try it unless the children are lined up safely in some sort of traffic control contraption designed by Bayani Fernando and watched over by their mothers. I told the children all about Santa, who he was and where he came from and what Santa wanted for them and their city when they grew up. There should be enough food for everyone, good schools, and good jobs for all, I told them. I sensed the children wishing in their own way that I’d hurry up, so that the gift-giving and the meal could begin.

The children were strikingly beautiful and I thought I recognized some of them.

In 1998 a demolition team from Quezon City Hall came to evict the people living in this same place. The people asked them not to insist on the eviction because five of their children were sick of dengue and might die if they were forced to sleep in the open. One child had already died of the disease, the people said, and showed the team the body of the child which was still in one of the houses. The demolition team examined the dead child and still tore down the huts. In the morning the five children were dead. The parents went to the mayor who told the miserably poor people he would pay 20 percent of the burial expenses and no more.

We had young community organizers working with us in that place, who brought the coffins holding the children to City Hall. We arrived in a truck. The guards said we couldn’t unload the coffins, but they were afraid to come close to the dead bodies to stop us. We lay the dead by the main flag pole, and stayed there all day while a drum beat a sad rhythm. At first the mayor refused to come down, but when it looked as if we might stay and the media were gathering, he did come. Eventually he agreed to bury the children, relocate the families to Payatas and punish the demolition team.

We buried the dead children then in the saddest funeral I have ever attended. We were in the pauper’s plot of the cemetery where the bones of other dead stuck out of the soil. There was no priest or anyone to say a prayer, except the parents and neighbors.

The families of the dead children still live in that area. The children greeting me as Santa Claus may have been their brothers and sisters. The place is as dirty and crowded as ever and the people are still threatened with eviction.

God keeps giving us beautiful children and we keep forcing them to live in slums like Balintawak. “What have you done with my children?” God may well ask us one day. While we rebuild the city after “Ondoy,” can we concentrate on what is the most important need for us to worry about, namely, the future of the children of the poor?

It is Christmas, isn’t it? Good things can happen.

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

©Copyright 2001-2009, An Inquirer Company

Rehabilitating riverside settlements

Inquirer Opinion / Columns

Commentary : Rehabilitating riverside settlements

By Anna Marie Karaos
Institute On Church And Social Issues
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 29, 2009

THREE months after storm “Ondoy” wreaked havoc on Metro Manila, a workable solution has yet to be found for rehabilitating the riverside settlements whose inhabitants suffered the brunt of the floods. The only solution government has put forward so far is to prohibit the informal settlers from returning to their riverside residences and to accelerate the construction of off-city resettlement sites.

But informal settlers have re-established themselves in the river easements in the absence of alternative places where Metro Manila’s workers can find affordable housing close to their sources of jobs and livelihood. Why does government insist on relying on a tired, ineffectual policy? How rational can it be to do same thing over and over again and expect a different result?

Urban planners claim that Manila lost a golden opportunity to re-plan and rebuild itself after the city was destroyed during World War II. The danger of missing on another opportunity to put things right looms again if public authorities fail to come up with new land policies and redevelopment approaches in response to the wake-up call delivered by Ondoy.

How we frame the problem determines what solutions we will find and where we will look for them. If the problem is simply understood as how and where to provide permanent housing for the 80,000 families living on the easements of Metro Manila’s rivers and waterways, resettlement would seem logical. However, urban poverty specialists contend that the real problem is how to preserve the fragile access poor people have to the advantages offered by cities, principally jobs and services essential for survival and upward mobility like health and education. They argue that living in cities is the best self-help strategy poor people have devised to overcome poverty and therefore government policies should be designed in ways that would protect poor people’s access to the benefits of living in cities.

If we accept that the old solution does not work, and by this I mean specifically large-scale off-city resettlement, shouldn’t we begin thinking differently about the “problem” of informal settlements?

As a start, I propose two new ways of thinking.

My first proposition is that finding a solution to rehabilitating the riverside communities cannot be divorced from a city-wide, even nation-wide, reform of urban land policy. We should begin to think not just land use or land management but land governance. Land governance is about linking decisions on the allocation and use of land to social needs and political processes. Land is a finite and social resource that should be harnessed to meet social needs and purposes. Determining what these needs and purposes are involves a political process. If we claim we are a democracy, this political process needs to be inclusive. Decision-making on land uses and what social needs to prioritize must be inclusive both in process and in outcome. When more than half a million Metro Manila families live in slums or informal settlements without legal tenure and 80,000 of them have to live on river easements, there is no land governance. Governance has clearly failed to be inclusive in its outcome.

How does government plan to use the land resources that it still controls? What land laws and policies would be needed to channel private and public land to socially desirable uses? Are these questions being asked at all? Cities are densifying and land prices keep rising. The distribution of urban space will increasingly become more inequitable. Is anyone paying any attention to this problematic scenario? What tenure systems should we encourage to make housing affordable to the greater number of urban residents? Should we insist on the disposition of lands through titling of individual plots? Or can other tenure systems be promoted such as community land trusts, land use rights, rental housing, community leases and usufruct arrangements on private and government-owned lands? These tenure systems have the advantage of providing legal access to land without a heavy financial burden on poor users. The key is giving poor people legal access to urban space, not providing land titles.

What about multi-story housing for urban poor residents? A poor country like Sri Lanka has made it work through land sharing and cross-subsidy schemes.

My second proposition is that poor people are the best resource for finding a solution to making riverside rehabilitation sustainable. In Surabaya and Bangkok, the development of riverside settlements was negotiated successfully by the informal dwellers with their city governments. Official policy shifted from resettlement to redevelopment through the organization of the riverside communities which made a commitment and a plan to upgrade their homes, clear space for riverside roads, install septic tanks and keep the rivers clean. The government took responsibility for building the roads, dredging the rivers and collecting the accumulated waste from the riverbeds. Many riverside communities in Metro Manila have capable organizations which can easily replicate this strategy with the support of their local governments.

We would do well to heed the call of Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, who said in a recent pastoral letter: “It is not enough to simply order people off the waterways. A deep restructuring of our society is called for, starting in the present crisis with urban land policy.” The Manila archbishop presented concrete proposals, including urban land reform, a follow-through on presidential land proclamations, taxation of idle lands and a moratorium on eviction for as long as humane and adequate relocation cannot be provided. He reminded us, in the words of the psalmist, that “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

©Copyright 2001-2009, An Inquirer Company

Monday, December 21, 2009

The lesser gifts

Inquirer Opinion / Columns

Commentary : The lesser gifts

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: December 20, 2009

CAN we appreciate the great gift of Christmas if we fail to appreciate the hundreds of more ordinary gifts surrounding us every day?

Every child knows his or her name, for example, but there are many old men and women who no longer know their names or what they have done in life, or don’t remember whom they married, or their children’s faces. They would give the world to know themselves once again. An old Jesuit friend told me that when he wakes each morning, he thanks God for another day of life and another day of knowing who he is.

Water is something I, like most people, took for granted, until I went once with a reporter of Christian Aid to visit women along the R-10 road in Tondo. They had just managed to have metered water brought into their community. It cost only a third of what water once cost there. The reporter asked the women if the water had changed their lives. What a foolish question, I thought. How could water change a life? Then the women started talking.

“I can afford to shower every day now,” a woman said. “I feel clean for the first time in years.”

“Our house no longer smells. We take care of the toilet,” another woman told us.

Other comments came one after the other: “Now we can really wash the children and the vegetables.” “We can clean the house. Everything smells nice.” “We can clean the drain in front of the house.”

Finally a woman pointed to several drums of water that were stored near the water outlet. “We’re ready in case of fire. I can sleep at night,” she said.

Two years ago we had finished the “Panunuluyan of the Urban Poor” Mass with Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales and it was time for the people, especially the children, to eat. A 7- or 8-year-old girl, dressed as one of Santa’s helpers, brought her styrofoam lunch box over to the cathedral steps where I was sitting and squatted down to eat. She carefully opened the box and when she saw what was inside, she pulled back with her hands in the air, as if she had seen something priceless. She looked around to share her excitement.

“Wow!” she said out loud.

I went closer. In the box were two large golden brown pieces of Jollibee fried chicken.

It was probably the first time she ever had two pieces of chicken for herself. At Jollibee, two pieces of chicken cost P128, this is just about what the average urban poor family of five spends for its food in a day. Most poor children never have enough to eat.

In 1980, I visited the Zoto families who were moved from Tondo to the Dagat-Dagatan relocation site in Navotas. The people had struggled for 10 years to get good in-city relocation. I found one of our older leaders sitting in the 96-sq m lot the government had given her. I asked her how she liked her new home. Her old face was beaming. “I feel like I’m in paradise,” she told me.

On another level of experience altogether was the young woman with her parents I saw on the Oprah show some weeks ago. The young woman’s legs were fused at birth that they formed what was described on the program as a “mermaid’s tail.” The young woman can never have children or walk or even sit up without support, yet she is feisty and always smiling. She has finished college and is deciding what profession she will enter. She has no doubt she will succeed. She said she knows she can never have children, but she will adopt a child. She was wonderful on the show. But just as wonderful were the mother and father, who, while their girl talked, looked at her with enormous pride, love and gratitude. Meister Eckhart, a Medieval German mystic, used to say, “At least be grateful,” as if gratitude, like that of this father and mother, was the key to life’s riches.

There is an experience many priests have had, which brings us close to the Christmas mystery. They are asked to give communion to someone, adult or child, who is obviously and seriously troubled mentally. We believe some level of understanding is needed to receive communion, but who is to decide what that level is? Most priests I know give communion to the persons, believing that God who made them knows how to reach them in their shadows. Isn’t it at Christmas that God comes to this fallen race with all its blindness and darkened understanding? A less hopeful, less loving God would not come.

When we are grateful for knowing our names and having a small piece of land, two pieces of chicken, metered water and a special child we love, we are almost ready for Christmas.

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

©Copyright 2001-2009, An Inquirer Company

Monday, December 14, 2009

Urban Poor Reenact Joseph and Mary’s Search for Shelter


Urban Poor Reenact Joseph and Mary’s Search for Shelter

Manila, 15 December 2009 (Tuesday). Over two thousand urban poor people will march along the streets of Manila today repeating the question asked by Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: "Do you have a decent place where we can stay?"

Led by Joseph, Mary and the three Kings, urban poor people in costumes will march from Gomburza Plaza in front of the old Senate Building along Padre Burgos Avenue to Manila Cathedral carrying lanterns, belen, stars and other Christmas symbols.

Participants include children, old people, victims of demolitions, scavengers, relocated railroad families, people’s organizations, various non-government organizations, friends and supporters.

The theme of this year’s Panunuluyan of the urban poor is “Umaasa at kumikilos tungo sa isang masagana at mapayapang lungsod”.

The Panunuluyan is sponsored by members of Task Force Anti-Eviction composed of non-government organizations such as Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Community Organization of the Philippine Enterprise (COPE), with the help of various NGOs and people’s organizations.

“The urban poor’s problem is homelessness. We realized that at Christmastime, homelessness was also the problem of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. So we tried to connect those two. We were not the first one who thought of that because there is the old custom of Panunuluyan in the villages (barrios). So we decided to reenact the old tradition of Joseph and Mary going from place to place looking for a place to settle in and where Mary can have a baby with the modern problem of homelessness of the people,” said Denis Murphy, Executive Director of UPA.

“We’ve done that every year since 1987, twenty two years. And I think over those years we’ve educated the poor people to understand that God understands what it is to be homeless after the experience in Bethlehem. And I hope we have educated the powers that be that they understand also in a small way that to leave the urban poor homeless or to make them homeless even worse is to render God homeless as the powers that be did in Bethlehem,” Murphy added.

This year urban poor people will have a drama. They will have the reenactment of the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to live. And then they will go into the church for Mass with Bishop Broderick Pabillo at 9:30 AM. After the mass, people will have contests – singing contest, carol contest, belen contest, dancing contest, costume contest; and lunch.

During the mass they will give some awards. One award is for the Urban Poor Person of the Year. This is for Myrna Porcare of North Fairview, Quezon City who was shot by security guards when she was trying to defend the homes of her fellow urban poor people.

They are also giving awards to the following: Congressman Leonardo Montemayor, Aba-Ako Party-list representative, for introducing House Bill 6675, the Omnibus Amendment Bill for Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) to protect the housing rights of the poor; Lawyer Jose Midas Marquez for his work reconciling the Supreme Court decision to clean up Manila Bay with the need to relocate the poor and give them adequate notice and consultation; Father Anton Pascual and Radyo Veritas for their unflagging advocacy on radio for the issues and concerns of the poor; And former Senator Joey Lina for his authorship of UDHA (R.A. 7279) that guarantees the right of the urban poor to adequate housing.

They are also giving a citation to a poor woman, Cirila Bulagner, in the name of all the members of Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE), an elderly people’s organization, for her years of service to the elderly in providing home care and teaching others how to help the elderly.

According to UPA, there are thousands of homeless families in Metro Manila mainly because of forced evictions, illegal demolitions, lack of access to affordable housing and public services, labor contractualization, high cost of living, globalization, commercialism, displacements due to armed conflicts, rural to urban migration, graft and corruption, urban poverty aggravated by greed, selfishness and indifference. -30-

Thursday, December 10, 2009

MEDIA ADVISORY - Panunuluyan ng Maralitang Tagalungsod 2009

Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters and Photojournalists


Panunuluyan ng Maralitang Tagalungsod 2009

We are having our annual Panunuluyan of the Urban Poor again on the morning of December 15, 2009 (Tuesday) from 8:00AM to 1:00PM.

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

Beginning at 8:00 AM, about 2,000 urban poor people will march from GOMBURZA Plaza (opposite Old Senate Bldg.) to Manila Cathedral.

There will be a mass led by Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila at 9:30 AM. During the mass, the Urban Poor Person of the Year Award will be given to the person who in the judgment of the poor has done the most for them. There will be a Christmas carol, games for the children, choir, parol, best in costume and belen-making contests and a lot more. Please join us and bring your friends.

Photo ops: Drama at Bethlehem – Modern reenactment of the search of Joseph and Mary for a room in the inn.

Date: December 15, 2009 (Tuesday)
Assembly point: GOMBURZA Plaza, Padre Burgos Street (8:00 AM)
Mass with Bishop Broderick Pabillo: Manila Cathedral (9:30 AM)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Urban Poor High Hopes with the New MMDA Chair


Urban Poor High Hopes with the New MMDA Chair

10 December 2009. Task Force Anti-Eviction composed of various people’s organizations and NGOs such as Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), and Community Organization of the Philippine Enterprise (COPE) Foundation has high hope with the new chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Secretary Oscar Inocentes.

Denis Murhpy, Executive Director of UPA said, “We are all happy that the new chair is committed to doing everything legally and through dialogues. Over the last three years, Bayani Fernando evicted thousands of families illegally that is without proper notice, consultation and resettlement. And often removed small vendors from the road or sidewalks and confiscated or destroyed their goods. If the new chair dialogues in a sincere way he will find solutions that allow the poor to survive in the city and make a living.”

UPA research team noted, that this year alone there were 28 evictions, 6 of these evictions were conducted by MMDA and ended up violent.

Last November 11, 2009, before the new chair took over, MMDA demolished shanties in Estero De La Reina. The eviction turned out badly. Women and even pregnant women were fighting the demolition team over pieces of lumber and G.I roofing. Finally 10 families left Binondo in an MMDA truck at about 4 pm with a cross section of poor people and children. They arrived at the resettlement area in Norzagaray, Bulacan at 8 p.m. because of heavy traffic. But the local barangay captain told them they couldn’t enter because they only have a trip pass which was given by the MMDA personnel. So, the people have no choice but to come back to Binondo at 11 p.m. only to sleep on the sidewalk because their houses were already destroyed.

This action of MMDA earn the ire of the urban poor and has been singled out by civil society monitoring groups as the biggest violator of housing laws. Even though no law or executive order exempts MMDA from observing just and humane demolitions and evictions as provided by UDHA, the agency has repeatedly violated the law. Families living in shanties demolished by MMDA in 2008 for its beautification and urban renewal programs were not given adequate relocation, not even temporary shelters.

In parting, Murphy said, "In cities as crowded as Calcutta, India, the government and the food vendors were able to reach an agreement about selling and eating hot food at lunchtime on the sidewalks. Everyday four million people have a hot lunch in the sidewalks of Calcutta. There is soon for the vendors on our sidewalks if MMDA will sincerely try to reach a solution with them. The new chairperson's clearing moratorium for vendors on the sidewalks and informal settlers this December is hopeful."

Task Force Anti Eviction will continue to monitor MMDA’s program to ensure that there will be no more violent and illegal evictions. The group will cleave on the word of Sec. Inocentes that he will do everything “legally” and through dialogues.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Panunuluyan ng Maralitang Tagalungsod 2009

Dear Friends,

Greetings from all of us and the urban poor people we work with.

We are having our annual Panunuluyan of the Urban Poor again this year. It will take place on the morning of December 15, 2009 (Tuesday) from 8:00AM to 1:00PM at the Manila Cathedral.

As you know the Panunuluyan recreates the search of Joseph and Mary for a shelter where their child Jesus might be born. We see this event in the light of the urban poor people’s search for homes, peace and a decent life.

Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng not only brought great suffering upon the urban poor, as upon other sectors of society, but also revealed that there exists throughout society the belief that the poor are the cause of the floods. It is hard to remove such a belief by words alone, no matter how many times scientists tell us the poor were minor causes at most of the floods.

We believe it will help all people if we can spend a morning together.

Following the stars, about 2,000 to 3,000 urban poor people will march from GOMBURZA Plaza (opposite Old Senate Bldg. along Padre Burgos Street) to Manila Cathedral. The marchers will also include the Blessed Mother and Joseph.

Urban poor actors and actresses will perform the Nativity story in front of the Cathedral.

We will all attend mass led by Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, then pay attention to the songs, dances, skits and stories of the young, middle aged and very old poor people.

During the mass, the Urban Poor Person of the Year Award will be given to the person who in the judgment of the poor has done the most for them. Some recognition will also be given to friends of the urban poor.

The morning will end with a joint Act of Hope — poor and well-off together — in the Philippines and Philippine society.

There will be a Christmas carol, games for the children, choir, parol, best in costume and belen-making contests and a lot more.

We will provide a good lunch for everyone and a never-ending supply of ice cream for the kids. Participants include children, old people, victims of demolitions, scavengers, relocated families, leaders of people’s organization, urban poor friends and NGOs from all over Metro Manila.

Please join us and bring your friends.

See you on December 15.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Cruelty to the poor and democracy

Inquirer Opinion / Columns

Commentary : Cruelty to the poor and democracy

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: November 29, 2009

CRUELTY TO THE POOR BY GOVERNMENT people or the agents of the powerful are always surprising, since it seems so unnecessary. The urban poor with whom I’ve worked for many years are among the most patient, tolerant and realistic people God ever made. There’s no need for violence of any sort. The people will cooperate in any government plan that is based on consultations and common sense.

Instead, there is an endless tale of violence big and small done to them, which in the end undermines the people’s sense of their dignity and democracy itself, just as long rains loosen the soil on the hillside and eventually bring down the whole hill or mountain.

Cruelty manages to turn first-class citizens into resentful people, willing to scheme and do whatever may be needed to get what they want for themselves. Think of how the people of Estero dela Reina will react to government in the future after their experience with an eviction team of the Metro Manila Development Authority on Nov. 11. The people were told they had to get out of their homes of 20 or more years and relocate to the Norzagaray resettlement area, 40 kilometers or more away. They didn’t want to go, but they had little choice: whether they agreed to go or not their homes would be torn down.

The eviction turned out badly. People including women were injured in violent scuffles with the MMDA. Nothing is uglier than seeing women and even pregnant women and the demolition team fighting over pieces of lumber and G.I. roofing. Finally 10 families left Binondo in an MMDA truck at about 4 p.m. with a cross-section of poor people, the elderly, a few men, women, small children and babies. They arrived at the resettlement area at 8 p.m. because of the heavy traffic. The barangay captain there told them they couldn’t enter because they didn’t have the proper papers. They came back to Binondo at 11 p.m. to sleep on the sidewalk.

An almost similar episode took place a few days earlier. Families from Santolan, Pasig were brought to the Calauan resettlement area, 100 km from Manila. When they got there, they found there were no homes for them. They returned to Santolan, though now they were homeless. The callousness of the officials involved is breathtaking. No one apologizes. Not every poor person has to experience cruelty personally. Word of it travels fast in poor communities.

Sometimes matters turn truly violent. On Oct. 10 in North Fairview, Quezon City, Myrna Porcare, 52, was shot down with a shotgun at a distance of two or three meters by the security guards of the landowner. Her offense was to try to remove a fence put up illegally by the guards. Police watched the incident develop, but didn’t intervene. Myrna’s son was also killed. The killers are now out on bail.

It seems clear in this incident that these guards are not for security at all. No one was threatening them or the landowner, and the police were there to protect the demolition crew. The guards were not needed. Can the rich buy what can be called “special forces,” or “guns for hire,” who can be sent into an area to do whatever the owner wants?

There are even more harsh incidents against the poor in the rural areas, around mining sites, in factories and plantations, and once in a while something like the Maguindanao massacre. People treated unfairly over time lose any sense that they are citizens of a democracy where their rights as human beings under God should be guaranteed and their human freedoms defended. To be a citizen should bring rights and security, and, hence, pride. Even St. Paul was proud to say he was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37).

Paradoxically, it should be added that Filipino government officials are among the most accessible officials in the world. Hundreds of poor people meet the President every month, troop the halls of the House and Senate, visiting the officials one after the other, or talk to their mayors and Cabinet officers. That is democracy at its best.

Of all the varieties of violence the saddest is that between the demolition teams and the urban poor men and women. The demolition people are urban poor themselves, so it is one poor man trying to keep his family going against another poor man or woman trying to do exactly the same. The powerful have set poor against poor. Nothing destroys more quickly any sense of brotherhood and sisterhood among the poor. It is sinister for that reason.

In the last analysis these cruel ways come down from the top officials and the elite, as do most values in society, so it’s up to the powerful to stop the practice.

On Nov. 18 in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources people had a chance to witness how citizens can deal with abuses of authority. The people of Mindoro were there to protest a Norwegian mining company’s activity on the island. There were the governors and bishops of the two provinces, the clergy, mayors, academicians, Fr. Robert Reyes, NGOs, Mangyans and other ordinary people. They were telling the environment secretary they couldn’t accept the permission he gave to the mining company to begin work. They said he had made a big mistake. How in a democracy can a single national official overrule a decision of all the people of an island, who are the most likely to know their situation and what is best for them? The people of Mindoro show the effectiveness of people at different levels of society joining together in search of good law, the proper use of authority—and democracy.

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

©Copyright 2001-2009, An Inquirer Company