Monday, May 17, 2010

Floodway and Salubong

When you walk along the Manggahan Floodway these days, as we did last week, past kilometer after kilometer of bulldozed houses and rubble, you may think you are in East Jerusalem or Afghanistan. The dismal scene is not the work of the Jewish military or the Taliban, however, but that of the Philippine government evicting 60,000 poor families.

This eviction in Pasig is part of the post-Ondoy rehabilitation work, government claims, but residents say they were scarcely affected by Ondoy: no one died and the houses survived. They admit there is a need to improve the area’s abilities to resist natural disasters, but they say there is no need to remove the families. The people believe the real operative plan of government is to remove the poor and replace them with up-scale housing, commercial establishments, and to enrich those who make all that possible.

The plan to replace them was conceived long before Ondoy, the people told us. They were working then with Atty. Bienvenido Salinas of the Urban Poor Associates’ St. Thomas More Law Center to bring a case to court to stop that plan when the floods came. It’s the same plan of government, but now it is driven by the national government agencies. Before Pasig City was the driving force.

The number of families threatened in recent months by the Supreme Court decision on Manila Bay and the eviction orders of national agencies, reaches as high as 400,000 families, according to estimates based on government news reports,

The alarming dimension of all this violence is not just the sheer size, but the fact that government agencies charged with protecting the people and the institutions of civil society haven’t protested dramatically against the unusually large number of violations of law and human rights. An older Filipino told me, as we walked along the Floodway, that we were nearing the end of the democratic road since there was only silence and not a roar of protest over so many poor families shipped to far off resettlement sites where there is little work or no work for them.

On Easter Sunday, the Salubong of Jesus and the Virgin Mary was held on the Floodway at the Legazpi Bridge that spans the water. Jesus and Mary, played by giant puppets, approached each other in two bancas as thousands of people watched. At the bridge they met and a child angel removed Mary’s black veil. The white robes shone in the afternoon sun. Then side by side the bancas came to the shore where crowds of people surged to the water’s edge to meet them. The puppets were carried ashore while little girls in white sang hymns. A prayer service followed.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if the risen Jesus and Mary could come to the threatened urban poor communities and strengthen them in their struggle for a decent place to raise their children?

Jesus and Mary do come, of course, in the form of young community organizers and priests, sisters, medical workers and people of all professions and backgrounds, including the people’s own leaders, who help the poor help themselves, and help them grow in dignity and confidence. A society that stands quietly by and allows massive evictions to take place will face a harsh judgment from the Lord on Judgment Day, according to Matthew’s Gospel 25: 31-46).

As the prayer service ended, airplanes flew over in silence, as if they respected the people’s sorrow, but were admitting they couldn’t do anything to help. However, when the planes were high up, there was a powerful roar of the engines. Was that an omen that our society will no longer tolerate the eviction of thousands upon thousands of innocent children? Will the future be different?

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