Sunday, April 27, 2014

Slum dwellers face forced eviction; Road widening project to leave 1,600 homeless

Slum dwellers in five villages of Tondo district in Manila were evicted last Tuesday (April 22) to make way for a road-widening project by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The P100 million Road 10 (R-10) project will add two more lanes to its 2-kilometer section adjacent to Manila's North Harbor area. It is expected to improve traffic flow in Metro Manila but it will also render some 1,600 people homeless.

Homelessness may yet again be the fate of 27-year-old Mary Jane Paco, who lives with her husband and one-year-old child.

Paco’s family used to lived on the sidewalk outside the Santo NiƱo de Tondo Parish Church. The shanty on Road 10 has provided them shelter for the last three years.

"We may yet again live on the streets, and maybe go back to our old refuge on the sidewalk outside the Tondo church after authorities flatten our home," she said.

Yolanda Gamido, 53, finds herself in the same predicament. She is a renter and is not qualified for relocation. The mother of two now lives alone, barely getting by on her pension.

Ammie Serafin, a former overseas worker said she has heavily invested in Road 10. She bought a land property, renting out the 15 rooms in her three-storey house. She also bought other properties in the area.

Judith Javar, a 35-year-old mother of four, was born and raised in the slums along Road 10. Last year her family was relocated to Bocaue, Bulacan, about 30 kilometers northeast of Manila. She said she returned to Tondo because there is no livelihood in the relocation site.

Javar prays for a better life now that she will be forced to return to the relocation site; otherwise she becomes homeless.

Sixty-one-year-old Merly Barredo, a long-time resident of R-10, will be relocated to Bocaue. The National Housing Authority (NHA) gave her a US$22 allowance and provided a truck to transport her personal belongings. Barredo works as a candy vendor in Tondo, earning $7-11 a day.

She came to Manila 30 years ago to seek a better life. She said the life she had on Road 10 was actually better than the rural life in her hometown in Aklan province.

"Being relocated to Bocaue is like returning to my life in the mountains," she said.

The demolition is expected to finish by the end of the month.

Some urban poor groups say it was illegal and they blame the privatization of Manila's port as the reason behind the demolition.


Badjao a tribe losing home at sea; Road where tribal folk pitched tents cleared

Presiana Abdusalam longs to go back to her village of Mariki in Zamboanga City. “I want to sleep to the sound of the sea,” the Badjao mother of three said.

In Mariki, all Abdusalam needs to do to have food on the table and earn some money is to wade through the waters during low tide to gather seashells and crabs, or go fishing in deeper waters, 2 kilometers away from her house on stilts.

But for now, she is stuck on land. She and her family are among the hundreds of people staying along RT Lim Boulevard, also known as Cawa-Cawa, after their homes were burned last year during an attack by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels.

Their stay in Cawa-Cawa is again threatened by the city government’s plan to transfer them.

Satulnina Aril, another Badjao evacuee, opts to stay in the crowded evacuation center “because this is near the sea.”

“Relocating us to places far from the sea is like killing us. I feel very, very sad about how our government is treating us,” she added.

Aril said the families were just waiting word from Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar that they could return to their villages in Mariki and Rio Hondo.

Rio Hondo and Mariki, less than 2 km away from City Hall, are near the villages of Santa Barbara, Kasanyangan and Santa Catalina—the battlegrounds of government forces and MNLF rebels in September last year. Fire of unknown origin razed houses, mosques and even bancas in Rio Hondo and Mariki.

The number of people displaced by the fighting reached 120,000, and the city has relocated them to “transitory sites” in the villages of Tulungatong and Taluksangay.

Tulungatong is a Christian-dominated village 17 km away from the city center. Commuters pay P30 for transport fare and must shell out P20 more for a passenger motorcycle (habal-habal) ride to reach the transitory site, 5 km away from the highway.

The predominantly Muslim Taluksangay is 19 km away from the city center. Transport fare is costlier at P50.

Aril said that aside from threats posed by pirates in nearby Sacol Island, the Badjao faced discrimination in Taluksangay.

In February, the city government offered new sites in the village of Talon-Talon, Mampang and Arena Blanco. But local leaders have opposed the plan in Talon-Talon, which is nearer the city center at 4.75 km, in Mampang (6 km) and Arena Blanco (9 km).

Salazar said all relocation was temporary, unless the law would not allow the evacuees to return to their original homes.

The mayor said that after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” devastated Eastern Visayas last year, rebuilding in areas 40 meters away from danger zones had been banned.

“We await the decision from the [Department of] Environment and Natural Resources,” Salazar said, referring to the rebuilding in areas like Mariki and Rio Hondo, which are surrounded by mangroves and are considered government-protected.

Already, the plight of the Badjao has caught the attention of the nongovernment, whose online petition has already drawn some 3,000 signatures, according to its director, Honeylyn Alipio.

“Please return the Badjao evacuees to their homes and not in the mountains, or at least consider consulting them first before moving them to any place they think they would not survive in,” the petition said.

“This is inhumane,” Alipio said of the government plan to relocate the sea-based Badjao on land.

Salazar said any relocation should have the consent of the evacuees. “We are not forcing them to move out of the evacuation centers,” she said.

“We are asking the public to support us in this campaign because the city government is trying its best to prevent further deaths if they continue to stay on the shorelines that are not very safe for them,” she said.

Zenaida Arevalo, regional director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, agreed that the transfer of the Badjao evacuees was voluntary.

“They asked for a transfer to a comfortable place because many are getting sick and dying in Cawa-Cawa,” she said.

Reacting to the online petition, Arevalo said she hoped the signatories would also check on the condition of the relocated Badjao.


Online petition:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Catholic group feeds Manila's homeless

A Catholic lay group in Tondo, Manila is providing free rice porridge and bread to homeless and beggars every Friday.

Emil Mendoza, one of the volunteers, knows that he can only do so much because some homeless will still go to sleep on an empty stomach.

The group Lugaw ni San Jose (LSJ) has been doing the feeding program near the Quiapo Church for over ten years.

“The Nazareno has always been kind to us, so it is only proper that we return the favor. And being blessed that we are, it only befits us as Catholic Christians to extend charity to our less fortunate brothers and sisters,” Mendoza said.

They provide free meals for breakfast at 6:00 am, lunch at 12:00 noon, and dinner at 6:00 pm.

A young man from Mindanao has availed of the feeding program for two months. He left his hometown to find his luck in Manila and now considers the sidewalk of Quezon Boulevard his home.

Over 100 homeless patiently wait in line everyday to have their bowls filled. Some of them go back to the line to get some food again.

Feeding the hungry is one of the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy which the Catholic Church enjoins all faithful to observe.

The other six are: giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; sheltering the homeless; visiting the sick; visiting the imprisoned; and burying the dead.

These are drawn from the Gospel of Matthew (25:35-36) which reads, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’


Photo by John Francis Lagman:

Monday, April 07, 2014

Fire leaves 5,000 homeless

A huge night fire sent slum dwellers running for their lives and destroyed more than a thousand homes in Davao City.

The city’s skyline lit up as firefighters battled for more than five hours against flames that leapt swiftly from one shanty to another in the depressed coastal neighborhood of Isla Verde in Barangay 23-C (village 23-C) on Friday (April 4, 2014) night.

As the fire continued to blaze for hours, hundreds of houses were also burned in the neighboring villages of 21-C and 22-C.

“I’m back to zero. I don’t know how I can recover,” said grocer Norayna Serad, who lost her store and merchandise worth P100,000 that she had paid for with three years’ worth of savings from working abroad.

“Maybe I will need to go back to Kuwait and work as a maid again,” the 28-year-old said as she clutched a half-burnt Koran beside the ruins of her shop.

The blaze was put under control shortly after 1 a.m. on Saturday, but by then, about 5,000 people were left homeless, local civil defense officials said.

Children scavenged for twisted metal and corrugated iron sheets among the ruins to sell for scrap.

“These were houses made of light materials. They were all razed,” said Jimmy Martinez, an official of the civil defense office for the Davao region.

Some of the houses had rested on stilts that stuck out of the coastal waters, and firefighters said they had difficulty moving through the narrow, winding alleyways between the shanties, he said. More than a thousand families sought refuge at a government schoolhouse that escaped the blaze.

Martinez added that the slum sat on a previously vacant government lot that had been gradually settled by impoverished migrants to the city of 1.5 million people.

The blaze apparently started when an untended candle in one of the houses tipped over in the early evening, Davao fire investigator Ramil Gillado said.

A fisherman’s wife, Gina Salapuddin, watched her husband mark out with string the place where their shanty had stood, as the couple began planning for rebuilding even though they had lost practically all their possessions.

“God will provide,” the 32-year-old woman said.

The affected residents are staying in several evacuation centers in the city. The Bureau of Fire Protection is still determining the total cost of damage left by the incident.

Full report:

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Cardinal Tagle laments poverty amid progress

MANILA Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has expressed alarm over the rising unemployment and worsening poverty in the country despite the highly touted economic growth rates.

Tagle said that while the government should be commended for the robust economic growth the country had been experiencing, many Filipinos continued to be poor and jobless.

The prelate noted the paradox in an interview last week with Tele Care, a New York-based Catholic television network in the “Everyday Faith Live” program, where he also discussed the imbalances in the Philippine economy.

The cardinal flew to the United States last week to receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Fordham University.

“We have to salute our government and also the business sector. However, we were alarmed to see also that the level of poverty has not gone down,” Tagle was quoted as saying in the CBCP News, the official news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

He said it was “worth rejoicing” that the Philippines registered the highest gross domestic product growth rate in Southeast Asia last year.

“So you ask the question where is this growth going? How come there is this very accelerated growth economically, but ordinary people remained poor?” he said.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) recently reported an increase in unemployment among Filipinos despite economic growth in 2013 exceeding the targets.

The PSA said that in January, the unemployment rate climbed to 7.5 percent from last year’s 7.1 percent, the second-fastest in Asia next to China’s 7.7 percent.