The Dismal Failure of the “Resettlement” Program
for Informal Settlers in Manila
By Apolinario Villalobos
While the effort of the government to “save” Manila’s informal settlers from the danger of their abodes on the banks of esteros, underneath the bridge and unhealthy, as well as, filthy slums, is commendable, the sincerity is questionable. Where is sincerity in the promise about comfort in these resettlement areas that have no water facilities, lighted roads, public transportation, and electricity? To give a raw impression of these projects, footages of “comfortable” life in these areas are shown on TV, though it is purported that they consist just a very minimal percentage of completed units. The resettled families have no choice, but be resourceful to make the “shell” that the government call “house”, comfortable, rather than wait for the agency people to tell them that that at least, they need not worry about any demolition.
The resettled people worked in Manila business centers such as Divisoria, Sta. Cruz, Quiapo, Intramuros, Port Area, Malate, and Ermita, as well as airport terminals in Pasay City, and Makati. Some were paid the minimum wage. The rest were on daily contracted rates which were way below the minimum such as those working in stores and mall shops, in restaurants as waiters, cooks and waitresses. Some were junk collectors that rummage city dumps. Some were porters in piers and airport terminals, and still some were janitors, street sweepers, and part-time housekeepers. Their children went to schools which were walking distance away from their makeshift homes. Before the resettlement, the working members of the family already had barely enough daily fare, so that some walked to their job sites, making do with just biscuits for lunch. And then, they were forcefully resettled in the middle of school year, cutting short the studies of their children. Resettlement areas are in far off Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and even Batangas. After the resettlement, most working members of the family quit their job for lack of daily fare to work.
Where is sanity in this supposedly “humane” program of the government? At times, even the rain could not stop the demolition of the makeshift homes, leaving the hapless families shivering, soaked to the bone, wet and hungry, crying their heart out while witnessing the tearing apart of their home that they painstakingly built out of salvaged tins and boards.
Cleared areas give way to malls and condos put up by foreign investors. Some are left as is – vacant, and just fenced in with barbed wire. The esteros or waterways that get cleared of shanties become clogged again by the waste from the upper portion of the Pasig river… floating on the stinking and murky water that flows out to Manila Bay, And the reason?… inconsistent cleaning and monitoring by authorities! Yet, the government blames only the squatters for the perennial overflowing of these esteros! How about the factories and “legal” homes along the rivers which are also responsible for the waste and garbage that clog these waterways?
Meanwhile, the families in the pathetic resettlement areas try to survive on sweet potato leaves, kangkong, malunggay and wild indigenous vegetables, to go with their daily gruel of NFA rice. Some teen-aged daughters whose studies were cut short, try to help their family by trekking to nearby towns to work in market stalls and small eateries at Php100 a day. Mothers who used to gather vegetable trimmings in Divisoria to be sold on sidewalks or as part-time laundress near their former shanties in the city are left with nothing to do. Their husbands on the other hand cannot afford the more than three hundred pesos fare to their former jobs as porters at the port area and busy city wet markets.
As a last resort, desperate families sell the rights to their “home” and go back to where they came from to start another stage of survival. The government and the agency concerned seem blind to this vicious cycle as a result of their program that lack long-ranged planning. They thought that the solution to the urban squatting problem ends in the resettlement of the families. They forgot that the roof over the head is not just the basic need of man in order to survive. They forgot that such man has to work and earn in order to eat and do other endeavors to better his life, such as go to school.
What the government obviously wants are the numbers that they can print on reports about “rehabilitated” indigent Filipinos! Something for the world to see, that, indeed, poverty in the Philippines has been reduced!