Photographs of the latest Agham Road, Quezon City, evictions certainly made the international press; the Independent in UK, the BBC and newspapers in America. Subsequent to the eviction of about 10,000 people, it is announced that “qualified” people will be re-housed in Bulacan, and that the reason for the necessity to repossess the land occupied by the squatters was not in fact for a road widening scheme but was to provide land for the development of a business park by the Ayala Group in consortium with Quezon City government—more rents to capture!
Of course, people should not occupy land to which they have no rights. It must also be assumed that these people living there had nowhere else to go. There are people who live on the street in most of the world, the Philippines is no exception among less developed nations; it is a distressing fact of life. I remember a year or two ago there was an international conference held here by the Asian Development Bank, and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority erected hoardings to avoid the conference delegates having their sensitivities upset by actually seeing the conditions in which the people who ADB are mandated to help lift out of poverty were actually living, on their route to the conference center.
Worldwide, about 2 million people a year are forcibly evicted from their homes; half of these are in the Asia-Pacific area. Forced evictions are frequently violent and always cause great distress. They are rationalized by a need for land for some purpose or other, and evictees are often not offered any alternative housing nor compensation. Legal due process is frequently not followed.
Here in the Philippines, the Constitution as well as the Urban Development and Housing Act protects housing rights, but despite that there were nearly 15,000 families—about 75,000 individuals—forcibly evicted in Manila during 2011. Former President and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga made several proclamations on the use of public land for social housing projects, and in 2002 issued Executive Order 152 requiring government agencies to secure certificates of compliance before commencing any eviction demolitions. Alas, though now the numbers of forced evictions are increasing and from the looks of things, if the flood control projects require about 750,000 people to be relocated, then adding in the other relocations necessary for development of Manila will likely run into the millions. That’s a lot of people to evict.
To live in a shanty made of wood, plastic sheets and a few concrete blocks with no running water and only using electricity that can be illegally wired is in itself a distressing way to live, particularly in the weather conditions of the Philippines. Living like that implies extremely low income levels, a result of the national shortage of jobs and lack of any useful social security apparatus.
What I find surprising are some of the readers’ comments on newspaper items reporting forced evictions. Rather than showing sympathy with the plight of the squatters, the comments in the vast majority are scornful of the squatters and supportive of government action to move these people on and continue the forced evictions; “We want the slum dwellers out,” they are lawbreakers from the provinces so send them back to their origins. They are just adding congestion and social problems in the metropolis” . . . etc., etc., etc. Not much sympathy for one’s fellow men there it seems, for the fact is that jobs are just not available and that people are forced to live from hand-to-mouth like animals in these shanties and in awful conditions.
Yes, they should demolish these squatter areas, they should make Manila clean and green, and developed in a well-planned way. But before you go around smashing people’s pathetic houses down and throwing them out in the street, prepare somewhere for them to live and tell them that is where they are going to—a “better life,” and please let’s not bother wasting too much time to check if they are “qualified” [whatever that ,may mean]; let’s just give them somewhere better to live at a level which they can afford—which is probably next to nothing, rather than addressing the lack of shelter issue by setting up schemes to give loans to people who have no means of obtaining an honest income. It is not so much the fault of the squatters that they are occupying land on which Ayala and their fellow oligarchs want to build to reap yet more profits to add to their personal treasure chests, than it is the fault of government failing in its duty of protecting it’s citizens. Failing to deliver an economy in which the distribution of wealth is on a balanced basis and everybody has at least food and shelter.
It would also be nice to think that rather than those who are fortunate enough not to have to live in squatter conditions with the risk of being bulldozed out would display a rather more sympathetic attitude to their less fortunate fellow Filipinos. The system such as it is, is made more sustainable in its awfulness by reviling those millions at the bottom of the Philippines social pyramid, many of whom do indeed turn to crime as their only way of providing the necessities of life for their families.
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org