Back to Barangay Batis
|What is affected||
|Type of violation||
|Date||12 July 2013|
|Region||A [ Asia ]|
Duty holder(s) /responsible party(ies)
MANILA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In Manila, one of the world’s densest cities with a population of 12 million people, climate change and poverty are a potent brew.
As storms intensify and trigger catastrophic floods in the Philippine capital, the government is under pressure to improve drainage infrastructure and clear the waterways of informal dwellings and garbage, but it cannot do so without ousting impoverished families from their makeshift homes by the city’s rivers.
It’s a simple principle. Make room for the river. No river, no passage – you get flooding, Philippines’ Secretary for Public Works and Highways Rogelio Singson said on a local talk show.
This year, the government is serious about removing informal settlers from high-risk areas. It has allocated 10 billion pesos (231 million US dollars) to relocate 19,444 families to permanent housing projects. Once vacated, the rivers will be dredged and walls will be built alongside them.
If we can just clear them, this will significantly improve the carrying capacity of these waterways, Singson said.
Heavy flooding in recent years has been deadly and destructive. In September 2009, Typhoon Ketsana dumped a month’s worth of rainfall in six hours, killing close to 500 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Around 80 percent of the Manila region was under water.
Experts say climate change is partly to blame for the heavy flooding as global warming alters weather patterns, bringing storm surges and intense rainfall.
REFUSING TO LEAVE
But those facing eviction from flood-prone areas are reluctant to leave, worried about the living conditions in their prospective new homes and concerned they will struggle to earn a wage.
Reynaldo Reodique is one such prospective evictee. He was born in Barangay Batis, a riverside community in metropolitan Manila’s municipality of San Juan. His hamlet used to be no more than a bamboo grove, lush with mango and tamarind trees, before concrete pavements encroached on the water and shanties sprang up.
He and his family are squatting on private property and authorities have identified their three-storey shanty as being in the flood danger zone.
This is the second time the Reodique and his wife have faced eviction. When the couple and their two children were driven out in 2000 by the lot’s owners and their house was partially demolished, they were relocated to the suburb of Montalban, about 40 kilometres east of Manila.
“The problem there was that there really was no way to earn a living,” said Reodique, 53, who works as a tricycle driver in San Juan.
“Life there was so difficult, and I wasn’t secure in the surroundings – you’re with strangers from different places. Now and then you would hear news of a burglary. It was scary,” added his wife Elena.
They lasted just one year in their new home, before moving back to Barangay Batis and into their still vacant shanty, where they have been squatting for the last 13 years. The couple now have three children and live with four in-laws and five grandchildren, all in a space of 12 square metres.
Despite being offered a housing package that will allow them to own their own home eventually, the couple say they will not leave Manila for the suburbs again. Instead, they plan to rent another shanty space so Reodique can be close to work.
Are they sure that all those people they throw out to the provinces will find jobs? The jobs are still here, Reodique said.
“We can’t force ourselves to live there if there is nothing,” his wife added.
Aside from expecting employment options, the evictees said they would want to see hospitals, police stations and schools near the new housing sites.
To ease the impact of the evictions, the Department of Social Welfare and Development plans to give each family an 18,000-peso ($415) subsidy to help move to the suburbs or find temporary bed space within the city while the public housing estates are being built.
The subsidy programme sparked outrage on the Internet, with taxpayers calling it unfair and counterproductive.
What about [those of] us who are renting homes? We should have just squatted so that the government would pay for our rent, so we could own homes without lifting a finger! wrote one commentator, ‘rudy2013’, on an Internet forum.
This system of encouraging squatting only guarantees one thing – it will never end, wrote another, called ’vokkin’.
But Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman says the state has an obligation to help the most vulnerable.
Are we babying them? No, we’re not, Soliman told Thomson Reuters Foundation. By birth or by circumstance, they did not have a fighting chance. If we leave them where they are now, their conditions could deteriorate and lead them into behaviour not useful to society.”
The National Housing Authority is developing relocation options within metro Manila, but the evictees who choose to live in the city will have to wait until early next year before they can move to these new buildings.
More than 8,000 families have already signed up to be relocated sooner, to nearby provinces like Cavite, Bulacan, and Rizal, where they can make monthly payments starting at 200 pesos ($5) spread over 30 years, to buy a 22 square-metre house.
By withholding the land titles until the payments are completed, the government hopes to discourage families from returning to the city.
The interior ministry said it will also file charges against municipality officials who allow informal settlers to rebuild their structures in the danger zones. Often, local politicians are blamed for tolerating squatting to get votes.
The biggest challenge, however, is to create sufficient work opportunities so resettled families can thrive. The government needs to develop industries that will in turn give birth to vibrant communities outside Manila and entice informal settlers to pack their bags and start a new life away from the flood-prone slums.
An improvement for these families is an improvement for society as a whole, Soliman said.