Last Sunday I had the chance to attend the first ever National Conference of Urban Poor at the College of Social Work and Community Development, UP Diliman.
This was was organized by Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap, Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon, Task Force on Urban Conscientization, Defend Job Philippines, and Demolition Watch.
As you can see, it was a Herculean effort by a lot of organizations due to the difficulty of mounting such an unconventional convention, both logistically and financially.
But, I thought to myself, it was about time that the urban poor did gather together and work towards a common goal for a better future not just for themselves, but for our society as a whole.
I’ve been meaning to write an article about what transpired in the meeting but was putting it off because of heavy work in the clinics and the university. Then last Friday, while on my way home to Quezon City, I witnessed an everyday scene that struck me and inspired me to write this column.
I was caught in traffic at the foot of the Padre Jacinto Zamora Bridge along the Paco-Sta.Mesa Road. The area was almost cleared of urban dwellers that used to occupy every bit of space.
There were a few thatched roofs behind a concrete wall. There is a considerable amount of clearing — I could now see the rails.
There was a 12-year-old- padyak kid pushing a trolley loaded with about five adults passing by. It was about 3 p.m. and overcast. There was no wind, and the heat wasn’t exactly kind.
I took out my cell phone and tried to get a photo, but the cars in front of me moved, and it was the next scene that I was able to catch before I was “pushed” further on by the traffic.
The scene was that of an old woman and a small child of about two at the road’s center island who were begging for alms or food from the motorists. In the background, one can see newly built condominium buildings which, by the looks of them, appear expensive, at least for the ordinary wage earner.
The entire scenario might be what most may call ordinary, but to me it shouts of indifference and injustice for the hundreds of thousands of urban poor who’ve been crying for food, shelter, and job security since the time of Corazon Aquino.
Development is everywhere nowadays in the Metropolis, but development for whom and for what purpose? Would it benefit society as a whole or would it be an instrument for human rights violations?
Some people view the urban poor as a burden to society: that they are a lazy lot, that all they do is multiply, that they don’t have manners, uneducated, their communities a haven for criminals and drug addicts, and that they’re simply an eyesore who don’t pay taxes.
I have to admit that I used to be one of those who shared that view. But that was before I became a medical student, and before I was exposed more and more to poor people in the hospital and poor communities.
After immersing myself with them again and again over the years, I came to realize that they are also Filipinos like me, descendants of Filipino peasants, foot soldiers, who fought for our freedom from the Spaniards, the Americans and later, the Japanese.
They were also there during EDSA 1 and 2, composing majority of the crowd, when much of the middle and upper classes were still scared to come out. As such, they have as much right as we do to own this country and have a say in its future. And for being part of revolutions that established our government, it is only correct that they be given the right to demand their right to live peacefully and free from fear from the same.
This was precisely what was discussed during the conference. Ordinary folks, with little or no education at all, discussed issues that affected their plight as people under the present global socio-economic and political set-up.
The delegates came from urban centers and cities around the country. They reported that most of them originally came from the province’s outskirts, but were displaced by poverty, landlessness, and the simple lack of job opportunities.
Their numbers grow every year. In Metro Manila alone, they are projected to increase from 1.15 Million in 2011 to 1.19 Million in 2013.
They continue to increase partly because of (1) government’s inaction to land grabbing by land lords (yes, they still exist, aka congressmen, governors, etc); and (2) because of the lack, rather, absence of industries (such as steel, textile, chemical industries) in the cities, most of them end up with irregular small, low paying service-oriented jobs (minimum wage earners).
Their lack of education does not help as well. Therefore, with the little pay they get, they have no choice but to live in informal settlements beside creeks, dumpsites, under bridges or anywhere near their place of work to lessen the daily cost of travel. That’s survival.
If I were in their shoes, I’d probably do the same thing. Live in a cheap place, try to channel as much of what I earn for food, so that I’d have the strength to go back to work the next day.
How long can this hand-to-mouth existence continue?
A vicious cycle not only goes around; it comes around with increasing intensity.
In olden times, unspeakable misery had always been the fuse that lit the fire of revolutions.
Would the simmering socio-economic situation come to a boil?
– Dr. Darby Santiago