By Igal Jada P. San Andres
These are only some of the labels most Filipinos use to call the poor, especially those who live in urban poor communities or “squatter areas” in big cities like Manila and Quezon City. But how sure are we that we are using the correct terms to describe them? Could there possibly be something more to the urban poor than the media is letting on?
As part of Bulatlat.com’s internship program, we interns are required to attend discussions where we listen to people who are well acquainted with issues of today. Last May 21, we had a discussion about the urban poor with one of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahirap’s (Kadamay) members: Luis Clarin, education officer of the said organizations. Needless to say, Mr. Clarin clarified the situation about our nation’s urban poor.
It was 1994, he said, when the population of the urban poor increased; this information came from the United Nations (UN). The rise is related to the concept of urban migration, wherein people from the provinces go to cities to look for work. Urban migration, in turn, is related to the lack of an effective land reform program in the country. Most of these migrants are farmers who, upon losing their land, choose to move to the city in order to support their families.
When they come to cities, these migrants are then faced with three main problems: housing, labor, and the provision of basic social services.
Without the proper resources to purchase a house of their own, migrants instead construct their houses in public places and danger zones like esteros, areas beneath bridges, near railroad tracks, etc. Because of this, they are referred to as squatters – people who illegally inhabit idle properties or lands. This is probably the reason why local governments are so eager to get rid of them through demolitions.
Readers of this website ought to be aware by now about the ongoing demolitions throughout Metro Manila. For one, Quezon City’s local government’s project called the Quezon City Central Business District will affect at least eight (or possibly more) barangays whose main occupants are members of the urban poor.
Instead of helping their constituents by providing proper housing, these local government officials would rather bulldoze their ramshackle houses and bring them to relocation areas where the situation is often much worse – no water, electricity, work, or basic social services.
Decent housing, Mr. Clarin said, is what the urban poor want, not relocation.
Another problem faced by members of the urban poor is the worsening labor situation in our country. The propagation of contractualization in the workplace, most especially, is an ongoing problem.
“They would rather [work contractually] than not have a job at all,” Mr. Clarin said.
The contract often lasts for only six months, at the minimum wage rate. Additionally, the requirements set forth by companies to aspiring applicants are tighter. Some janitorial positions, for example, would require applicants to be high school graduates.
Because of these factors, a large percentage of members of the urban poor resort to working informally, sometimes illegally. Some of these people include sidewalk vendors, prostitutes, members of demolition teams, and scavengers.
Their jobs are not without dangers, of course. Sidewalk vendors, for one, are often victims of extortion of corrupt cops. Prostitutes are at risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, which would endanger their health.
As companies get rid of more and more workers, the number of people working in the informal sector also increases.
The solution for the labor problem, Mr. Clarin said, is the creation of jobs and wage increase. The provision of decent and permanent jobs with good pay will go a long way in improving the poor’s lives.
The last problem we discussed was about the provision of basic social services by the government. But is it really being provided?
The high costs of medical services, water bills, electricity bills, and whatnot say otherwise.
The privatization of electrical and water companies and health centers say otherwise.
The yearly increase in tuition – be it public or private schools – say otherwise.
I saw the problems Mr. Clarin mentioned first hand. In the two months that I served as an intern for this online newspaper, I was able to visit some urban poor communities in Quezon City, Paranaque City, and Tondo in Manila. The plight of these people is truly sickening.
Instead of providing proper housing, the government would rather demolish their rickety houses in favor of rich businessmen who want to turn the land into commercial estates like casinos and malls.
Instead of providing stable jobs, the government would rather let companies persist in the process of contractualization. They condemn and harass informal workers, when the ones they should be condemning are themselves for not trying harder to improve the Philippine labor situation.
Instead of providing proper social services, the government would rather sell these services to private individuals and companies. They promise to lower the costs of services, and yet the opposite is happening. Electric bills continue to soar. Medical services go further out of reach. Tuition fee hikes happen every year.
Is the government really doing its job?
It appears that it does not.
“The government is only providing Band-aid solutions,” Mr. Clarin said.