A choice between fighting for their homes or living in neglected relocation sites

The relocation site for urban poor families living along Road 10, North Harbor is right in the middle of a rice field. The houses are poorly constructed with no electricity, water supply; and there are no livelihood opportunities.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Benny Azarcon, 63, could still remember where candidates during the last elections held their campaign rallies. They were there, she said, promising to give them all the things imaginable that could uplift them from their dire conditions.

“I could take you there if you want,” Azarcon told Bulatlat.com, pointing to the street outside her friend’s house.

But as Azarcon and the rest of her neighbors are facing threats of demolition, she said, the candidates who won are nowhere to be found. She went from one office to another, including that of former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Vice President Jejomar Binay, and even President Benigno “Noynoy” C. Aquino III in Malacañang Palace to seek for their help and assistance.

All these efforts, however, were in vain.

Almost every day, Azarcon said, they have to confront officials from the National Housing Authority (NHA) to forestall demolition operations. They warned her, she said, that their homes would be demolished by the end of the month. But, Azarcon said, she is not afraid.

Benny Azarcon says she will fight for their right to shelter. (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Benny Azarcon says she will fight for their right to shelter. (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)

“These public private partnership projects have brought nothing but worsen our already impoverished conditions,” Azarcon said, “They are pushing for projects that would not help us. We voted for them and yet the lives of the poor are even getting worse.”

Privatization behind demolitions

Azarcon has been residing along Road 10 in Tondo, Manila since 1966, when she got married. Her husband’s family hailed from Surigao province in Mindanao. They were forced to leave their homes to find a better livelihood in Manila. All of her husband’s family, she said, worked at the Manila North Harbor.

But since the government pushed for the privatization of the port, Azarcon said, her husband, along with hundreds of their neighbors, lost his job a few years ago. Azarcon, since then, became the breadwinner of the family. She accepts odd jobs and has been reselling clothes, earning around $7 to $12 for every $24 worth of clothes she would sell.

The privatization of the Manila North Harbor is also behind the threats of demolition of their community. Azarcon said port authorities plan to widen to the road. She also noted that several trucks are now using lots of previously demolished houses for parking.

Anakpawis Partylist, in a previous Bulatlat.com article, said the privatization of Manila North Harbor is among the 50 public private partnership programs that the Aquino administration is pushing for. Most, if not all, of these projects would affect urban poor families.

Azarcon said she does not want to be relocated to Batya, a government relocation site in the province of Bocaue, Bulacan.

“Those who agreed to be relocated to Batya want to go back. But they could not because they have no money for their fare,” she said.

Poor conditions at the relocation site

Butch Arcon, 43, was a resident of Road 10. He agreed to be relocated to Batya, believing the promises of NHA officials that they would have better living conditions there. His family received $23.8 from the NHA, two kilos of rice and a grocery bag that contains instant noodles and canned sardines, which he thinks is worth from $4.8 to $7.14.

Butch Arcon goes to Manila to sell dried fish because there is no livelihood in relocation site. (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Butch Arcon goes to Manila to sell dried fish because there is no livelihood in relocation site. (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)

Upon arriving at the relocation site, which is right in the middle of a rice field, Arcon said they realized that the housing units were poorly constructed. Less than a month after they moved in, he already saw cracks at the walls.

There is also no electricity and water. Arcon’s family has to buy mineral water, an added burden to their meager income that could have been used to buy food, he said. At night, they use candles. “There are many mosquitoes,” he added.

Livelihood, too, is hard to get in these relocation sites. Arcon goes to Manila and live at his friend’s house along Road 10 to sell dried fish. He only gets to see his family once a week, every Sunday, to bring home no more than $23.8 from a week of hard work.

But if all of the Road 10 residents would be relocated, Arcon, who has been a resident of the said community for more than 20 years, said he would not have a place to stay every week. He would lose his livelihood.

“I am willing to sacrifice. But we need electricity, water and livelihood there. If we can find livelihood there, I would not need to go here,” he said.

“It was better when we were still living here. I want to go back but we don’t have a house here anymore. We agreed to have our home demolished,” Arcon said.

Azarcon said residents who transferred to Batya want to return to Manila and live here again. She said they sent a letter to them, which was signed by no less than 200 residents. “But they cannot go back simply because they don’t have money for fare.”

Struggle continues

Azarcon said their fight to keep their homes has not been easy. She told Bulatlat.com they hardly could go to work and ply their livelihood with the daily threats of demolition. But, she said, she and the rest of the remaining residents are determined to fight for their right until the very end.

Road 10 (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Road 10 (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)

“I will not permit it. I will plead to them if I have to,” she said.

Another resident, Mary Ann Florendo, 38, said she could not allow these so-called development projects to take away her memories of Road 10. “I grew up here and experienced tough life and pain. This is where my children grew up. The entire Road 10 could serve as my diary.”

The dire conditions at Batya, she added, is enough to convince them that no bright future is ahead of them if they transfer to the relocation site. For Azarcon, just like the rest of the residents who either earn as pedicab drivers or vegetable sellers in Divisoria, livelihood is still the biggest issue.

“How are we going to survive there?” she said.

Azarcon called on President Aquino to look into their conditions. “I call on Aquino to help us. Do not abandon us. ()

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