PHILIPPINES: From danger zones to death zones

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Date: 22 October Type: Report Source: Bulatlat Keywords: urban poor, resistance, relocation

KASIGLAHAN VILLAGE, Rizal — Couples Sulpicio and Magdalena dela Cruz, both 74 years old, are prepared should heavy flooding once again ravage their home in a relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal.

Their clothes are placed on a hammock that hangs in the middle of their house. Magdalena even has a life jacket and big rubber floater nearby. Tied to her husband’s wheelchair are small plastic bags, which, she said, are packed with their important things. All she had to do, she said, is to guide her husband, who has emphysema, a chronic pulmonary disease, to the wheelchair and push both of them to safety.

But no matter how prepared she is, Magdalena said, she is still afraid of what could befall both of them should a heavy rain, and consequently flooding, devastate their community.

“That kind of rain,” Magdalena said pointing the drizzle outside their house, “is okay. But if it rains non-stop from morning until evening, that is dangerous. Water (from the river) could overflow. Our community’s sorry state is really alarming.”

Magdalena said they experienced none of these uncertainties in their old house in Balara. They never experienced flooding there, she added. The government, however, said their homes must be demolished because they are living in so-called “danger zones.”

“They told us we were living in one of those danger zones and that we need to move out. But they brought us to a more dangerous zone,” she said, adding that on top of her concerns over their safety, both of them have to contend with the lack of social services and sources of livelihood in the community. Urban poor families displaced in the relocation sites in Rodriguez, Rizal have long pressed the government to ensure their safety, livelihood and access to social services. Their experiences in the relocation site belied the promises of the government that they would live in a community safe from calamities, just as they used to face back in the “danger zones.”

But their demands for the government to provide them with social services, according to Carlito Badion, secretary general of urban poor group Kadamay, have been met with insults. He told the media participating in the 17th Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop that a village official informed him that the housing units that were abandoned during the monsoon rain last year would be demolished and turned into a cemetery.

“Social services are hardly given to the people here. If they push through with their plan to construct a cemetery here, then our criticism is correct. They have really forced the people to move from a danger zone to a death zone,” Badion, who is also a resident of Kasiglahan Village, one of the government relocation sites in Rodriguez, Rizal, said.

As far as Badion is concerned, this is the first relocation site that will have a cemetery inside. And while there is nothing innately bad about it, the planned construction of a cemetery shows the indifference of local government officials to the plight and suffering of the relocatees.

Safety, environment concerns

Geologist Ricarido Saturay said, in an earlier Bulatlat.com report, that moving urban poor families from so-called danger areas would not necessarily translate to minimizing the impact of disasters.

“Hazard is the event or the natural disaster that happened such as flooding and you cannot put a ‘zero’ on this. Exposure is a question of whether people would be hit. And vulnerability is the community’s ability to look into the consequences such as loss of lives and belongings. It also includes their socio-economic conditions,” Saturay said.

The government’s usual response to disasters, he said, is to remove affected families from being exposed to the immediate calamity. But transferring them to a relocation site, he added, would only increase the risks they are facing. “They will be moved to a place that is also exposed to hazards, which is not just flooding but also landslides. And since they have no jobs and other livelihoods, vulnerability, too, would increase.”

As early as 2004, a report of the Urban Poverty Morphology Series stated that Kasiglahan Village is not suitable for a socialized housing project, citing its vulnerability to flooding and earthquake.

“Through this study, it was determined that the two resettlement sites (Kasiglahan Village and Sub-Urban Housing Project) are located in an area that is highly vulnerable to floods and earthquakes. It was also determined that the area is not suitable for socialized housing because of its distance from industrial and commercial areas, which are important sources of livelihood,” the study read.

The study also noted that the floodplain, where water from mountain ranges of Sierra Madre would flow, was merely reclaimed to give way to the relocation area. A river, too, was diverted.

On top of these, Badion said, the poor drainage system and the denudation of the mountains due to quarrying and logging activities have greatly contributed to the flooding in Kasiglahan Village.

As a result, heavy flooding occurred in the area on August 1998, November 2004 and Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. The most controversial, however, was the flooding brought by the monsoon rain in 2012, where a photo of flood waters nearly as high as the row houses of the relocation site went viral in social networking sites.

Badion said the relocation site is also near the West Valley Fault line. “Our houses here are poorly made. I do not think it could survive even the slightest quake. If that happens,” Magdalena said, referring to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Central Visayas last Oct. 14, 2013, “I would move some of our things and hide down there,” pointing under the bed. “I could only pray to God that we would survive,” she added.

Access to social services

Aside from the lack of jobs available in relocation sites, the glaring need for access to social services remains one of the concerns of relocatees residing there.

In a privilege speech, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus said she is appalled with the sorry conditions of the residents and relocatees at the relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal, particularly in Southville B and C. Families were told that there is a school waiting for their children at the relocation site. But, De Jesus said, these schools were not prepared to take in many students. “We have seen 100-150 students forced to fit inside one classroom, and students have to bring their own chairs to school,” she said. Purita Dayao, a resident of North Triangle who agreed to be relocated in Rodriguez, Rizal said two of her children stopped going to school. “I do not want to force them. They really wanted to finish their schooling (in Quezon City). But I cannot afford the everyday fare. They may be missing their friends (in their old school).

Free health services are also hard to get at the relocation site, said De Jesus. The health centers, she said, is equipped only with basic first aid kits and nearby hospitals are privately-run and are too expensive for the residents. “There are no doctors nor medicines. You have to buy it yourself,” Magdalena said.

Magdalena, whose husband Sulpicio has emphysema, said they have to go to East Avenue Medical Center for their check-ups. The said hospital is about an hour away from the relocation area.

The electricity rate, too, is way higher in the relocation area because it utilizes a sub-meter system being run by Baque Corporation, according to De Jesus. “Residents complain that Baque Corporation exacts exorbitant fees, and often households are charged up to $13.95 a month even when they hardly consumed any electricity. Residents hardly have any appliances, so it was upsetting for the mothers to be forced to pay so much for electricity that they did not use,” de Jesus said.

Montalban Relocatees Alliance, a local residents’ group in the relocation area, said they pay roughly $0.38 for every kilowatt hour they consume. The water rate is also higher in Kasiglahan relocation area, which is $1 for every cubic meter.

In Feb. 2013, relocatees trooped to the office of the New San Jose Builders Inc., the developer of the relocation site, because it cut off the community’s electricity supply without advance notice. Residents said they were told by representatives of the New San Jose Builders that their company owe Meralco about $12,500.

Badion said this left residents wondering where their payments to the real estate developer went and why they had to suffer in the end.

Merci Merilles, spokesperson of the Montalban Relocatees Alliance, said in a previous Bulatlat.com report that this is one of the government’s ways to get money from residents when it is its duty to provide services to them.

Off city vs on-site development

The report of the Department of Interior Local Governement’s Technical Working Group on the Urban Poor under the late Jesus Robredo, too, acknowledged that there is a shortage in housing units available in relocation sites.

“The quantity of available housing units is in itself an issue, but this is further compounded by the quality of resettlement areas in terms of access to services and facilities, which, in turn, affect the quality of life settlers will have in the area,” Robredo said in the report.

Robredo added that off-city resettlement, which has been the default option, is not pro-poor.

“Off-city relocation costs typically fail to take into account attendant social and economic costs. If such costs are taken into consideration such as (e.g. infrastructure for hospitals, schools, water systems, etc.); b) social costs to informal settlers (e.g. loss of livelihood, hardship costs, etc.); and d) recurrent costs (e.g. transportation expenses incurred by resettled households in commuting, etc.), among others, then dense on-site redevelopment or in-city relocation is glaringly the best choice,” the report read.

He added that an in-city construction of a medium rise building will cost the government $397.62 million compared to the $261.9 million, which would only cover the costs of acquiring the land.

Critics said the government only wants to clear Metro Manila in order to pave the way for about 50 public private partnership projects. All of these, Hicap said, would result in the displacement of urban poor families.

“It seems that the government wants to ‘flush out and decongest’ Metro Manila of urban poor families but has no concrete solutions on how to provide families with affordable housing, livelihood and services,” Hicap said. Magdalena, for her part, said they would continue to remain “always prepared” for any possible disaster. But as far as urban poor groups are concerned, the biggest disaster is the fact that the government remains uncaring toward the people, who, in the first place, have put them in power.

See online : PHILIPPINES: From danger zones to death zones

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