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Life outside the margins: Through the eyes of the Filipino urban poor

Words by Celeste Samin

Ang kahirapan ay hindi dahil sa katamaran. Kung ‘di ito ay dulot ng mahabang panahon ng kawalan ng panlipunang hustisya.” 

The words of Melchor Cayabyab from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) captured the essence of “Magnifying the Marginalized: A Look Into Today’s Urban Poor Situation.” The two-day event, organized by UP Manila students of their Community Development 113-TFD class, aimed to educate people about the current situation of the urban poor and amplify their calls for justice and accountability 

In partnership with CHR, the event was part of the class’s long-term goal of creating student leaders concerned with marginalized communities. 

From jeepney drivers, relocatees, to street vendors, three speakers of the first forum spoke of their struggles to continue living before and during the pandemic with no support and continued harassment from the government. While the second forum focused on forced evictions and rights to adequate housing with an emphasis on the importance of political participation. 

75 years of jeepney service dismissed by the government 

In an interview with the Perspective back in 2020, Ka Mody Floranda, president of Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) transport group said that around 800,000 jeepney drivers and operators are at risk of losing their jobs because of the jeepney phaseout. This became the reality when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic.

(RELATED STORIES: Balik-pasada ng jeep, patuloy na pinapanawagan and Jeepney phaseout, mariin tinutulan ng mga tsuper)

Only a small percentage of drivers and operators received help from the government despite being included in Bayanihan Act 1, 2, and 3. According to Floranda, many were forced to beg on the streets, pick up trash, and set up small food stalls just to be able to feed their families. 

They went to the streets to ask for financial aid and ask the government to bring back their livelihoods, but the government responded by jailing them in times of need (READ: Amidst phase-out, six jeepney drivers jailed for protesting).

The IATF refused to open routes and allow the operation of traditional jeepneys, claiming a higher chance of COVID-19 transmission and dismissing the legitimacy of the vehicles as a franchise. It has been found, however, that open-air jeepneys are safer than their modernized counterparts, and refusing to recognize their legitimacy is a clear violation of Republic Act (RA) 4136, explained Floranda (READ: Traditional open-air jeeps ‘safer’ against COVID-19, says think tank).

The qualifications imposed by the IATF are based on the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines that favor modernized and air conditioned jeepneys. 

Bakit ‘di nakikita ng gobyerno ang malaking responsibilidad na ginagampanan ng sektor ng transportasyon?” 

Jeepneys drive both the working-class Filipinos and economic growth. By incapacitating their mode of transportation, the government causes the economy to shrink by 9.9% at the end of 2020, worse than the recession under the rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos with a 7.3% contraction.

PISTON jeepney drivers protesting outside the LTFRB East Avenue, Quezon City office last April 26.
Photo by Glen Christian Tacasa.

[Kami] ay katuwang ng gobyerno sa pagpapaunlad ng industriya at ekonomiya ng ating bansa at isa ang sektor ng transport sa pinakapangunahing nagbabayad ng buwis sa pamahalaan. Halos ay nasa walo o siyam na mga buwis ang binabayaran namin. Pagbaba pa lang ng aming bahay ay nagbabayad na kami sa pamamagitan ng mataas na presyo ng petrolyokami ay nagbabayad ng reducer’s tax, nagbabayad kami ng common carrier tax, halos lahat nagbabayad kami ng tax pero walang serbisyo na nanggagaling sa pamahalaan,” said Floranda.  

They are also being forced to enter consultations with corporations or form cooperatives that operate 15 units of jeepneys worth a million pesos. The LTFRB further informed them that participating in consultations and following all the excessive requirements does not guarantee the jeepney drivers and operators the routes that are rightfully theirs as specified under Section 2.2.3 of the Department Order No. 2017-011

Ang sektor ng transport ay wala naman tutol sa usapin ng modernisasyon, ang tinututulan po natin dito ay ‘yong pamamaraan ng estado na bakit kailangan bumili ng mga mamahaling mga sasakyan, na mga inilalako ng mga dayuhan dito sa ating bansa? Katulad po ng Hino, magkano ang class A? 2.4 million. ‘Yong class 2 na sinasabi nila ay 2.6 million at ‘yong class 3 nila ay 3.3 million. Paano po ito kakayanin ng mga maliliit na mga operator na walang kapasidad na makapag-avail ng sinasabi nilang modernisasyon?” Floranda added.

He added that the government should instead focus on strengthening its public transportation by utilizing its natural resources to improve the traditional jeepneys and create its own industry. The government entrusting the mode of transportation to foreign companies proves itself to be loyal to foreign interests and ignorant of the country it serves. 

When they were finally allowed to operate at 50% capacity a year later, Floranda  said, “Hindi kusang loob binigay kundi bunga ng determinasyon at pakikibaka ang pagpapabalik ng hanapbuhay ng mga jeepney driver.”

From danger zone to death zone

Prescilda Juanich, a Community Leader at Joly Homes Foundation in Rodriguez, Rizal or commonly known as Montalban, spoke of their struggles in living in an inhabitable environment. 

Despite having little to no income coupled with the harsh implementations of lockdowns that prevented them from making a living, relocatees are still being bombarded by the increasing electricity and amortization bill on top of their needs to purchase food and fund the education of their children. Even their water from a private service provider is undrinkable, of low quality, and expensive. 

Juanich said they are seeking a moratorium or temporary suspension of payments during the pandemic because it’s difficult to pay the amortized interest and imposed penalties when they’re already struggling to afford food. 

The 29-year old resettlement sites, which accommodate thousands of people, are also deprived of adequate and safe facilities. There are no livelihood centers, food markets, schools, and proper waste management making them extremely vulnerable in the middle of a pandemic. 

Kaya malaking dagok po ito talaga sa mga mamamayan na sinasabi nila ay ilalagay kami sa maayos. Sa navotas matagal na kaming nakatira hindi kami inabot ng ganon kalaking baha, sabi nila danger zone ang lagay namin sa navotas kaya kami inilipat [dito], ‘yon pala, [ito] ay death zone,” said Juanich. 

Other relocatees were driven out because of road-widening and other developmental projects. Hence, on top of being financially incapacitated by the government and its agencies, they are further placed into a “death zone” said Juanich, where they are left more vulnerable, not only to the pandemic but to natural disasters as well.

Residents of Kasiglahan Village, Montalban, Rizal.
Photo from Sikkad Montalban.

Nakakatakot po talaga, nandoon na po talaga ang phobia ko. May anak po ako na PWD na pag nakarinig ng bagyo, hindi ko alam kung saan ililikas,” she said.

She disclosed that they conducted an annual planning assessment with the National Housing Authority (NHA) for the last 3 to 5 years where they found that a budget of Php 2.8 billion is needed to address all the needs of the multiple sites, including the development of a stronger dike to avoid the extreme effects of the natural disasters. 

In contrast, Bayanihan 3, which is supposed to be an economic relief package, allotted P54.6 billion as an additional pension of retired military, police, and uniformed personnel.

When asked about the kind of actions the community took to amplify their calls, Juanich said that they reached out to Congress, led by Congressman Francisco “Kiko” Benitez, Representative of the Third District of Negros Occidental and to local government units (LGUs) with proposed solutions. 

‘Yon po ang masakit eh, hirap ka na nga sa buhay may umiiral pa na pag-redtag. ‘Pag nagsalita ka ay andiyan pa ang banta na gumagamit ng droga, kaya paano pa makaka-survive sa ganitong klase na kalagayan?” said Juanich. 

Their calls for decent and humane housing are met with threats, often accompanied by prevalent and intense red-tagging by the NTF-ELCAC. The administration goes as far as using the war on drugs as a front for violating human rights.

(RELATED STORIES: Banta sa laban para sa karapatan: Grupong maralita sa Rizal, patuloy na ginagambala ng red-tagging, militarisasyon and Urban poor group presented as ‘surrenderees’ by AFP

Clearing operations over help 

Jose Miralpes, the NCR Coordinator of the “No Eviction Unity NCR,” stated how they are driven out of their own provinces and into the cities due to widespread land-grabbing by large corporations. 

Due to the lack of industrialization, job insecurity, and insufficient wages, they are forced to sell on the streets to make a living and be able to eat three times a day.

‘Di pinangarap ng manininda na magtinda, kundi dahil sa laganap na pang-aagaw ng lupa at walang kasiguraduhan sa trabaho at ‘di sapat na sahod, ‘yan ang binunga,” said Miralpes.

He added that they are continuously targeted by clearing operations of both the local and national government, especially when there is a shift of power and they become the immediate focus of local ordinances and laws.

The large corporations (which Miralpes did not name specifically) robbed them of their land while the government robbed them of a decent living. 

“Inaasahan po sana namin na tulong ang dumating sa amin dahil nagsara na ang ating ekonomiya at mga lugar kung saan kami nagtitinda so wala na po bumibili sa amin kaya inasahan po namin na tulong ang darating hindi clearing operations.”

Before the pandemic, law enforcers leave the sellers’ merchandise for the vendors themselves to pick up. With intensified clearing operations, their commodities are now either taken away or destroyed. The police further keep a watchful eye over them, preventing any chances of earning money.

Hindi tatagal [ang vendors] ng dekada d’yan sa bangketa kung walang nakinabang sa kanya,” added Ka Jose. The main problem lies in the failure of the government to generate a proper program that organizes the vendors or provides an alternative livelihood. Solely removing their livelihood is in itself already a violation of their rights. 

Illegal demolitions in the time of the pandemic

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular No. 2020-068 dated 2 April 2020 states that LGUs should postpone all demolition and eviction activities unless authorized by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, on the condition that before the eviction the communities would be provided temporary shelter, financial assistance, relief, and other basic services. 

The eviction of around 200 families from Brgy. San Dionisio, Paranaque, and the demolition of their homes was in clear violation of the memorandum. Leo Lopez from Kasamahan ng Maralitang Pilipino (KAMPILAN) recounts how they were woken up and ordered to leave their houses this January 19.

Dinala sila sa isang covered court, pinagsaksak sila doon kulang-kulang dalawang daang pamilya. Isang linggo lang silang pinayagan ng local government at sila naman ay in-accommodate, binigyan ng 2,000 cash ng LGU then afterwards pwersahan silang pinalabas ng gym dahil diumano ay nagkaroon ng covid sa kanilang tinutuluyang gym,” said Lopez.

All their attempts to coordinate with the LGU fell on deaf ears. The families stayed on the streets with no comfort rooms or hygiene kits and according to Lopez, it was in that exact same place that a displaced 108-year-old took her last breath. 

Nagulat na lang kami sa gitna pa ng pandemya dinanas namin ‘to,” said Lopez, “hindi tayo tutol sa pag-unlad pero sana naman maging makatao.

On March 11, the DILG lifted the memorandum and allowed the inhumane eviction and demolition activities with little to no short-term or long-term solution in the middle of the pandemic.

Generational poverty due to social injustice

The urban poor, apart from being left to fend for themselves, are targeted by the government as an enemy by criminalizing their pleas for help. This has been the situation for years and is only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to CHR Supervising Training Specialist Melchor Cayabyab, poverty has long persisted in society but is worsened by the pandemic up to the point of requiring help from the government, especially for people of the marginalized and vulnerable sectors. 

Section 1, Article 8 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution recognizes the inequalities in society which is why it specified that “the Congress shall give highest priority” in ensuring its reduction. This puts in context the falsity of the narrative that poverty is a result of vices and laziness and rather a societal issue that prevailed because of social injustices.

The CHR believes that assurance and provision of adequate housing is the essential step towards living with dignity and ending the cycle of human rights violations. The government is therefore responsible for ensuring the right to adequate housing which entails freedom and protection from forced evictions. 

According to Atty. Jesus Torres, Officer in Chief of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) Center of the CHR, it is also the government’s role to ensure that it is habitable, affordable, accessible, and with available services, facilities, and infrastructure among others. 

Instead, the marginalized communities are deprived of their basic rights and punished for not having access to them. 
Kami, sa huli, ay nananawagan sa mga mamamayang Pilipino na suportahan ang laban ng vendors sa mga clearing operations,” said Ka Jose whose active support extends to the fight of the whole marginalized community. [P]

Photos from Sophia Isabel Pangilinan and stock photos

Design by Patrick Josh Atayde

1 comment on “Life outside the margins: Through the eyes of the Filipino urban poor

  1. Pingback: Sta. Rosa woman waited by the rubble of her ruined home for her jailed husband – UPLB Perspective

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