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Urban poor suffer with Jesus

Informal settlers in Manila stage ‘Calvary of the Poor’

Big Cross:  Some 50 women carry this cross on Calvary day (photo by UPA)
Big Cross: Some 50 women carry this cross on Calvary day (photo by UPA)
  • Hernan Melencio, Manila
  • Philippines
  • April 18, 2011
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“We remember the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ during Lent, but for us informal settlers, Lent is a daily thing,” says Jose Morales, the 47-year-old head of an urban poor organization.

“Suffering” for Morales is not only the daily struggle for food, shelter and other necessities in life but the constant threat to his way of life by a government that sees them as an eyesore and environmental risk.

He says informal settlers could help the government implement its environmental projects like the cleaning of the polluted Pasig river and its tributaries if given the chance.

“But for them, cleaning the river includes removing us from our sources of livelihood.”

Filomena Cinco, chair of a village council in Manila, agrees with Morales, saying their situation could be likened to “Jesus’s Calvary.”

Cinco lives near a creek called Estero de San Miguel in Manila’s Legarda district.

“We are constantly on our toes because the administration plans to turn areas near the Malacanang Palace into ‘beautiful’ communities,’” she says. This means their homes could be targeted for demolition anytime soon.

Today, Morales and Cinco plan to join the Kalbaryo ng Maralita (Urban Poor’s Calvary) protest organized by the Urban Poor Associates (UPA) to dramatize the plight of informal settlers in Metro Manila. The protest is to re-enact Jesus’s journey to Calvary or Golgotha where he was crucified.

“We have been staging this Lenten protest for 25 years now,” says Princess Asuncion from the UPA. “We will highlight again the woes of the urban poor as an example of the continuing suffering of Christ.”

This time, the plan is to hold a silent procession starting in the morning outside the historic Quiapo Church and proceed to the famous Mendiola Bridge leading to the Malacanang presidential palace. The program also includes a short stage play by a youth cultural group.

“The procession will feature a giant cross to be carried by 50 women,” Asuncion said.

Participants will also carry seven small crosses and seven masks of Jesus signifying the seven issues they want to take up with President Benigno Aquino.

The issues include housing, relocation, demolition and land ownership.

“We are expecting around 5,000 people to participate,” Asuncion says. The men will be in white shirts with “bloodstains” and the women will wear black veils.

Morales says the Kalbaryo tradition has brought informal settlers some gains such as the 1992 Urban Development and Housing Act, which recognizes their right to housing, 30-day’s notice prior to eviction and provisions for relocation.

“But more has to be done. The laws need to be implemented and we’re still looking for our own place in the city. This does not fit in with the government’s plan to ‘decongest’ the city and make it ‘slum’ free,” says Morales.

He admits, however, that the government is slowly opening up to them.

We had a talk with interior secretary Jesse Robredo recently and it seems they have accepted our proposal for onsite slum upgrading, he said.

Cinco, who is from Estero de San Miguel, says they are pushing a housing plan designed by noted architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr.

She says it conforms to the disaster risk reduction concept of the government and they hope they can convince the president to approve it.

PM13914.1648
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