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Slum dwellers prepare for demolition in Manila

Road widening project to leave 1,600 homeless

Slum dwellers prepare for demolition in Manila

Slum residents prepare for displacement from Road 10 to accommodate a new highway (photo by George Moya)

George P. Moya, Manila

April 25, 2014

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An image of the Child Jesus stands in the midst of the rubble, leaning – naked and homeless – against a wall that is about to be torn down.

Images of the Child Jesus, popularly known as the Santo Nino, have been dislodged from their altars as the shanties of slum dwellers in five villages of Tondo district in Manila were demolished this week to make way for a government road project.

The new road – Road 10 – is supposed to be wide enough to accommodate six lanes in both directions and is expected to improve traffic flow in and out of Manila, which has become notorious for its congestion.

The project, however, will also render some 1,600 people homeless.

Homelessness may yet again be the fate of 27-year-old Mary Jane Paco, who lives with her husband and one-year-old child on Road 10. 

Before they moved to their "rent-free" shanty, Mary Jane’s family, all devotees of the Child Jesus, lived on the sidewalks outside the Santo Nino de Tondo Parish Church. 

Their shanty on Road 10 provided them, and their Santo Nino, shelter for the last three years. 

Mary Jane says they may yet again live in the streets, and maybe go back to their old refuge on the sidewalk outside the Tondo church after authorities flatten their home. 

Yolanda Gamido, 53, finds herself in the same predicament. She rents the shack she lives in and is not qualified for relocation. Although she has two married children, Yolanda lives alone, barely getting by on her pension.

Ammie Serafin, a former overseas worker whose house is littered with figures of the Santo Nino, and images of Jesus and Mary, said she has heavily invested in Road 10’s "real estate". 

She claims to have bought the property she lives in, renting out the 15 rooms in her three-storey house. She also claims to have bought other properties in the area.

Judith Javar, a 35-year-old mother of four, was born and raised in the slums along Road 10. But she was relocated to Bocaue in Bulacan province last year. She returned to Road 10 after they did not find any suitable livelihood in the resettlement area. 

A devotee of the Santo Nino, Judith says she prays for a better life. Now, with the demolition of her home, she is forced to return to the relocation site in Bocaue; that, or she becomes homeless again. 

Under existing Philippine laws, both Ammie and Judith are in danger of being classified as "professional squatters" or people who occupy private lands or public property without express consent of the landowner, but have enough income for legitimate housing. 

Also, informal settlers who have been given social housing units by the government but illegally sold or leased their homes are likewise in violation of the law.

In contrast, Merly Barredo, 61, also a long-time resident of Road 10, will be relocated to Bocaue.

She is waiting for the National Housing Authority’s truck, her Santo Nino statues wrapped in plastic bags, and secured in a plastic tub, and with US$22 "pocket money" from the government on hand.

"That money is not even enough," she says.

Merly is a milk candy vendor earning somewhere between $7 and $11 a day. With the money she earns, she is able to support her husband and their 33-year-old daughter who still lives with her parents.

Merly came to Manila 30 years ago to seek a better life, and the life she had on Road 10 is actually better than the life she had in the mountains of Aklan province, which is at least a half-day’s walk away from the nearest city. 

For Merly, being relocated to an out-of-city resettlement area such as Bocaue is like returning to her life in the mountains.

The demolition began on Tuesday and is expected to finish by the end of the month, when all the shanties will have been flattened.

Rocel Berdan, vice president of the neighborhood organization on Road 10, insists that the demolition of shanties is illegal.

"They have no right to deprive us of our rights to housing and livelihood here in our community," he says.

Urban poor activists blame the privatization of Manila's port as the culprit of the ongoing demolition of slums

The 100-million-peso road widening project will add two more lanes to a two-kilometer section of Road 10, currently a four-lane thoroughfare covering Manila’s North Harbor area.

"For the urban poor, [the project] is nothing but a brutal instrument to justify massive dislocation of poor residents," says Congressman Fernando Hicap of the Working Class Party.

As the demolition continues, what is left of the thin wall of a wooden shack is about to be torn down. 

Going down with it is a plastered poster of the Santo Nino, images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, and a sexy calendar of a local actress endorsing an alcoholic drink. 

With her house demolished, her only source of income destroyed, without any means of livelihood, Ammie is in tears.

“My faith is the only thing I can lean on,” she said. 

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