ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Displaced families and the urban poor: the solidarity commitment of Catholic communities

Monday, 27 March 2023 caritas   displaced persons   poverty  

Manila (Agenzia Fides) - About 300 displaced families have lost their homes because, in recent days, the Department of Public Works of MetroManila has started the demolition of illegally built housing structures in the city of Caloocan to make way for construction of a highway. Only 74 of them are eligible for financial aid and housing assistance from the National Housing Authority (NHA). For others, not eligible to receive such support, the city government has said they will receive some form of subsidy from the social welfare department.
The demolition measure re-proposes a burning issue that concerns the Philippine metropolis: that of the illegal settlements of the so-called "settlers" or "urban poor", who live in small or very large slums. scattered throughout the territory of the city, built under bridges, in streams and along river banks, or on uncultivated land. According to data from the municipality, in MetroManila, out of a total population of 13 million people, 5 million people (about 800,000 families) live in slums scattered across the territory, consisting of randomly erected shacks in the illegality, without services of any kind. In the past, public policy has been to organize the targeted demolition of shacks and all illegal constructions, forcibly relocating occupants to other provinces such as Bulacan.
According to sociological surveys, in the suburbs of Manila, families described as "urban poor" have no source of income, even to raise their children, who often do not go to school and are forced to beg in the streets, while adults are "informal workers" who try to earn a living with paid and precarious daily activities such as street vending, informal transport (such as rickshaws) or other small day jobs.
Faced with the government's lack of response, several Catholic parishes and communities in Manila have set up a free canteen service in the city's schools, Catholic or not, allowing street children and young people to benefit from meal at least once a day.
The Archdiocese's "National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace", highlighting the age-old problem of the "urban poor", invites all the faithful and civil authorities to "listen to the cry of the poor slum dwellers for having "bivouaced", in these alleys which also serve as kitchens, bathrooms, recreational spaces and playgrounds for children". Their tiny houses, we are reminded, are quickly razed in case of fire or bad weather: we are therefore asked to "consider them as victims calling for help and to welcome them with love, charity and mercy".
Organizations serving the urban poor include Caritas Manila, which continues to provide food aid to poor families in the Archdiocese, giving them vouchers for shopping, also through agreements with private entities. Caritas also runs education, social assistance and employment programs for poor families.
Urban poverty and social segregation have ancient roots in Manila: as early as the Spanish colonial period, indigenous inhabitants lived in suburbs, like those of today. According to the Ministry of Public Works, there are three 500 squatter settlements in the territory of MetroManila (composed of 17 municipalities) on private or public vacant land, usually along rivers, near landfills, along tracks, under bridges and next to industrial facilities.
Slums are deteriorated, dangerous, unsanitary areas lacking public services: slum dwellers are identified as the "urban poor", individuals or families with household incomes below the poverty line.
The municipality has classified these settlements into the following categories: "temporary shelters made with recycled materials"; "semi-permanent shelters"; "permanent shelters" and the inhabitants aregenerally referred to as "squatters".
On average, 75% of Manila slum families are long-term residents (more than five years, up to 20 years) in the area. Most families have migrated to these neighborhoods from other cities and the majority of the slum population is employed in the "informal or underground economy". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 27/3/2023)