The Claret Urban Poor Apostolate (CUPA) expresses its sympathy for and solidarity with the residents of Barangay San Jose, Kasiglahan Village and Barangay San Isidro of Rodriguez, Rizal, who were severely affected by the torrential rains and flooding caused by the Southwest Monsoon in the past week. In our apostolate work, we have witnessed first-hand the devastation and hardship experienced by the people of 1K1, 1K2 and 1K as their homes and properties were wrecked by floodwaters.
Mainstream media outlets have depicted the area of Montalban, Rizal, as heavily hit by the extreme weather with thousands of families evacuated. However, the news does not mention that many of these flood victims are residents of relocation sites. Thus, we have come out to speak against the insensitive comments and instructions uttered by President Noynoy Aquino and DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson in light of the planned relocation of the urban poor who live along metropolitan waterways.
The government requires the urban poor and informal settlers to vacate danger zones, yet it approved the construction of relocation sites in high-risk areas. Relocation sites are in close proximity to the West Valley fault line that PHIVOLCS has already tagged as “ripe for movement” since last year. Aside from that, these sites are along the Wawa River, the headwaters of the Marikina River. It was this body of water that eventually inundated the houses in the relocation sites during the Habagat rains, leading to the evacuation of almost 2000 families.
Yolanda Vasquez is one of the newly relocated urban poor who experienced the flooding. She has been living in 1K2 for only three months after the Quezon City government relocated them from Novaliches to Montalban to make way for a housing project. Ate Yolanda has never experienced heavy floods before and wishes she and her family had never relocated. This is a common sentiment among those living in relocation areas even before the devastation in the past week.
Apart from being within danger and high-risk zones, relocation sites are incapable of providing a good and decent life to inhabitants. These sites pose problems of safety, livelihood, and sustainability. School facilities, hospitals, efficient health centers and even police stations – basic social services – are not within a stone’s throw of relocation sites. The government must understand that a relocation site is not complete once the last stone has been set or once the last tin roof has been placed. A relocation site must constantly be developed in terms of infrastructure, industry, health and sanitation, education, and transportation and communication. To encourage informal settlers and the urban poor to willingly relocate, the government must assure them that their basic needs will be met and equip them for their new lives through social preparation and development. A relocation site is not a dump site for the unwanted urban poor of the metropolis.
Having worked for 12 years among the urban poor, we at CUPA have seen the plight of the indigents of the cities. We speak for them amidst government plans for mass relocation. The government should not push through with this endeavor unless the welfare of the poor has been accounted for and the policies of the National Housing Authority (NHA) are revised for more safe and developed relocation sites.
We call on the government to re- evaluate its policies and decisions on the development and management of relocation sites to ensure the safety and security of the residents of relocation sites, to provide public and social services to the residents, to establish sustainable employment and livelihood in these communities, to offer disaster preparedness and risk reduction efforts in these areas, and to address the urban poor as respectable and essential members of Philippine society.
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31) The poor are not destructive or immoral by nature; they are merely driven by their circumstances. Let us not treat them as obstacles to a good quality of life; let us give them a good quality of life.
Br. Nicer O. Natulla, CMF
Director, Claret Urban Poor Apostolate (CUPA)