I love the contradictions of the Philippines.
Jeeps and ignored traffic lanes
Mobilization and repression
Malls and poverty
Drainage and floods
Just two days ago, my FiRE sisters and i went to Barangay Damayan Lagi, a shanty town next to the San Juan river in Quezon City. Most of the residents have lived in that urban poor community for 20 some odd years, inheriting their “puesto” or space from other urban poor dwellers who built the structure before. They are in a fight against demolition. Inside of this month, the threat of demolition from the state looms over 260 families who will get pushed out in the name of President Aquino’s Public Private Partnership, where as Mylin, the lead Gabriela organizer there said will, “kill the public and make the private rich.” The PPP, as it is referred to here, prioritizes private investment and development for the public good, assuming that one more mall is good and assuming that the government, the arbiter of these deals, are for the public.
Jeni, the woman who offered her dwelling to us said, “Masakit isipin na maaalis kami dito. Nung lumipat kami dito, wala akong anak. Ngayon, tatlo na sila na lumaki dito.” It’s painful to think that we will be demolished. When I moved here, I didn’t have any kids. Now, I have all three here and they’ve grown up here. The popular rhetoric for the problem of “informal settlers” as the government labels them is that they are a nuisance, they squat, they pollute the rivers, they make the urban center ugly, etc. From the outside, we can only see their shantytowns as a nuisance, squatters, pollution and ugly.
But we often, always, fail to see the contradictions that live inside of them.
That there are families that have grown and laughed in those tiny dwellings. Those families who often barely have anything to eat, sometimes have cried together, evacuated the areas of their homes that is being swallowed up by flood, ran to the street because an electrical fire has ravaged the homes they built with their own hands.
That most of these “squatters” came from provinces. And that they way they know how to build their houses from pieces of wood, tarpaulin and corrugated metal comes from their knowledge of building bahay kubos with bamboo and parts of coconut trees. That the fact is, they all want to go back to their lives in the province but are unable to because there is no livelihood there. Landlessness is rampant. Usury and a landlord system starves their children even if they, and their ancestors have always known how to grow food.
That the pollution problem with “informal settling” is not that urban poor people are throwing their garbage into rivers but that the massive malls that excrete waste almost at the same rate as the construction of new malls are polluting as well. And because the corporations that build these malls are invisible because they serve the “public good,” the poor become framed as dirty, dangerous and decrepit.
After our visit to Damayan Lagi, my team and I went to a forum held by Alyansang Kontra Demolisyon (AKD), the Alliance Against Demolition. A metro-Manila wide coalition of urban poor organizations working towards resisting demolition through their main instrument “barricadang masa”–the people’s barricade. They have seen 2 success stories in the past year and have planned to mobilize their members to imminent demolitions. Ka Carlito of KADAMAY said that they can’t demolish all communities in one day, and if there is a demolition every day of the week the members of AKD will mobilize to fortify the people’s barricade wherever it is needed.
It’s been raining a lot here since I’ve arrived. After all, it is one of the two seasons here, tagulan, rainy season. And when it rains here, it floods. I often think of Jeni and wonder if the San Juan river has come to her family’s doorstep again. I often think of Jeni in hopes that I’ll be able to return to visit her, hoping that both the flood and the demolition won’t come to her doorstep.
The contradictions of the Philippines are stark and intense. And although, it strikes a chord in my heart, the very same organ swells with love and embrace for the conditions under which people live and the way that people resist those conditions.