TKO: The Kadamay Occupation
I do not know whether to cheer or be alarmed. Ever since the Kadamay urban poor group made a bold, radical move to occupy NHA houses which they claim has been unused for a few years, I have been monitoring the drama. I understand the direct violation of law, the taking of what is not legally yours, and the need of the law to assert itself. At the same time, I also understand a greater anomaly that laws themselves have created and needlessly perpetuated. The Kadamay occupation is a slap in the face of government and society to wake up, to resolve what should not be left hanging anymore.
I speak of homelessness, the kind of homelessness that is inflicted by birth, by a poverty undeserved. In the latest news I read related to homelessness, it was mentioned that there is a housing backlog of more than 5 million for poor Filipino families. If we understand the ramifications of this housing backlog, then we will also understand how the Kadamay occupation of empty houses prepares us for the collision of the legal versus the unjust.
There are fundamental human needs. These needs are not rights, they are needs from which human rights are only later interpreted. Humans need water, air, food, shelter and clothing. It does not matter what the laws are – human beings will not survive without any of these fundamental needs. This reality is so basic but the complexity of social and political dynamics can often push the essential aside for the less substantial. And the more we devalue the fundamental for the ornamental, the more suffering we inflict on the greater number.
What did we expect human beings who have difficulty, or are faced with the impossibility of having regular access to their basic needs, to do? What would any one of us do in their place? Like them, to survive, we would breathe. We would drink. We would hunt. We would forage. We would plant. We would build our shelter. We would cover our bodies to protect them against the elements. If we cannot, we would die.
When families first group together, it is not because they love each other; rather, they need each other. Together, as a community, families can protect themselves better, feed themselves better, build their shelter better, and build their future together. Societies, therefore, establish themselves for these basic purposes, to satisfy their common needs, to work for their common good. Obviously, our history, not only ancient but up to the present, does not show at all that we accept and value the common good. If we did, we would be scandalized at the extent of homelessness that has always plagued the poor among us.
Our homelessness covers the greater problem – landlessness. By landlessness, I am not even talking about ownership of land but the security of tenure on land they can build their homes on. Any person or family without any right to be anywhere in our motherland is condemned, is cursed without cause. That is why generation after generation of landlessness has kept our poor just a notch above being animals who, too, have no legal right to be anywhere.
Why would the landless build on land they occupy when they know they can be ejected when they know they have no legal right to be there? They will build temporary shelter, what they can afford to or what they can make do with scrap material. They will build only what they can dismantle or just leave behind when the time comes for them to be shooed away by either government or private landowners. Without long-term or perpetual rights, there will be no motivation to build decent, permanent homes.
How long did we expect the landless and the homeless to go on without resorting to desperate measures? Another generation, another hundred years? Why did we ever think that what is legal could suppress to what is fundamental to life, to survival, to dignity? In truth, our landless and homeless have been timid, resigned, submissive all this time. Ask the communist rebels because they will tell you that it is inconceivable how the marginalized can continue to suffer their misery when they had the option to take up arms. Some did, some thousands when tens of millions could have done so.
The Kadamay occupation is not an initiative but rather a consequence, and one long delayed at that. It is a miracle that there was no bloodshed in an action that involved the takeover of thousands of houses, even if they were vacant. The demands of law would have provoked a violent clash, maybe even a massacre if the Kadamay occupants insist on staying put. But a President apparently did not have the heart to enforce the law on people who had no more choice but to risk their lives in a one-time gamble rather than extend their homeless agony.
In the end, as far as the Kadamay occupation is concerned, it seems to be a matter of money. The President said that he would build better houses for those in the AFP and the PNP who were prejudiced by the takeover of what would have been their homes. But, really, in the end, it is a matter of justice, of human empathy and sympathy, of patriotism itself. Poverty should be a consequence of personal failure, not an inheritance.
I know that the law cannot just be disregarded. I know that chaos is the end-product of lawlessness. But the law can become more intelligent, more humane, and amend itself to attend to the fundamental before the less essential. Why not declare homelessness and landlessness illegal instead? After all, it seems to be primarily a matter of money as there is more than enough available land for home lots.
It is a good time to rethink not just what the laws we enact and enforce, but that what right and wrong itself should be. And if we had been wrong all along, now is a perfect time to rectify everything. ###
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