Public Lives

Why the poor come to the city


The P-Noy administration’s plan to clear Metro Manila’s esteros and waterways of informal settlers by offering them money and resettlement is commendable. But it is nothing new. Past administrations devised all kinds of schemes to entice families living in these unsafe areas to go back to their provinces. But, even before the flood and typhoon season was over, the same families, plus new ones, trickled back to the same danger zones to rebuild their shanties. This is not hard to understand. The city is where the livelihood opportunities, the schools, the hospitals, and the future of their children are to be found.

What was lacking in all previous efforts to solve the squatting problem in the metropolis is a willful long-term program to develop the countryside. The stress is on the word “willful” because the basic components of such a program are not as difficult to imagine as they are to implement. It entails, first of all, giving rural families who live on the produce of the land enough reason to continue in agriculture instead of abandoning their farms and migrating to the city. It also includes giving these families the technical and financial support they need to embark on rural enterprises to augment their incomes. Perhaps, most important of all, it means building more schools and health facilities for a growing rural population.

This approach to rural development is so conventional that one can’t help belaboring the obvious. Even so, it has to be repeated if only because some problems become so normalized that they turn into blind spots. This particular problem has been with us since the end of World War II.

The first squatter colonies in Metro Manila arose with the rebuilding of the city from the devastation of the war. Large numbers of construction workers were recruited from the nearby Central Luzon provinces and later from Southern Tagalog, Bicol, and the Visayas. The farther from Manila they came, the more they felt they had to take the whole family with them to the big city. Here they put up their frail shanties next to the very construction sites in which they worked.

The longer it took to finish a construction project, the greater the chance that a new community would sprout in its shadow. While the workers from Pampanga and Bulacan typically went home on weekends to be with their families, work schedules would sometimes keep them in the city longer than expected. In such instances, their wives knew that they would have to follow if they wished to prevent the risk of a second family being formed in the city by a wayward husband.

The concentration of development in Manila and its immediate environs came at the expense of the surrounding provinces. Instead of investing their money in the countryside, the landowning provincial rich brought their wealth to the city where they bought homes and acquired cheap real estate in what was then the sprawling suburb of Quezon City. As Manila quickly recovered from the war, the old prosperous towns that had formed the nuclei of the countryside economy progressively shrank.

Personal progress came to be equated with movement to the only city that kept growing—Manila. It was only much later, when an increasing number of overseas Filipino workers began remitting their earnings from abroad, that the major provincial towns came to life again and became hubs of commerce and higher education.

Ironically, OFW remittances failed to inject dynamism into the rural economy. Indeed, the culture of overseas work killed agriculture. The lure of travel, easy cash, and the prospects of personal autonomy drove young people to seek opportunities abroad. They quickly lost their taste for farming and for the artisan crafts that had sustained their ancestors. Families pawned their small farms and sold their work animals to raise money to pay labor recruiters for overseas jobs.

But, as important, the social organization of the local community had shifted dramatically. The traditional barrio that revolved around the church, the market, and the school was replaced by the more politically oriented barangay. The barangay unit functioned more as a structure of control in the service of higher authority than an organ of self-government in the service of the local community. Instead of being insulated from partisan politics, the barangay was totally coopted by the political system.

All this is crucial to an understanding of the unabated flow of the rural poor to the city. Nothing much can hold them in the old communities in which they were born; nothing of value remains that can draw them back. The ties of solidarity that once bound people together in these communities have loosened so much that they have lost any power to confer identity.

It is no different in Metro Manila. The barangays of the urban poor are not communities so much as they are vote-getting machines and organs of patronage. Assigned some powers as basic units of government, they operate as just another layer of rent-seekers in a corrupt system. Indeed it is they who facilitate and profit from the influx of informal settlers into the city. Unless the national government can make them accountable for every illegal structure built in their jurisdiction, there is no way of keeping this problem from recurring.

Illegal settlers in the city are just the most visible face of Philippine poverty. Any attempt to reduce their number can only succeed ultimately by eliminating the roots of rural poverty—landlessness, the unabated plunder of natural resources, lawlessness and warlordism, and government neglect of agriculture.

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  • Juan Delacruz


  • Patikotiko

    “Freebies”. from politicians……..

  • nes911

    That is also like asking, “why did the chicken cross the street?”

  • migg2

    our present system of private land ownership is the root cause of all the chaos of illegal settlers and poverty stricken municipalities. Land should be state owned and leased to private developers where government can also implement proper use and control on usage.

  • Moonworshipper

    Daming magagaling dito na ideas at mga pinoy, Ka Randy. baka me suggestion ka para me magawa tayo rito na puwedeng magamit at makatulak sa ating mga nasa pamahalaan upang mas maging masipag sila. Marami na ring ibig tumulong dito, di lang namin alam paano siguro. Baka puwedeng maging force not to be ignored tayong grupo dito to help urge the public servants in government to move more quickly.

  • AlzheimersC

    Ports and roads are built on strategic areas not because it will mean that progress would soon follow…

    If your province has no real value like mining and too far from the international sealanes, most probably manufacturing will not also flourish…those roads and bridges that were built in your respective provinces will only be good for transporting agricultural products and nothing else…except when most of your population are working abroad then that’s where the local economy will have a robust activity and can expect a boost in the infrastructure too.

  • koolkid_inthehouse

    Dumb donkeys, Jobs and opportunities and most government officies are concentrated in the Gates of Hell.
    Transportation sucks and expensive, if a laborer earn just enough for a day, instead of going home and spend the whole day earnings on transportation not to mention the long trip, this laborer is well off squatting somewhere close to income source. This is only one scenario. Provinces countrysides are neglected, public hospitals are dilapidated and they move to Gates of Hell thinking they can get in St. Lukes to get cured. They should squat beside St. Lukes.
    Grow some brain dumb donkeys

    • AlzheimersC

      You’re dumb a-hole…where’s your target audience?

  • eight_log

    Manila ….. oooohhh yeah …. is a sweet music to the ears of everybody!!!! Kung high school grad ka … maraming malls ang pwede applyan, kung teacher ka …. maraming labor agencies ang pwede puntahan para mag work sa abroad, kung graduate ka ng criminology … napakaraming security agencies na pwede applyan, kung criminal ka …. wala ng ibang lugar na mahirap ka hanapin kung hindi Manila, kung pickpocket ka sa dinami ng tao at siksikan … siguradong hindi ka masizero sa magaraw sa kalsada, kung holdupper ka naman … napakarami ang nagbabandera ng mga gintong galing Saudi…. kung mahilig ka sa language …. lalo na body language … napakadali ng trabaho!!!!!!

    Para sa mga negosyante … sa dumi ng hangin … siguradong maglalaba at maliligo ang mga tao … sa init ng panahon siguradong iinum ng malamig na coke o beer sa harapan ng malakas na aircon o electric fan … sa lahat ng eto ay papalakpak ang P&G at Unilever …. sisipol si Pangilinan, ang mga AYALA, mga Aboitiz …. malakas ang sabon … tubig at kuryente!!!! Sa gitna ng kasiyahan ng mga maliliit na taong bayan …. wala sa lingid nila na binabayaran nila ang tax ng MERALCO … MAYNILAD at MANILA WATER!!!!!!!

    Napakayaman man o napakahirap … MANILA ANG CENTRO ng kung ano man!!!!! AND ONLY THE FITTEST SURVIVE in a place where the dog eats dog!!!!!!

    • AlzheimersC

      Correct! Sa probinsiya nandoon ang machete at araro na iniwan nila para sa mga pananim ng mga HACIENDA…

  • JosengSisiw1

    Our leaders knew for sure that the best the govt. can do is to invest in the infrastructures including roads, ports/airports etc.. in other parts of the Philippines, other than its big cities, and require all investments of labor intensive projects to be built in those localities. Just for the infrastructure projects alone, for sure will help to stop people flowing to the cities; how much more if the new factories started sprouting and hiring the labors? Why nobody’s doing it in the government? It’s because this kind of endeavors take a long time to achieve and will not be finished in one politician’s term, in short, no benefit for their politicking.

    • AlexanderAmproz

      Lying shamelessly, stealing, killings is more fun for them
      (Ampatuan’s, JPE, Cojuengco, Corona’s, Garcia’s, and all)

      To do it freely, they need starvations with dire poverty !

      • JosengSisiw1

        What are you talking about,,,weird?

  • Ef Roxas

    Sounds about right. The ironic thing is that we demolish informal settlements in the city and resettle them outside with the aim of developing the city. This action, be it sounds good and looks pretty actually magnifies the perception that there are better opportunities in the city and will again be a “pull” factor for those living in rural areas to migrate to the city, ending up as informal settlers. And the cycle goes on until we make better planning of our city and make serious investments on the countryside.

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