Many of us lie awake these nights listening to the rain race across the city, wave after wave. We may be grateful for the dry homes we have. We may feel the hostility of the wind and rain and think of the poor people trying to get through the night in kariton hauled up on the sidewalks, or the people sleeping in doorways, allowed to do so by the security guards out of simple compassion, or the people in the shanties of the slums where mothers gather the children as close to them as possible to keep them dry and comforted.
We may think of the “Yolanda” survivors’ tents that leak whenever it rains, and we can sense the people’s fear that another typhoon is upon them. After some time we may realize very well that as a people, we haven’t done nearly enough for our poor brothers and sisters and their children. We can do much better.
Each city is supposed to acquire land and provide housing for its own landless poor. No city does enough. The national government is supposed to support the local initiatives with advice, funds and models. Despite the efforts of many good people, not nearly enough is done at the national level either. The country’s war on poverty is in a trough. Little happens that is very good or very bad. We hear a monotonous “no” from the government when working people, including teachers, ask for a salary raise. Land reform ends this month—unmourned, it seems. It ends “not with a bang but a whimper,” to use T.S. Eliot’s words. There is little movement in any direction. It may take a presidential election to wake us up.
It all comes down to the President to get something going. It is his team. Can he do something to renew hope in the poor that concrete good things will happen to them? What actions can he take that will kick-start meaningful development and recapture the trust in him that the poor had at the beginning of his term of office? I suggest that he proclaim land for the poor in four areas of Metro Manila. Others may have other suggestions.
Last June 7, 5,000 people led by Bella dela Rosa, Marlon Querante, Lito Tejada and Rowena Nevado walked 10 kilometers around the Manggahan Floodway to air their desire for a proclamation that would give them land tenure security and banish the sword of eviction that has dangled over them since the floodway was constructed in the 1970s. There are 40,000 families living on its banks.
Nearby in Lupang Arenda, some 63,000 families also want a proclamation. Arenda has grown almost unnoticed to the size of Cagayan de Oro or Dagupan. In Slip Zero, Tondo, a group of strong women has led 200 families on a 15-year search for a proclamation, and in Isla Puting Bato, 1,000 families want a chance at a new life.
Proclamations offer a new life, in that the poor get to own a piece of land that they develop with their neighbors into permanent, attractive and truly democratic villages. Proclamations don’t cost the government any outlay of cash, and they are very popular. They can be issued within a month.
The President has only one small proclamation to his credit. Why should we think he will proclaim land for half a million people in the four areas? First, he may have begun to listen to the criticism of his economy, coming from persons like Pope Francis. Rarely has a pope spoken so sharply on any subject as Francis has on the evils of economies like ours. Maybe the President, through his trips around the country, has seen that things are far from well and adjustments have to be made on his plans.
To proclaim the areas just mentioned will give many families a kick-start toward decent urban living, but, equally important, the proclamations will hopefully kick-start the administration toward a more direct service to the poor that will complement the many moves of assistance that the President has made for well-off business people.
A certain disenchantment has set in between the poor and the President. They like him and admire him for his honesty, peace-keeping and firm foreign policy, but he has become a remote figure. When was the last time he visited an urban poor area, or a rural barrio, or a fishing or tribal village, or a factory, to talk to the people? Such symbolic visits and conversations are important. How will the President know the people’s problems and their sorrows unless he listens to them? How will they know that he is aware of their problems and sincerely cares what happens to them?
Maybe the President will see the value of direct action and visit Negros one day with soldiers to arrest the hacenderos who use the law and violence to frustrate land reform. Maybe, he’ll go to Tacloban and see the poor families in tents that leak when it rains and turn into ovens when the sun is out, and he’ll take charge of the hunt for land for relocation. Maybe, people hope, he will realize he has done more than enough for the rich and powerful and must turn his attention to his poor brothers and sisters.
Such presidential action may invigorate the government and send a surge of energy through the ranks and bring back among the poor some of the hope they had in the early days of his administration.
Proclaim Manggahan, Arenda, Slip Zero and Isla Puting Bato, Mr. President.
We must work while we have the light, Jesus told us, “for the night comes when no man works” (John 9:4).
The end of his presidency and his great chance to help is drawing rapidly to an end.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates ([email protected]).
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