Pope Francis Housing Project | Inquirer Opinion

Pope Francis Housing Project

OVER THE last 50 years the national government has created a web of relocation camps in Metro Manila that resemble in some ways the Siberian gulags of the Soviet empire. They formed the Gulag Archipelago of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. They were prison camps where the Soviets sent their political opponents, criminals and anyone they didn’t like. Hundreds of thousands died from the bitter cold, lack of food and medical care, endless hard work and loss of hope.

Our camps in the metropolis are obviously not as inhuman as the gulags, but they still are a very harsh way to deal with poor people (there are no rich people in the camps). It seems that in some ways the situation in these camps is getting worse. I listened recently to people living in the relocation areas in Montalban: They complained of hunger, violence, including regular killings, an upsurge in drugs, absence of jobs, high transportation costs and often a lack of water, light and sanitation.

The government is planning to relocate 14,000 urban poor families in Tacloban who lost their homes to Supertyphoon “Yolanda” to the far north of the city, where there are, unfortunately, no jobs. There are alternatives to such a relocation. The Pope Francis Housing Project is an example of in-city relocation that is one of those alternatives. (The full name is “Pope Francis and the Poor of Tacloban Housing Project.”)


Poor families need in-city relocation because it allows every member of the family to do his or her share in accumulating a decent family income. Very few urban poor wage-earners earn more than the minimum wage, which in Manila would be about P12,500 per month, and in Tacloban about P6,500 per month. This is not enough: A barely sufficient family income in Tacloban is P13,000 (Leyte-Samar Daily Express, 3/14/15), and in Manila, P18,000 to P20,000. One salary in an urban poor family is not enough; there must be other members of the family working, which is possible in our slums and in in-city relocation sites. There are no jobs for women and children in distant relocation sites. There is nothing of value in a distant relocation site to scavenge, and nobody can afford massages or pedicures.


The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the Archdiocese of Palo, Leyte, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the National Secretariat for Social Action and our group, Urban Poor Associates, searched for land for months. We were told there was no land in the city, but we found it with the help of Redemptorist Fr. Edwin Bacaltos. It is just a P7 ride to the central city.

There are 12 hectares, but the area is not entirely buildable. We plan to house 600-700 families and to set aside enough land to allow the people to farm, raise animals, plant fruit trees and do small-scale manufacturing. Our goal is to have, in a few years, family incomes at the P13,000 mark that can provide basic needs and comfort (P6,500 a month from the worker who has a job in the city and an equal amount from the wife and children in the housing project).

We have just finished a three-day workshop where the people listened to experts talk about housing possibilities and made their own suggestions about the housing they wanted. We will do the same soon with the livelihood aspect. Experts will provide the people with tips, cautionary notes and scientific data about farming and animal-raising, and then the people can choose what crops they want to grow, what animals they want to raise and what small manufacturing they can undertake. We hope to build and plant, etc. in the way the people want.

If the Pope Francis Housing Project prospers, full of children playing and old people sitting around in the evenings with a glass of wine (Isaiah 62:9), and the economy of the project is good, then the government will be likely to offer such a solution to other poor people about to be relocated. Indeed, the poor should have a choice on where they are relocated. It is too serious a matter for a family to leave to government officials.

We ask the people in the project to imitate the mercy and compassion of Pope Francis to the poorer families living around the project. We hope they will share what they have in resources and skills with the people who have less.

The families who will enter the site when it is ready have had at least a year’s experience in community organizing. This process has trained them to make their own analysis of their problems, and decide on their own solutions. They should not accept any other analysis or solution. They should choose their own tactics. They are people who know from experience that in unity there is strength, and that it is only by working cooperatively that the poor can improve their lives.


Architect Albert Zambrano, the head architect in the design of the housing project, will build a special chapel that will express what the project means to the people who are themselves back from the near-death caused by Yolanda.

No more hungry children, no forgotten old people going door to door at night in the city streets asking for food, no children out of school with their talents and love of beauty lost forever, no one unemployed, no more gulags. All religions are welcome.

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Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates ([email protected]).

TAGS: news, Pope Francis, Religion, world

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