Our own migrants
I am in a land of endless row houses when the heavy rain comes down. I can almost touch the dark clouds. There is thunder, and then a silence. Typhoon “Falcon” is due in the Philippine area of responsibility. I am with my Urban Poor Associates team, conducting a survey of resettlement sites in Cavite.
I have just met Jenie, a mother of four. She and her family lived in Don Carlos, Pasay City, before they were moved to Sunshine Ville 1, Barangay Cabuco, Trece Martires, Cavite. Her family is one of thousands displaced by the government project “Oplan Likas,” under which informal settlers along waterways are relocated to distant sites.
Jenie has one of the saddest faces I have encountered in my years of working with the urban poor. She is wearing a loose pale orange shirt and shorts. She is so thin and I can’t believe she has four children. Her skin is dark and wrinkled from the hot sun. She looks more like 50 than her real age of 23. I am older by six years, but my life seems so full of comfort compared to hers.
She was only 16 when she got pregnant by Allan, her 30-year-old husband. He drove a pedicab in their old neighborhood and earned P300 daily. She says her life was easy and comfortable in those days in Pasay because she could give her children a complete meal thrice a day and, if they were lucky, her sister-in-law, Mana Salve, who owned a small carinderia, would give them merienda. The family had Allan’s relatives as neighbors, who were all employed or had small businesses in Baclaran.
After five years of marriage, Allan contracted a kidney ailment. In 2012, he and Jenie decided to move to Bicol in the hope that, with the fresh air and a new environment, he would get better. But his condition worsened to the point that he needed to undergo dialysis. They went back to Manila for medical treatment. In 2014, they were told that their house would be demolished and they would be relocated to Cavite.
All of Jenie’s in-laws agreed to be transferred despite their uncertain future. They were afraid to resist, having seen or observed violent scenes of demolition on TV and in the nearby areas, where poor families like themselves fought for their homes.
It is now eight months later. Jenie now owns a house with a toilet on a 40-square-meter lot in Block 63, Sunshine Ville. She rejoiced at owning the house and vowed that she would try her best to keep it for her children. It is bare but for a few monobloc chairs and a small cushion where her children play.
Sunshine Ville will eventually house 5,000 families from different parts of Metro Manila.
The roof of Jenie’s house has five holes; when it rains, it also rains inside the house. So for our interview we go to Mana Salve’s house which is just one door away. Five other women join us, along with Mana Salve and her pregnant daughter.
I ask Jenie how she makes a living especially now that her husband is confined to bed. She says that she repacks sacks of charcoal and sells these for P10 each. She can make 33 packs in a day if there are no interruptions, but she also does all the work in the house; thus, she is lucky to make half that number in a day.
Jenie is very proud of what she does to feed her family. She wipes her tears, and I ask her why she is weeping. Her reply breaks my heart: I try hard to make more packs of charcoal but all I can afford to feed my children is one pack of instant noodles or a fish cube boiled in plenty of water.
At this point, we hear her year-old child crying. Maybe the baby girl feels her mother’s pain. Jenie rushes to get the child from her son. The son, her eldest child, is the only one studying. She cannot yet afford to send her 5-year-old twins to school. Most of the time, the son has to miss classes because he has not eaten and has no strength to walk the two kilometers to the school. She cannot afford P20 for the tricycle ride.
Like Jenie, her children are thin and their clothes are too big for them. I can tell that they lack nutrition and may also be sick. I can see that they are hungry. Mana Salve has no carinderia anymore. She tried to put up a kiosk for fish balls and kwek-kwek (battered egg, deep-fried) but eventually fell into debt. Most of her clients in Sunshine Ville were used to “paying later”—that is, when their husbands or children send money from Manila. They received money from Manila regularly in the first few months of their relocation, but the “allowances” eventually stopped coming.
Jenie begins to breastfeed her crying baby. She looks at me and says she is lucky that she still has milk to feed the child. I remember a passage in “Introducing Liberation Theology” by Leonardo and Clodovis Boff: A bishop saw a very thin mother who was not feeding her child. When he asked the mother why she did not give the baby milk, she bared her breast and he saw that it was covered with blood. She had done all she could.
Part of our conduct of the survey is to ask the relocated women where they seek medical care. Jenie’s husband Allan needs dialysis twice a week. It costs them P2,800, plus P1,180 for medicine. Allan’s doctor is in San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay. He is given special assistance as an indigent patient, so regularly his relatives take him there for his dialysis.
Sunshine Ville is 52 kilometers away from Manila. The family needs P400 to take Allan to the hospital and back.
Four of Allan’s siblings have also been relocated to Sunshine Ville. All of them received the financial assistance of P18,000 from Oplan Likas. The siblings used this money to pay for Allan’s medication. But according to Mana Salve, they may no longer be able to continue helping Allan because all of them are starting a new life in Cavite.
Jenie says they never experienced this much suffering when they were living in Pasay. Their house was vulnerable to the elements, but they had light and water. In Sunshine Ville, the family’s light and water supply has been disconnected since March because she cannot afford to pay the generator fee and water fee that average P400 per month.
Before I take my leave, Jenie asks if I can request the Department of Social Welfare and Development to continue her monthly cash grant from the 4Ps (or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) at Sunshine Ville. She has not received the subsidy since the family was relocated. The 4Ps helped her family in many ways, Jenie says. “I just hope I can have it back. As much as I want to go to DSWD-Pasay, I cannot afford the transportation. If I have money, I will spend it all on food.”
The relocated families are one in saying that they love their new homes and will hold on to these as long as they can. But when they are pushed to their limits, they say, they may eventually return to Pasay.
Princess A. Esponilla, 29, is a media advocacy officer of Urban Poor Associates, an NGO that works for the poor’s housing rights.
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