During the last campaign, I volunteered to help out in the campaign of Vice President Leni Robredo by dedicating several days to go to different urban poor communities and relocation sites in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces. As the election results in the very tight Vice Presidential race have shown, every vote counts. Two of the areas that I visited that left a mark were Gaya-Gaya and Muzon, two relocation sites in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan. Many of the residents here were informal settlers from various areas in Metro Manila. They were transferred to these mass housing sites with the promise that our government will provide them with access to basic necessities that they needed such as water and electricity. Sadly, those promises never happened.
No trust left for politicians
I vividly remember that fateful morning where I was talking to more than 100 residents in Gaya Gaya and during my short campaign pitch for both Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo, I could clearly see that many of them were not interested in what I was saying. Right after my talk, one of their leaders raised her hand and immediately told me that so many politicians have gone to them and asked for their vote but right after the elections, they never heard from those politicians again. They cited examples of local and national leaders who came to them during election season but turned them away when they sought their help after the elections. Another one raised his hand and said, why will they even trust politicians again when it is these same politicians that have made their life a living hell. I told them I was not a politician but if my candidates won, I assured them that I would personally help bring their problems to Roxas and Robredo so that they will be made aware of the issues that continue to plague relocation sites all over the country. I assured them that unlike the politician that they met before, our words were not empty and that we will do our own small share to bring concrete change to their lives.
P 70 for a drum of water
It was also during this dialogue with them that I realized how enormous their problems are. One major issue is access to water. During the time that I met them, they were paying P70 per drum of water that is about 5 times the amount that we pay our water service provider (Maynilad or Manila Water) here in Metro Manila. Another issue is the lack of employment opportunities in the area since they live quite far from commercial or industrial areas.
One of them said, “Mas mabuti pa noong squatter kami sa Quezon City, kahit maliit ang bahay namin, hindi naman kami nagugutom pero ngayon may bahay at lupa nga kami pero parati naman kaming gutom.” Many lamented that for them to be able to resume working in Metro Manila, they would have to pay P250 worth of transportation fare everyday. That would leave them with only P200 to spend for the day-to-day needs of their family. This is the reason why many children in the area are malnourished and their growth are stunted since many of their nutritional needs are not met by their families.
Making Good Governance work for the poor
Right after the elections, our organization, Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership (KN) through the support of Urban Poor Associates, decided to fulfill our promise to them albeit in our own small way. We partnered with volunteer doctors and generous donors to run a medical mission in these relocation sites. For many of them, it was their first time to be seen and checked by a doctor. Sadly, there was one case of a man in the area who initially had a simple toothache but because this was left untreated for months, the infection spread and this led to his being paralyzed. Another program that we are going to run this month is an education program for children in Gaya Gaya. The aim is to be able to help increase their reading and literacy skills while also teaching them proper Filipino values.
There is still so much that needs to be done but as they say, every big change starts with small steps. Hopefully, these small steps will lead to the transformation of these communities and in the end, will show our fellow Filipinos that not all our political leaders live on empty promises.
Kaya Natin! is currently looking for volunteers and donors to help in our programs and projects in these relocation sites. If you would like to help, please contact Bea Carag at (02) 256-1446 or send an email to [email protected]
Comments are welcome at [email protected]
Harvey S. Keh is the Executive Director of the Acts of Hope for the Nation (AHON) Foundation.