The reflection below is written by Alex Zerna. Alex is working towards a degree in International Community Development with particular interest is in housing demolitions happening in urban poor centers in the Philippines. His one-month internship program was facilitated by the NCCP through the Program Unit on Faith, Witness and Service.
It feels like my time here at the NCCP has gone so fast and I have experienced so much in such a short amount of time. I feel like my internship has offered me a wide range of experiences aimed at giving me a holistic perspective of the Philippine national situation. In this regard I am grateful but I am also very overwhelmed to learn the complexities of Filipino society.
I came here with the goal to learn more about housing demolitions amongst the urban poor in Manila, now that I am leaving I feel like I have achieved this and much more.
Upon arrival here I was given an overview of the national situation from a human rights and economic perspective. I was exposed to all of the quantative data that I am sure most of you are familiar with. I learned the numbers of Extra Judicial Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Illegal arrests and Cases of torture perpetrated by the military.
I learned figures of the minimum daily wage, the nominal daily wage and the wage needed to adequately survive in Metro Manila. I learned of the shallow economic growth reflective of the Rich Business sector but not the majority of Poor Filipinos.
I learned of Public-Private Partnerships, Conditional Cash Transfers and the Urban Development and Housing Act. All of the programs which fail to develop the real wealth of the nation, the Filipino people.
As much as this data is useful to me, I feel that my real learning experience began when I commenced my exposure amongst urban poor communities. Smokey Mountain, Payatas, San Roque, Corazon de Jesus, the Floating community and Silverio Compound in Paranaque. Talking to community leaders about their lives and struggles are the experiences that I will never forget. This is how I learned the real effect of a system built on oppression and inequality.
I learned that the people’s struggle against demolitions resulted in the Murder of Marilou in Smokey Mountain. I learned in Payatas how private business capitalizes on the plight of the scavengers, charging worker fees. In San Roque I learned of the displacing effect of Private land developer, Ayala, on the Urban poor. And In Silverio I learned from dialogue with Ate Leni that on April 23rd, 2011, a demolition caused the death of her brother, 20-year-old Arnel Leonor. It is through these impassioned and emotional dialogues that I was able to gauge the reality of the Filipino people.
More than experiencing the communities which had been demolished, I was lucky enough to visit a relocation site, the Government solution to evicted Urban poor families. My visit to the Montalban relocation site was a very emotional experience for me because I saw the grave imperfection of the government’s plan for the people. Let me share a piece that I wrote when I was there:
‘FROM A DANGER ZONE TO A DEATH ZONE’
Depressed is the relocation site in Montalban.
I can almost smell the injustice.
Empty streets and empty houses,
But just this morning I witnessed Manila’s busy traffic.
That is where these people go daily to eke out a living
Built on the stolen land of the rice farmers,
Who now join the masses of struggling unemployed and Informal workers.
Painful in every way, the developers even seek to profit from the poor.
Marked up electricity and water prices and defective houses built at minimal cost.
Will they stand the next monsoon?
Now I see why they move back to the grime and squalor of Metro Manila.
To stand against demolition may mean imprisonment or even death,
But being cast into this purgatory is just a long and torturous equivalent.
Despite learning of the harsh realities of the Filipino people, I have been blessed to work with the organisations that advocate for human rights, mobilize for justice and facilitate community groups, to whom good organisation means everything.
Upon my return to Australia I hope to use my experiences to create awareness of the Situation of the poor in the Philippines. I have been motivated by everyone I have worked with here and would like to say thank you to everyone who has shared their time with me.