Let them lay their heads under a roof

(Pastoral Statement of Obispo Maximo Ephraim S. Fajutagana on Urban Poor’s Right to Shelter and #OccupyBulacan)

“The Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor.” (Psalm 140:12)

Decent housing is a human right. As such, the government must ensure that Filipinos are enjoying this safeguard to their dignity. The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) sees one ideal picture for all families, however disadvantaged: that they have a house that provides warmth, comfort, rest, privacy, security and the ability for aspiration; a home.

The government cannot approach extreme poverty, hunger and homelessness with complacency. It simply cannot expect the hardship as normal and commonplace. It should see the problem as its own, instead of the trouble of the struggling families alone. Solutions must be viewed not as an option but as an obligation.
The developments in Pandi, Bulacan, only highlight the ineffectiveness of the government. The thousands of members of the urban-poor group Kadamay (Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap) who occupied the idle National Housing Authority (NHA) units are the same people who have felt abandoned and victimized by the government. Among them are families that have lived on the streets, were removed from their homes, had been moving from one urban-poor community to another, and were promised decent relocation sites.

Some think the occupation of the abandoned, vacant housing units is anarchy, but we pray that those who’ve come to that conclusion may see the stories of passion that forced this act. The participants in this daring move are no more than people expressing their disdain in the government – for first-hand experiences. The only difference this time is that cameras are rolling; they simply cannot be shrugged off and neglected.

Truth be told, the houses in Pandi do not even offer the slightest dignity to residents. The formerly idle units are in the middle of nowhere and in poor shape, without electricity and access to potable water, further evidence of the incompetence of the government.

The IFI believes the government is responding to the problem wrongly. In retaking the houses from the urban poor, they will solve nothing of real significance. Authorities expect the families to go back to their miserly conditions, to the same feeling of betrayal that will most likely spawn unrest again. Instead, authorities must assist the dwellers in claiming what they deserve, both morally and legally.

As we hope for a peaceful and meaningful resolution to #OccupyBulacan, we also hope that the government is reminded to look into the lives of all Filipinos living in indignity. Measures must not be against the poor and vulnerable, but against the roots of the poverty, joblessness, hunger and homelessness. To a government that proclaims “change is coming,” we send the challenge of a response that is – for a change – responsible and proactive.

The IFI stands with the urban-poor families as they struggle for their right to a home. They have waited in vain for too long. Now, let a roof protect them from the ravages of day and night.

In service to God’s people,

The Most Revd Ephraim S. Fajutagana
Obispo Maximo
Iglesia Filipina Independiente
28 March 2017