Representatives of homeless families who occupied thousands of vacant government-built homes for over a month delivered a firm “wake-up call” to the Philippine Senate Tuesday, telling officials that the wretched social conditions and government neglect forced them to act.
Now, the group is demanding jobs and free mass housing — or they'll have no choice but to continue their campaign of redistributing idle homes to the needy.
“They said those who occupied the Bulacan houses were lazy,” Kadamay chairperson Gloria Arellano told the Senate panel Tuesday. “No, we're not! We work hard. We find ways to live.”
“If only we had a regular job and sufficient pay, we would not live in a far-flung area — we would just rent an apartment or a condominium unit.”
Urban poor alliance Kadamay shook the Philippines after 18,000 people — street vendors, children, jeepney drivers, scavengers and the elderly — occupied 6,000 abandoned homes in Bulacan province, rejecting threats by President Rodrigo Duterte to forcefully evict them. The move earned the organization widespread loathing from right-wing and conservative figures who accused them of stirring up “anarchy” while blaming the poor for being free-loading, greedy thieves.
“Poor people demand jobs, not because we are greedy and houses haven’t satisfied our greed, but because these are fundamental rights and the situation of extreme poverty demands it,” Kadamay information officer Michael Beltran told teleSUR. “The poor aren’t lazy yet the public has been hypnotized into thinking social services and social justice should always be paid for and shouldered by the poor and the people”
“Free mass housing is possible,” he added. “Free, especially for the poorest, because it is a fundamental right, and mass, because it should cater to all poor Filipinos without a home.”
The Kadamay occupation has highlighted a dire situation on the archipelago, where occupancy rates for government housing projects hover at a pathetic 13.82 percent while the housing backlog stands at 5.56 million people.
Advocates have complained that so-called “socialized housing” resembles a private racket benefiting land developers and private corporations, who enjoy large tax breaks. Once the homes are built, poor people in the region — who are lucky to receive a minimum wage is US$7 per day, or any wage at all — are made to pay exorbitant fees for rent, as well as utility and travel costs.
About half of the homes lack potable water and electricity. Last year, three-year-old Justine Billiones died after drinking tap water at a Bulacan project.
“Only the poor could stomach living in houses built by the National Housing Authority,” Arellano told the Senate panel, noting that it is better than sleeping outdoors. “They are so small and dilapidated, for you (politicians) these houses probably look like shelters for your dogs.”
“If people should get mad, they should get mad at stupid government officials,” she continued.
During the hearing, officials admitting that they fully knew of the thousands of idle homes, all but confessing their criminal negligence.
“The Occupy Bulacan incident has alarmed the government to resolve the crisis of lack of decent housing units,” said Senator Joseph Ejercito, chair of the Senate Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement. “This is our wake-up call,” he added.
Despite this recognition, Kadamay members continue their struggle to improve conditions for poor people across the country as well as in their newly-won community. They are constructing daycare centers, securing food supplies for residents and repairing the dilapidated homes. The group has even recruited architects to address structural concerns at the cheaply built homes.
For social movements, students, workers and fellow poor people across the country, Kadamay continues to serve as a living example of the potential of mass struggle and collective power.
“Kadamay's collective action in claiming their rights does not subtract from any individual values of hard work and perseverance,” national youth group Anakbayan said last Wednesday on the occasion of the Lenten season. “If anything, it underscores how these values mean nothing when laws and systems are inherently anti-people.”
“(Kadamay's action) emphasizes the victory of the marginalized group and enables others to dream, to plan, and to create their own victories … Let that occupy our prayers, imagination and future endeavors.”