They started heading home at about 4:30 in the afternoon.
Dressed in an oversized white t-shirt with the face of a politician in it, ten-year-old Mary Jane started her 30-minute journey in the rock-strewn road. Beside her, her five-year-old brother RJ was dressed in a faded blue T-shirt with its sleeves cut off.
The siblings pushed a cart carrying about 25 family-sized soft drink bottles, which were filled with water they fetched from the nearest drinking reservoir. RJ placed in the cart an old tire he picked up along the way; it may serve as his toy for the next few days.
They are Jack and Jill who went up the hill to fetch water.
After 30 minutes of walking and pushing, they finally reached their destination—a compound of about 150 nipa huts with patched roofs.
INTO THE MOVER’S LAIR
“Diyan pigasalabod ang mga iskwater,” the tricycle driver told us as we reached the end of the concrete road.
Located in San Isidro Village, Virac, Catanduanes, the area can be reached through a 15-minute tricycle ride and another 30 minutes of walking. This place is the new home of the informal settlers that resided near the DPWH Building in the same village.
In an interview with the CSU Statesman, Engr. Samuel Laynes, one of the developers of the area, said that the relocation started early last year. The residents were relocated because the land they occupied will now be used by the real owner. The relocation area is owned by the same proprietor and was given to the informal settlers.
“Ngunyan, igwa pa ngani nin nahubon dun. Isi mo baga ang mga tawo, mga pilosopo man. Gusto ninda file-an pa nin kaso nganing maghalari,” Engr. Laynes further revealed.
According to a resident, Mang Mario (not his real name), he and his family lived in their former home for 16 years, and there are even others who lived there for more than 20 years.
“Baga sana kami mga basurang sinalabod uya,” he said in agreement with the tricycle driver’s account.
EVIDENCE OF THINGS UNSEEN
When they were told to vacate the lots they occupied, the residents said that they did not protest because they fully understood that they were not the owners of the land. No violent demolition and protest happened because they cooperated well with the authorities.
“Dai man kami nin naginibo ta bako mi man ang daga na naistaran,” Mang Mario stressed.
During the negotiations about the resettlement, the residents said that they were promised concrete homes shortly after the relocation.
However, after a year, there is still no sign that their houses will be concrete soon. They still live in these small, wobbly nipa huts with a built-in shower; when it rains, it also rains inside the house. That the province has not been hit directly by a typhoon in the last couple of years is not a small comfort to the displaced.
“Pag nagbagyo, gabos kami magakagaladan uya. Mayad ngani ta dai pang gaabot. Pero dai maawat mabagyo an ta mabagyo an. Asa Catanduanes baga kita,” Mang Mario remarked.
Engr. Laynes revealed that the Department of Social Welfare and Development will take over the concreting, but this may not materialize until next year. The reason for the delay is that the DSWD shall first conduct a populace validation of the squatters.
“Piga-validate pa muna ang mga squatter. Minsan pano, pag pigarelocate na alog kaan, igwang gasingit na bako man talagang squatter,” Engr. Laynes stated.
Moreover, they were also promised that Certificates of Ownership will be given to them as proof that they already own these lots. For now, this guarantee is just that—a promise.
When asked about this matter, Engr. Laynes replied with a single word, “Eventually.”
PLUNGED IN DROUGHT
According to Article V, Section 21 of Republic Act No. 7279, otherwise known as Urban Development and Housing Act, “Socialized Housing or Resettlement areas shall be provided by the Local Government Unit or the National Housing Authority in cooperation with the private developers and concerned agencies with the following basic service and facilities: (a) Potable water; (b) Power and electricity and an adequate power distribution system; (c) Sewerage facilities and an efficient and adequate solid waste disposal system; and (d) Access to primary roads and transportation facilities.
The provision of other basic services and facilities such as health, education, communication, security, recreation, relief, and welfare shall be planned and be given priority for implementation by the local government unit and concerned agencies in cooperation with the beneficiaries themselves.”
Contrary to the law’s provision on basic facilities, potable water is very scarce in this area. Some residents resort to buying purified water, which empties their almost-empty pockets. Others who can’t afford to buy water, like Mary Jane and RJ, have to endure long walks just to get drinking water.
The developers have provided two deep wells, which are supposed to be the displaced settlers’ source of drinking water. However, the water coming out of these deep wells, as proven by the cholera outbreak that struck the residents during their early months in the area, is not safe to drink.
“Gabos kami, sarong pamilya tinamaan. Mga aki ko, mga mako-apo ko, muntik muntikan nang magkagaladan dahil sa tubig dyan,” Mang Mario recalled when asked about the incident. “Dai man lamang pati nagtuwang ang gobyerno sa pagpaospital. Kung nabawasan kami, idemanda ko talaga sila.”
In another obvious breach of the Housing Act, the LGU that should have aided them during the calamity were inactive and inattentive.
Engr. Laynes, on the other hand, believed that the residents had the capacity to act on their own. “Simple lang. Magibo ka ning filter. Maski sa plastic na container, butangan mong mga baybay o mga bato, filter na an. Bakong iyo?”
Another provision of RA 7279 is adequate sewerage facilities, which includes drainages, comfort rooms, and bathrooms.
But there are only eight public comfort rooms and eight public bathrooms in the area available to about 50 families. This means that almost seven families have to share for every comfort room or bathroom. Moreover, the size of each individual room is only about one square meter. A big person could hardly fit in it.
Before going to school, children must wake up before 5:00 in the morning to be able to take a bath. Getting up later than that is synonymous to going to school without bathing or getting late for school or not going to school at all.
The same thing happens to adults who have to go to work.
When someone immediately needs to use the toilet but all the toilets are occupied, he may just relieve himself in inappropriate places, such as the grassy spots in the area. If this situation always occurs to the residents, this deed may become a habit. This practice may wither proper waste management and take its toll on the residents as they endure worse than the pungent odor.
FONT OF PENNY
Article V, Section 22 of RA 7279 states that “Socialized housing and resettlement projects shall be located near areas where employment opportunities are accessible. The government agencies dealing with the development of livelihood programs and grant of livelihood loans shall give priority to the beneficiaries of the program.”
Alas, due to the location of the area, employment opportunities are almost inaccessible. At the least, one has to pay 30 pesos tricycle fare to go to work and another 30 pesos to go home, which totals into 60 pesos per day just for the fare. Considering the level of their incomes, this amount is a huge deduction from their supposed budget per day.
“Kadaklan, nangalakal ng bote buda dyaryo. Su iba man mga construction worker buda tricycle driver. Igwa man uya ng gakapilang gatrabaho man sa munisipyo,” Mang Mario said when asked about the settlers’ most common occupations.
“Dapat kutana pati, su mga babayi, maski asa halong lang habang gabantay lamang ning mga aki, igwa man kutana ng yapagkakitaan,” another resident said. “Kaso dai lamang talaga nin nakaabot na livelihood program uya.”
REVIVING THE PINOY HERITAGE
Against all these odds, the settlers’ comfort lies in their strong sense of community. In the slums, the bayanihan spirit is still very much alive and kicking.
In times of emergencies, such as when someone has to be brought in the hospital immediately, tricycle owners willingly offer their services even if it is in the middle of the night, sometimes for free.
These tricycle owners are also the ones who take the children to their schools for a discounted fare of 20 pesos.
Residents also say that fights are very uncommon among them.
“Kami kami na sana ngani, mailiwal pa,” One resident said.
Every afternoon, children are seen playing in the streets. This is entirely different from most children born from well-to-do families who spend their days alone in their rooms to play computer games.
At the core, we remain Filipinos as in the old days.
THE LONG WAY HOME
On our way home, we came across Mary Jane and RJ again.
RJ was playing with four other boys about his age. Their attention was focused to the old tire he found earlier.
Mary Jane, on the other hand, was just sitting nearby, staring blankly at her brother. At her young age, she may already know how life can be cruel sometimes. Will they be able to finish high school? Will they even finish elementary? God knows the only certain thing is the uncertainty of their future.
Jack may fall down and break his crown. Jill may need to tumble after.