Philippines Is Top Housing Rights Violator

Jan. 02, 2007

Poverty, hunger, violent demolitions, and lack of social services and basic utilities continue to plague the urban poor. And things are getting worse. In fact, the Philippines was adjudged by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction (COHRE) as one of three recipients, together with Nigeria and Greece, of the Housing Rights Violator Award for their systematic violation of housing rights and continued failure to abide by their international legal obligations.


TONDO, Manila Watch your step when you go to Baseco, one of seven barangays in this municipality. Its 18 kms. of sand and seashells in what used to be a shipyard off the shores of Manila Bay is probably the worlds biggest toilet.

When Bulatlat visited this community early afternoon of Dec. 21, five little boys and girls squatted on the sand to defecate. As night falls, residents here say, teenagers and the elderly do the same. Pag dilim nakapila na kami dyan, (At night, we are lined up there), an elderly man said pointing to the shore.

The place was named after the Bataan Shipping Corp. (Baseco), the company that used to operate here. It is now home to about 70,000 urban poor dwellers, one of the biggest slums in the country. The government used garbage from the Smokey Mountain dump site to reclaim the area in 2000.

The people live in shanties made of old tolda (plastic sheet) and bamboo poles. The luckier ones made use of wood scraps brought by the waves during high tide. And, needless to say, not a single home has a toilet.

Residents pay for bathing and drinking water at P12 ($0.24 at an exchange rate of $1=P49.195) per container. The price goes up to P15 ($0.30) per container during summer. “Pag walang pambili ng tubig, sa balon na lang kami kumukuha ng pang-inom, sa dagat na lang maliligo” (If we have no money to buy water, we get drinking water from the open well and bathe in the sea), says Gregorio Apiag, 52. Bulatlat chanced upon him as he was scavenging for plastic bottles and tin cans along the shore.


Baseco has been Apiags home since 1984 when he left his native town in Digos, Davao del Sur to look for a better life in Manila. He was a former security guard but lost his job in 1998 after an accident that crippled his left leg. He sold whatever he was able to gather at P50 ($1.01) per kilo in a nearby junkshop. “Pag sinuwerte dalawang beses ako kakain sa isang araw,” (When Im lucky I could eat twice a day) he said as he excused himself to get back to work.

Mary Dano, 44, came from the island province of Bohol in Central Visayas. She and her husband, Alec, traveled to Manila in 2000 to look for their son who left home to look for a job in the city. She ended up as a housemaid but lost her job after three months due to myoma.

Alec, meanwhile, was a former construction worker but also lost his job in 2004 when he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Minsan hindi na kami kumakain sa isang araw, (Sometimes, we dont eat for one whole day), Mary said. But she managed to smile when she related that she finally got in touch with her son. She said he gives her a hundred pesos every time he visits.

One of the original dwellers in this area, Reynaldo Sena, 53, has been a fisherman since 1985. He said he earns P35-P50 a day, Pero hindi araw-araw (But not everyday.) His family of five manages to eat thrice a day, pero minsan walang ulam, (But sometimes without viand) he says.

A plastic bag gatherer, Hilario Ciollera, 40, has seven children, four of whom go to school. He gathers plastic bags from nearby Divisoria market and cleans them in the sea. He sells these at P20 ($0.40) a kilo and earns at least P200 ($4.06) a day. His earnings are just enough to feed his family twice a day.

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