QC-the former capital- is Manila’s most populous area, is home to Government offices, the Lower House of the National Congress, the National University, has large parcels of land (much in State ownership), an existing network of open space and has good transport linkages in almost all directions. As development sites go, QC ticks some significant boxes.
The Municipal Government report the population as 2.68 million, the National Urban Poor Coalition (NUPC) report that more than half of them reside as squatters in QC’s informal settlements or slums (1).
(in common with every city) has a magnetic attraction for the poor, drawn from surrounding regions by opportunities for low income jobs provided by the urban metropolis. The relationship is not one way; the metropolitan formal economy is heavily subsidized by the informal economy and the urban poor. Among the squatters in QC are carpenters, electricians, laundry women, beauticians, mechanics, street vendors, waste pickers, watch-your-car-boys, security guards, casual construction labourers and government employees (2). Manila
A precondition for any of the above to subsist in the city is access to urban land. Land forms the basis of all productive activities, and so much of what is law, convention and decorum assumes an access to private space. For many the shanty house or shack can represent the biggest investment they’ve ever made (3). Insecurity of tenure and the permanent threat of eviction is the supreme anxiety of the squatter.
Squatting land in QC however comes with some very unenviable feng shui. With inadequate access to sanitation or an effective means of solid waste disposal shanty towns create ideal conditions for water borne disease. Metro
is prone to flooding, with shanties often perfectly located to be the worst affected. In July 2000 a typhoon caused a collapse and ‘garbage slide’ at the Payatas landfill site in QC that destroyed 500 shacks and killed 1000 people (4). The combination of density, flammable dwelling materials and dependence on fires for heat and cooking create an ideal environment for the rapid spread of fire. Narrow lanes and ad hoc development then hamper the access of emergency vehicles. Earlier this year in April a fire originating from a power line (illegally tapping into the electricity supply is a risky yet common practice) rendered 15,000 people homeless in 7 hours (5). Manila also has a particularly nasty reputation for suspicious slum fires. Faced with the expense of court proceedings and the delays of an official demolition order, landlords can opt for the simplicity of arson. Sociologist Erhard Berner describes a method made infamous in Manila of chasing a ‘kerosene drenched burning live rat or cat-dogs die too fast-into an annoying settlement…The unlucky animal can set plenty of shanties aflame before it dies' (6). Manila
The QC CBD project’s relationship to the squatter community was always going to be contentious, which could be the reason why a full copy of the master plan has not been made public. A World Bank study into the project was however, within were recommendations to accommodate the existing community by constructing 485 ‘medium rise’ buildings. The study credited the project as ‘benefiting the National Housing Authority in achieving its mandate of providing housing for informal settlers and transforming a non performing asset into a model for urban renewal' (1). The medium rise option delivers in several ways; by avoiding displacement it is in the interests of urban spatial equality, security of tenure would come with squatters paying for their own dwellings through subsidized mortgage plans, access to proper sanitation and utilities would improve living conditions, and it allows residents to remain in proximity to their sources of income and their networks of social capital. Other options discussed in the WB study were land sharing options inside QC and the relocation of the community elsewhere with ‘fair compensation packages’.
The situation is a delicate balancing act; the urban poor have a need to remain in the city, development projects that stimulate growth and facilitate improved infrastructure need well located urban land. The project would be a welcomed boost and income generator for an economy that since gaining independence from the
US in 1946 has earned the label ‘the sick man of Asia’. Strings to the bow of Filipino economic headaches include large foreign debt, a low savings rate, inadequate infrastructure and poor agricultural performance. Add to the mix high rates of crime and corruption, pockets of communist rebels in rural areas, threats from muslim separatists movements, high rates of poverty and unemployment, frequent typhoons and drought, water and air pollution to an extent that it detracts from worker productivity (7) and one can empathize with the strong desire for economic development.
In May this year the NHA confirmed its preferred option by issuing the residents of Sito San Roque QC with a 30 day demolition order. The NUPC reported that residents were offered P1,000 ($US 23) five kilos of rice, two boxes of instant noodles and two boxes of canned sardines if they would agree to be relocated to Montalban, Rizal, 23 kms away (8) (note: an NHA spokesperson has been quoted as saying that residents were offered P6,000 - $US 138 (9)). The relocation site has been criticized as being without electricity, prone to flooding, located on a fault line and lacking opportunities to secure a productive livelihood (the NUPC also reported that commuting is not an option, as the costs of public transport from Montalban to QC are comparable to the daily earnings of most of the residents (1)).
In response to the order a section of the community barricaded their settlement. On Sept 23rd a team of 400 police and 50 Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) workers clashed with local residents. Batons and a water cannon were used to dispel rock throwing squatters. The conflict spilled onto local arterial Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue halting traffic for several hours. 11 people including 5 members of the police were reportedly injured (see video HERE). Following the conflict a regional judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order on the MMDA, barring their workers from entering the community. The General Manager of the NHA has indicated that the once the Restraining Order is lifted the ‘voluntary relocation’ is intended to continue (10).
The situation is a delicate one, but the reality is that regardless if it is populated willingly or not, the resettlement will fail if its residents are not able to secure a livelihood in the new location. History has shown that squatters return to where there is a means to survive, and return in a worse condition than before. If the QC CBD is going to be a socially sustainable ‘model for urban development’ and not a destabilizing influence on Manila and a further kick in the teeth to a disadvantaged group, a greater recognition of the urban poor as legitimate stakeholders is needed.
Kerwin Datu puts it well;
“Residents move all the time, from rural to urban, district to district, city to city, towards brighter opportunities. And they aren't stupid. If a development project truly benefits the poor, the poor will see the sense in it and move themselves.
This doesn't mean convincing them that the project is 'good for the city' and that they should 'move out of the way'. Such a project is just reinforcing a policy bias towards wealthier segments of the population. The project must benefit the residents themselves directly. Governments must prove to residents that they are being offered a brighter future, and watch them sign up to the vision unprompted. Good planners do this as routine, so do good mayors" (11).
3: Erhard Berner ‘International Model of Urban & Regional Research, Poverty Allevation and the Eviction of the Poorest: Towards Urban Land Reform in the Phillipines’
11: Kerwin Datu 16.9.2010 ‘From Egalitarianism to Urbanism: notes on a moral philosophy of urban commentary’