Tuesday, May 16, 2006

After the Clearing

“Ang ganda pala ng Manila,” sabi ni Kuya.

Where there had been a tenement of shanties stretching as far as the railroad tracks, there was only a wasteland of rubble; remnants of demolished houses, an occasional bright patch of paint along a wall.

Months ago, hundreds of families living here were sent packing to make way for Vice President (and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council Chairman) Noli de Castro’s ambitious multimillion peso railway rehabilitation.

The annals of the city’s history are filled with chapters like this: the struggle between the right to food, decent work, and shelter and urban planning, growth and development.

Migration continues, from the province, to the cities, to outside the country, because people dream of a better life and more opportunities

What a shock it must be for them, arriving in Manila with a few pesos in their pockets, staring in dismay because the dismal grey city before them is not the golden land of opportunity they though it was.

There are men who climb to the tops of bridges because the MMDA confiscated their only means of livelihood for the fourth time.

Others gamble, steal, murder, or sell others to make money.

Kuya, who’s covered dozens of demolitions, wonders why the police cart out big screen TV’s, DVD players, videoke machines from inside squatter shanties when he can’t afford to buy any of these appliances because of his measly salary.

Coming home from a tinapay festival in Batangas, we were laden with bread. Each time we stopped, he would roll down the window, beckon a grimy child, and hand a piece of bread to him.

“Doesn’t it make you feel good?” he said.

“Yes,” I told him. “But how will we feed them tomorrow? Or the day after that?”

He shrugs his shoulders.

“At least we did something. I have my own problems.”

What I have learned, after months of talking to killers, rapists and holduppers, is that many of our problems are inextricably linked.

Deeper social problems often underlie existential dilemmas.

It would be interesting, one year after the E-VAT was implemented, to see if the crime rate had risen because more people had fallen below the poverty threshold.

There are no easy solutions.

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