Human beings are not rats. And one need not be a pauper to know that it is not fun to live under bridges, inside drainage pipes, or along estero. According to government estimates, at least 125,000 Filipino families in Metro Manila live in such conditions. These families make up about 90 percent of the city population that is most severely affected by calamities during bad weather. This is a scandal. Their collective vulnerability testifies not so much to their poverty as to the systemic failure of our society.
The homes they build on the city’s waterways, and the garbage they throw into the water, have been identified as among the main factors impeding the flow of floodwater into the sea. Not surprisingly, the people themselves know this. For they are among the first to monitor the rapid rise of the water below them; to them it is a matter of life and death. Up to the last minute they cling to these frail homes because meager as these are, these contain everything they have, their survival, and their hopes for better times. If they are given safe and proper homes, from where they can have access to work and to public schools, the human tragedies caused by extreme weather would be significantly reduced. The people themselves would volunteer to leave these hazardous dwelling places.
Killer floods are not only the result of clogged waterways, inadequate drainage systems, dysfunctional urban management, rising sea levels, or the gradual sinking of Metro Manila as a whole due to unabated ground water extraction. They are also the product of gross social inequality and mass poverty.
Thus, any attempt to approach this complex problem in a way that seems to zero in on the poor as obstacles to the orderly management of the city is bound to be attacked as myopic and anti-poor. This, unfortunately, was how the remarks the other day of the amiable Secretary Rogelio Singson of the Department of Public Works and Highways were taken. I was watching the press conference in which he discussed the total framework for averting the big floods in the metropolis that come with intense rainfall. I thought he was doing very well in explaining a very complex phenomenon. Unusually lucid for a technocrat, Secretary Singson concluded his analysis by laying down a set of mitigation measures for the short, medium, and long terms.
The unfortunate remark for which he is now being crucified by some quarters came almost unexpectedly. He was talking about the fish pens that clog Laguna Bay and aggravate the floods in the communities surrounding the lake. The owners, he said, would be given time to dismantle these structures, or their fish pens would be blasted in the same way illegal dikes along the Pampanga delta were bombed at the height of the lahar threat on orders of then President Fidel V. Ramos. He said he had authority from P-Noy to clear out all illegal structures obstructing Metro Manila’s waterways. He was asked whether the squatter shanties were included, and he said yes. I don’t think he was fully conscious at that moment that he had just been talking about blasting structures.
At no point in the press conference did I get the impression that Secretary Singson had embarked on a mission to blast poor people’s homes along the estero. But his statements, though mildly uttered, could easily be interpreted as saying just that. I am certain that blasting shanties is not part of the plan. For I cannot imagine anything more politically explosive, unnecessary, and suicidal for any government to undertake than to oppress the poorest of one’s own people. The image of shanties being blown up while homeless families look helplessly, shivering in the rain, can cause the downfall of even the most popular presidency.
No one will fault a government that prevents people from living along estero and under bridges, or offers them decent homes so they don’t have to continue living in such miserable and unsafe conditions. But, more than clearing the waterways of obstruction, it has to be stressed that the overriding goal is social justice. The poor are not the problem; it is the unfair political, legal, and economic systems that are. The poor need government to look after their basic necessities so they may be in a better position to help themselves and to access the opportunities offered by society.
The hardworking middle classes, who pay their taxes but do not get the kind of services the government owes them, often find it difficult to empathize with the poor. They see the latter as generally lazy, irresponsible, and lacking in motivation. They should read Rizal’s critique of the so-called indolence of the Filipino. Yet, in times of emergency, the middle classes, who usually live close by the poor and rely on their services, are also the first to come to their rescue. They know, if only vaguely, that the root of the problem lies not so much in the wrong priorities of the poor, as in the failure of the social system to improve their lot.
It is not an accident that this same system has tended to close its eyes to the rent-seeking excesses of the rich, their pernicious habit of passing on to the public as “externalities” a large portion of the costs of their businesses, and their habitual flouting of zoning and environmental laws. Secretary Singson did mention how owners of big establishments routinely dump their wastewater into the limited public drainage system of the city, instead of providing their own. Multiply that image a thousandfold and we have a more accurate picture of the principal causes of our people’s vulnerability—not the intense monsoons, or typhoons, or big floods, or the supposed culture of poverty, but the greed of the few and the fundamental inequality of our society
^^^ Some people will see this as a chicken-egg deal, I do not.
We need to clear everybody and every thing within 100 feet of any bank, shore or waterway. Period.
It can be the poor, their shanties or even factories, condos, malls government buildings or whatnot. All of that has to go.
Then we can start cleaning our own waterways, making them safe again, and making sure they are never again defiled.
I don't care of it is those fools who live in shanties in Escolta, or RFM or Robina in Pasig along the river's banks, all of those have to go. Don't give me any of this "vested right" bullshit. Vested rights do not include polluting rivers and waterways and essentially making a mess of the future. You've had your way all these decades, surely it is time to take back that which all of you have defiled.
If you want to know what’s wrong with the Philippine political system, you need look no farther than Isabela.
The province of Isabela has been dominated by the Dy family for the past 36 years (so much for term limits and the constitutional ban on dynasties). The Dys have, as in so many other places, considered it their fiefdom. So they were greatly upset when they were defeated by a diminutive woman, Grace Padaca. A radio announcer and an accountant, Grace challenged the Dys in 2004 and 2007 and won, to their great consternation. This was an upset they could not accept. They went all out in 2010 and won the governorship back. But that wasn’t enough; the win had to be cemented by destroying Grace to ensure she couldn’t run again. They were that scared of the threat she posed.
So what did they do? Through former Isabela Rep. Santiago Respicio, they took Grace to court for allegedly releasing a P25-million hybrid rice loan for the Economic Development for Western Isabela and North Luzon Foundation Inc. without public bidding on the spurious charges of graft and malversation of funds. But she wasn’t amassing funds for herself, as others in the province have apparently done. During the term of Gov. Faustino Dy Jr., for instance, the revenues in the provincial coffers averaged P514 million per year (2001 to 2003). Under Padaca (2004-2006), the revenues were P650 million per year, higher by a quarter.
The funds were used to support the provincial government’s Hybrid Rice Program, which was created to help improve the lives of the local farmers by increasing their yield and providing them reasonable borrowing terms. It was a success, with 10 Isabela towns becoming among the top producers of hybrid rice in the Cagayan Valley. Despite the legality of the project (it was approved by the provincial board, was authorized by the budget department, and had gone through the Commission on Audit) and its purpose, Grace was charged before the Anti-Graft court.
I call on President Aquino and all decent citizens who want a clean society, break up the dynasties now, before the next election. Mr. President, use your power and influence. Tell the Ombudsman to junk this scurrilous accusation against Grace. Appoint her as Jesse Robredo’s successor in the Department of Interior and Local Government. If she declines, use all your party’s resources to support her for the governorship of Isabela in 2013, and consign the Dys to where they belong—forgotten.
I know Grace: She is an honest, good-hearted woman who cares. And who knows how to get things done. Just look at this partial list:
Grace paid off around two-thirds of Isabela’s debts. Before the end of her term in 2010, the provincial government managed to record savings, overcoming the huge debt incurred by the Dys.
The Capitol intensified the construction of irrigation projects, farm-to-market roads, and multipurpose pavements used to dry crops.
She formed a forest protection task force for the Sierra Madre National Park that seized a record-breaking volume of 900,000 board feet of illegally cut wood in just a week of raids in June 2009.
She implemented a price support fund with the National Food Authority that allotted a P5-per-kilo subsidy for the purchase by the NFA of palay and corn from the farmers, increasing their incomes substantially.
She augmented the meager incomes of the overworked public attorneys with a P2,000 monthly allowance. This was implemented even before the national government enacted Republic Act 9406 or An Act Reorganizing and Strengthening the Public Attorney’s Office.
In 2005, the provincial government enrolled more than 100,000 elderly Isabelinos in PhilHealth. This translated to the coverage of close to 700,000 Isabelinos as a single membership covers the entire household. From 2005 to 2008, the Capitol invested around P98 million in premium payments. Grace also doubled the allowances of barangay health workers.
The list goes on.
Like Jesse Robredo, Grace is a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, among other distinctions. And I like the sign in the budget, accounting and treasury offices during her term: “To all contractors/creditors: Your checks are ready for release. You do not need to give anything to anyone in order to be prioritized. If anyone asks you for anything, report him or her to me at once.”
The President has shown he truly wants to clean up the system. Here’s a glaring example of where a stiff broom is needed. Warlords must go, private armies must be abolished. Families like the Dys must be exposed for what they are, and denied a role in the politics of this country. Grace is like Jesse; let’s reward her while she’s alive, not recite eulogies after her death.
Then there’s another woman who’s already a good choice by the President—the new Chief Justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno.
She has shown an independence of spirit in controversial decisions where she did not go along with the majority who seemed (quite strongly) to favor former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
She did not agree that the creation of a Philippine Truth Commission was unconstitutional. The majority ruled against it on the basis that it singled out one administration over others. Of course it did, and should.
She dissented from the decision to suspend the House of Representatives’ impeachment of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who, subsequent events showed, indeed deserved to be impeached.
She argued that the Supreme Court should have allowed the Senate impeachment court to compel PSBank to disclose then Chief Justice Renato Corona’s foreign currency accounts.
She dissented from the majority decision to issue a temporary restraining order on the government’s travel ban on Arroyo.
All these decisions show an independence of thinking that we need today.
Korina Sanchez talks of dark, little evil spirits; Binay cries foul
By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:25 am | Saturday, September 1st, 2012
MANILA, Philippines—When broadcaster Korina Sanchez talks of evil spirits that are “little and dark,” Vice President Jejomar Binay senses a sinister drift.
In yet another episode of a recurring rift, Binay formally complained to broadcast authorities about what he said were the “unethical remarks” of Sanchez, the wife of recently-appointed Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
Binay felt alluded to when Sanchez, in her radio program “Rated Korina” on Aug. 24 (dzMM), referred to those who had postured to become interior secretary before the appointment of Jesse Robredo in 2010 as “mga maiitim at maliliit na mga maligno (dark, little ghouls).”
According to Binay’s camp, Sanchez had said:
“Hindi ho ba kaya, noong wala pang DILG secretary ay maraming mga maiitim at maliliit na mga maligno ang siya pong naka-ano dyan, umaabang-abang para makuha po ang pwestong yan. Pero mabuti na lamang po, ay binasbasan po ng kaliwanagan ng pag-iisip ang ating pinuno na si P-Noy (Aquino) at si Secretary Robredo ang kanyang napili para dyan po manungkulan
(Why is it when there was no DILG secretary, there were dark, little monsters who were on the lookout to get the position? But the good thing is, President Aquino has a clear mind that’s why he installed Secretary Robredo to head the department).”
In a letter of complaint to ABS-CBN network, which operates dzMM, and to the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas, Binay’s spokesperson, Joey Salgado, said Sanchez’ remarks “constitute a clear breach of broadcasting standards and ethics.”
He also accused Sanchez of “using her program and her stature in the network for personal and political ends.”
“We are certain that Mrs. Sanchez-Roxas will claim, in her defense, that she did not name the Vice President and she had used the article ‘mga’ to refer to several unnamed individuals. To us, this is a flimsy defense,” read the complaint filed before the ABS-CBN ombudsman.
“It is public knowledge that before Robredo’s appointment, Vice President Binay had expressed his preference for the said position because of his background in local governance… No other personality was reported as having expressed interest in the said position,” said Binay’s camp.
The Vice President’s office said such a “personal attack … erodes the public’s faith in the professionalism and impartiality of ABS-CBN and its news personalities” and also shows “a clear conflict of interest on the part of Mrs. Sanchez-Roxas.”
Roxas, who married Sanchez in the runup to the May 2010 elections, was first appointed Transportation and Communications Secretary after losing the Vice Presidency to Binay. Many expect Roxas and Binay to square off again in the 2016 president race.
In March last year, the Vice President’s camp complained that Sanchez was omitting mention of Binay’s name even in news stories involving the official.
In a statement, Bong R. Osorio, head of Corporate Communications of ABS-CBN Corporation said: “I checked with our ombudsman, Honorable Jose C. Vitug, and I was told that he has not received the letter of Mr. Joey Salgado. We are wondering why other media outlets got the letter ahead of its intended addressee.”