Martes, Hunyo 3, 2014

A priest on the plight of vendors and the poor

You shall not Kill - Be Compassionate

“You shall not kill” was what I told the police of Quezon City last May 22, 2014 when I saw them confiscating the stores of the poor at the Agham Road. Victims of the recent demolition they were only trying to eke out a living to survive. “This is a sidewalk and it is against the law, ” the police justified their action. “When you destroy their livelihood, you practically kill them, ” I answered back.

That incident was a good opportunity for me to confront the authorities because a few days back, while riding on a tricycle, I saw a pregnant woman who was running after her wares which were scattered by the police on the Agham road.

Fr. Pete Montallana of Diocese of Infanta
These incidents with government officials abusing the poor people have become a very common sight all over the country. There are no qualms of conscience even if these officials know that they are dealing with citizens who pay for their salaries through taxes and whom they vowed to serve. They select laws they can use and disregard laws that protect human rights because the poor could not afford to defend their rights.

The recent violent demolition in Agham brought home this point very well. The Constitution clearly provides that demolition has to be done in a “just and human manner”. The provisions of UDHA law, for all its defects, should have been followed conscientiously: there should be notice at least thirty days prior to eviction, adequate consultations, proper identification of all persons taking part in demolition, decent housing at affordable cost with basic services and employment opportunities. Moreover, the government was in full battle gear hitting even unarmed citizens and using powerful tear gas – all in the name of road widening but in reality to facilitate the business interests of the Ayalas. In Quezon City development means slow death to poor people.

Even until now NHA could not care less whether families who were left homeless continue to live under the heat of sun or under the rain. There are no more budgets they told the homeless. They are not even allowed to have tents over their heads during the day. The whole urban poor area is now like a Nazi concentration camp surrounded by wires and with more exits closed. What would happen if there would be a fire? Well, security of the land is more important than human beings. And to add insult to injury, they hired people of other faith who themselves lived in area as the security guards - divide and conquer technique. Many people have become numbed to this treatment. Or maybe the lull before a storm.

The government closes it eyes to the reality that demolition and relocation without job opportunities have always been a failure. It only causes intense suffering for the already suffering people. Many relocatees have sold their houses and are back to Manila just to have something to eat. The government does not see that its laws on land reform, contractualization and “libing” (living) wages, privatization, etc exclude the poor from the benefits of society and thus push them to squatting. Government sees only the high profits of business and their personal gains.

Pope Francis articulates it: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. (Evangelii Gaudium, #53, underscoring supplied)

When I jogged around Agham Road last May 29, 2014 at 4:00 AM, I saw, to my surprise, some families whose houses were demolished sleeping on the sidewalk. As human beings endowed with human dignity, they have a right to shelter which should have been given them especially in a predominantly Christian country. But that is not the case. The government has gone into a demolition spree to clear Metro Manila of its half million squatter families and in the process pushing more and more people into grinding poverty which kills. Violence on the unarmed only convinces people that the government listens only to those with arms. This begets more killings.

The police and the military should never be used to crush the dignity of the poor for the moneyed and powerful but rather they should promote Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.

Last June 1, 2014 we had no electricity from 6:00 PM until 8:AM the next day. So many families had to endure the heat and mosquitoes. Would that happen if Agham were already be populated by the rich? Descrimination against the dignity of the poor has become so accepted that nobody seems to be bothered by it anymore.

Pope Francis who will be coming in the Philippines in 2015 reminds us : “We are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth”. (Evangelii Gaudium, 209). A compassionate Philippines will be the best welcome for him.

Fr. Pete Montallana – June 2, 2014

-On Exposure in Agham since March, 2014
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