The Urban Poor

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First of all, I would like to extend my appreciation to the organizing committee for bringing together in this public forum a panel of speakers who come from the National Capital Region as well as the southern part of the Philippines. This composition should provide a truly national flavor to our discussion. Secondly, I want to be clear that I do not speak in behalf of all the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and people's organizations (POs) in my country. We are a very diverse community - to put it mildly - and we do not always agree with each other. In more recent years, however, we have grown in a lot of ways and in many instances learned to transcend our differences to take a common stand on issues and engage in strategic partnerships. Thirdly, in discussing the Philippine urban poor I have used the guide questions provided by the invitation committee. I will proceed by defining the Philippine urban poor and then discuss its issues as well as my government's responses to these issues. Towards the end of my talk, I will discuss a proposed agenda of engagement in the present administration. A Close Look At the Urban Poor Situation

The Philippine urban poor as officially defined by Republic Act 7279 which is also known as the Urban Development and Housing Act or UDHA of 1992 refer to people in urban and urbanizable areas who are without houses and whose income falls within the poverty threshold set by the government. Additionally, the NGOs and the urban poor themselves use the absence of security of tenure as the principal defining characteristic of the urban poor aside from a state of "shelterlessness" and an income below the poverty threshold. Using this definition, the nationwide urban poor population is estimated at 14 -17 million people or 2-3 million households. The principal explanation for this huge mass of people in the urban areas according to a government agency - the National Economic and Development Authority or NEDA - is "urbanization" caused by the massive migration of the rural folk to the urban areas due to "extreme rural poverty". The migration of course is fueled by a fervent hope to find a better life in the urban areas. Since there is no government intervention on this exodus, the migrants end up congesting the already crowded urban slum areas including river banks, bridges, road and railroad easements, cemeteries, garbage dumps and other idle lands which have become sites for human habitation. Many refer to them as "squatters" – a derogatory term in my country. Poverty, however, is not the only reason for the exodus. People migrate due to insurgency and counter-insurgency operations in the countryside and what NGOs call "development aggression" – a situation where people are displaced because of the government's programs and projects most of which are funded and assisted by foreign governments and institutions. Income-wise, the urban poor is not a homogeneous class. The lower middle class and the moderately poor are formally employed as low–level employees in the public and private sectors while the 30% poorest of the poor survive in the underground economy providing cheap services to the well-off. Urban Poor Issues and Concerns

Urban poverty spawns a multitude of issues. I will focus, however, on a few major issues which the organized urban poor and their NGO partners collectively address. Forced Evictions and Distant Relocation

Topping the list of urban poor issues is forced eviction and distant relocation. This is the most disruptive issue faced by the urban poor because it literally moves them from a bad to a worse situation. In every forced eviction which often breaks out in violence, the "silent majority" affected are the children who bear the trauma of watching their homes destroyed. Women who experienced demolition reported cases of miscarriage in interviews by the Urban Poor Associates or UPA - an NGO which monitors eviction cases. People's organizations built...
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