Riverside dwellers oppose Manila's demolition plan

by Purple S. Romero | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 10 February 2010 16:25 GMT

By Purple S. Romero

MANILA (AlertNet)- Squatters who live on the banks of rivers, creeks and other areas classified as danger zones in Manila face demolition of their homes as part of the Philippines' adaptation strategy against climate change.

But many of the cityÂ?s urban poor wonder why malls and factories that similarly stand near waterways are not being targeted, and say if government officials want to protect riverside dwellers, they should instead help retrofit their homes to withstand flooding.

Jose Morales, a leader of Ugnayang Lakas ng Apektadong Pamilya sa Baybaying Ilog-Pasig (Strength of Affected Families in Pasig River) scoffed at the government's use of what he called a 'climate change scare' to push them from their homes.

"They could have our houses elevated, or provide us with concrete houses," maintained Morales, who believes relocation of squatters should be a last resort.

Manila is seeing a demolition drive, aimed at improving the city's drainage in the wake of tropical storms Ketsana and Parma, which last year killed over 600 people and caused the worst flooding in half a century in Manila.

But resistance to the program hints at the problems that may lie ahead for municipalities around the world as they struggle to prepare for coming climate change impacts.

PRESIDENT ORDERS RELOCATIONS

In October, following the storms, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the relocation of informal settlers as part of the Philippines' nation climate change adaptation strategy.

Climate change, which is expected to bring more intense tropical storms and worsened flooding in the Philippines, particularly threatens communities living in coastal areas and along flood-prone waterways.

But informal settlers have vowed to stand their ground against the government's move, especially since the offered relocation sites lie beyond the outskirts of the areas where they now reside.

"We should be relocated to an area also within our city because we need our jobs," Morales said.

Squatters in Morales' area Â? the banks of the Pasig River, a 25-kilometer (13 mile) stretch of waterway adjoining Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay - usually survive by sorting scrap waste and garbage, and selling what can be recycled, or do menial work for companies in the area.

The government is keen to relocate squatters not only to protect them from expected impacts of climate change, but because their makeshift shanties block waterways and exacerbate flooding.

Ed Manda, the general manager for the Laguna Lake Development Authority, for example, points to how illegal settlements lining the city's Manggahan Floodway have shrunk the formerly 260-metre-wide floodway to 220 metres, limiting its capacity.

The Manggahan Floodway is a manmade waterway which discharges water from the Marikina River to Laguna de Bay, the countryÂ?s biggest lake.

The failure of the floodway to divert enough water was clearly seen during the onslaught of tropical storms Parma and Ketsana. Water spilling from the floodway forced residents even in one posh subdivision in the urban district of Marikina to climb to their roofs for safety.

Similarly, excess water from Laguna de Bay was not able to flow away down the Pasig River to Manila Bay because shanties have constricted the connecting Napindan Channel passageway.

Since the flooding disaster, Manda has intensified his call for the relocation of around 100,000 informal settlers along some of Manila's key waterways.

SETTLERS NOT SOLELY TO BLAME

But Morales insisted that "it is unfair of the government to blame informal settlers for the flooding."

He noted that flooding problems are severe enough that many people in Manila will still see their homes submerged even if informal settlers are relocated, particularly if local governments lack any additional strategies to reduce the risks from flooding.

Leonardo Montemayor, a Manila legislator, agreed that the destruction from tropical storms Parma and Kestana has been unwaveringly used as a reason for demolition of slum homes.

"They took literally the statement of the president that those in evacuation centers now, who used to live near danger zones, should not anymore be made to go back," he said.

That has happened despite regulations under the Urban and Development Housing Act that requires the government to first provide a relocation site for informal settlers before any demolition is carried out.

Montemayor urged concerned agencies, including the Metro Manila Development Authority, the Department of Public Works and Highways and other local government and development authority units, to meet before demolitions to devise a systematic relocation plan.

He also wants the government to allot part of a 12 billion peso ($260 million) rehabilitation fund okayed by the Phillipines' Congress to a housing program.

The Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Informal Settlers has previously estimated that it would cost at least 30 billion pesos ($650 million) to relocate 500,000 informal settlers currently living in metropolitan Manila.

Ramon Santiago, a consultant for the new head of the Metro Manila Development Authority, former Quezon City regional trial court judge Oscar Inocentes, promised that improved consultation on relocations were planned.

"The new chair's style is to engage the stakeholders," Santiago said.

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