Update on the Philippines: The Urban Poor Sector
On August 2nd and 3rd the five of us, plus two of our guides, were able to stay with an urban poor community in Catmon, Malabon City, Manila. We spent our time at a trash site that is also home to a community of folks who make their living digging through the trash, sorting through recyclable materials, and making and processing coal (as well as your typical underground economy and illegal activities that come with any urban poor and poor community). For me, this experience was incredibly emotional, overwhelming, and exhilarating. It was also one of the best times I’ve spent in the Philippines since it was filled with warmth from the people, deep conversations, music, singing, stories of heartbreak and triumph, and hard work interspersed with bouts of laughter. During my stay there I meet the most amazing people I’d ever seen in my life: despite all of the hardships they would take care of each other, share what little they had, truly build a community based off of mutual respect, and continue to organize against the ruiling classes that are trying to destroy their community (and hence, making their lives ever worse off then before) and not given up in their fight for the national democratic struggle in the Philippines.
While we were there we integrated with the residents by working as trash pickers, sorting out plastic bottles, paper, and metal cans, by loading and unloading garbage trucks, and making cloths pins. While doing the work we were able to interview and get to know the residents and hear how they got to Catmon and the everyday struggles they go through. Many of them come from the families of peasants or were once peasants themselves: either forced of their land by greedy landlords and corporations or lured into the city by promises of more money and jobs. Many reiterated that their lives became much worse once they moved into the city. The community has also been under constant threat by the schemes of the local government, banks, and NGOs which are trying to disperse the community by using loan programs that promise to “better” the families by promising them the “responsibility” of “owning their own homes.” These programs, however, are merely profit seeking ventures that often burden the families with unwieldily debt, break up the communities and their current livelihood, and leave them homeless.
The local well is filled with trash and many of the residents often fall ill with flue like symptoms due to the conditions of their living and the conditions of their workplace (one in the same). Babies, toddlers, and children are sick often in the early stages of their life. The child at the house we stayed at, no more then 12 months old, was often hacking up mucus and coughing uncontrollably. One of the parents said that they don’t “coddle” their kids when the roam around the community and play with each other because early exposure to the conditions, while making them sick, also builds up their immunity to the point where they are able to drink the water and walk around barefoot without getting nasty infections. While the conditions sound, and are, horrific the community is very close and people are constantly helping each other out, laughing, and singing. At one point my fellow companion Toni and I played guitar and sang to a group of kids (who also sang along) for about an hour or so. One of them brought out a few song books for us to look at and to also help us sing along with them as many of the songs they sang I needed to actually look at the lyrics in order to keep up.
Overall this was one of the most intense, informative, and funniest times I’ve had in my life and I will always remember this community while I continue to organize back in the U.S. and I will look forward to visiting them again in the near future.