GMA-7‘s late evening newscast last night showed a visibly irate Vice President Noli de Castro ordering the closure of a dumpsite found illegally operating in Cabuyao, Laguna. At least one paper carried the same piece of news today. Judging from their treatment of the event, the media portrayal of de Castro has been of your no-nonsense government man of action.

“This means that starting immediately after I handed the closure order, no dump trucks would be allowed to enter this facility,” fumed de Castro in Filipino as he castigated the dumpsite’s owners in front of residents and TV cameras. As the Inquirer reported, the vice president emphasized the dire necessity of closing the dump to protect the health of some 8,000 families living in the adjacent Southville Housing Project, the government’s resettlement area for railway dwellers displaced by clearing operations in line with the North Rail-South Rail Linkage Project.

It would have been perfectly all right for de Castro to be cast in quite a heroic light had the said news not been really more for show to enhance his public image. What was even more unfortunate is that journalists fell for it.

To begin with, it is not within the Vice President’s power to order the closure of a dumpsite. The authority belongs to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which recently issued the cease-and-desist order against the dumpsite’s operator, Severiano Hain Enterprises Inc., for violating environmental laws.

So what was de Castro’s business serving the order on behalf of the environment department?

Sadly, that detail was apparently lost on the journalists who covered the event, even as they were completely unaware of the fact that de Castro, as the top official designated to coordinate resettlement efforts involving the government’s ambitious railway rehabilitation program, never found anything patently wrong when he ordered thousands of families relocated to Southville starting this year. Yes, despite the site sitting next to the said dumpsite, which is all of 10 hectares and three storeys high for it not to be noticed by the vice president during his visits.

In fact, until its closure yesterday, the Hain dumpsite had been in operation since 1998, first as an open dump without a permit, then as a “converted” controlled dump after being issued a permit in 2002. It should have been closed as early as February 16 this year, the deadline set under Republic Act No. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, for the closure of all controlled dumps five years after the law’s effectivity. Despite the “authority to close” order issued last March 9 by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau in the Calabarzon region, the dump continued operating.

Just recently, it was also found to have been operating without clearance from the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) since 1998, for which the Cabuyao dump facility operator was slapped — though rather belatedly — with a notice of violation and a corresponding paltry administrative fine of P5,000.

That is why the owners can even confidently say that it is not their fault if the Southville residents cannot stand the stench of the dump since it has been existing long before the relocatees arrived. “If anybody is to be blamed, it is the NHA (National Housing Authority),” insists Carmelita Hain, the dumpsite manager.

Living in filth

Indeed. Why of all places did the NHA choose to construct housing units for the underprivileged right next to a dumpsite? R.A. 9003 prohibits the construction of any establishment within 200 meters from open dumps, controlled dumps or sanitary landfills. The law imposes on convicted violators a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than P1,000,000, or between one to six years imprisonment, or both.

“Dumps are toxic to humans. The threats to public health are enormous, and this is why R.A. 9003 forbids dumping and the construction of any establishment near dump facilities that might jeopardize the health and safety of workers and residents,” said Manny Calonzo of the Ecowaste Coalition after the group of environmentalists visited Southville last August 29.

Calonzo also pointed out the known dangers posed by dumpsites in uncovered waste, lack of drainage measures, slope instability, gas and leachate migration, and deficient closure and post-closure maintenance. Adjacent communities, he said, are exposed to high levels of contaminants that are released through dump fires, landfill gas migration, surface and underground leachate migration.

Yet, the vice president’s office and the housing agencies under its control, in particular the NHA, were all seemingly oblivious to the grave health risks posed by the dumpsite, as well as to the relocatees’ overall living conditions, since they continue to haul railway dwellers from Manila, Makati and Laguna to Southville — not even when six confirmed deaths of infants from pneumonia, sepsis and diarrhea cases were reported this year.

In July, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international NGO working closely with the United Nations to uphold the housing rights of communities, was able to document the health situation in Southville, including the death of the six children.

COHRE took a special interest in the Philippines after hearing de Castro, who is concurrent chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, spoke at the 3rd World Urban Forum in Vancouver, Canada in June 2006 of the “success” of the North Rail resettlement program. Two of its officers, Annie Feith and Lisa Guifre, came to the country for a nine-day visit of three relocation sites, including Southville, to find out for themselves what de Castro meant of the Philippine government’s relocation strategy of “incremental development.”

At the world forum, the Habitat International Coalition, another international NGO with consultative status at the UN, cited the Philippines, together with Zimbabwe, Nigeria and India, among the governments that conducted massive forced evictions and committed human rights violations in the name of development.

UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing Miloon Kothari likewise remarked that the North Rail and South Rail projects in the country will, “when completed, have evicted and displaced an estimated 150,000 families, with inadequate relocation alternatives.”

‘Incremental development’

The two COHRE officials eventually came face to face with the reality of “incremental development” — relocation sites that are ill-prepared and inadequate for people to decently live in — manifested in:

  • the lack of access to electricity and potable water (drinking water must be bought)
  • extremely difficult situations for families to earn a livelihood after being relocated far from their places of work in Metro Manila
  • inadequate school and health services, which in Southville meant that part of the school is housed in a tent, no water for two small toilets, children must pay for drinking water, and teachers have to work for three four-hour shifts to serve over 3,000 schoolchildren

But what particularly shocked Feith and Guifre were their discovery that Southville sits next to a dumpsite that “produces a very foul smell and many health hazards.” They also observed that some houses are within a few meters of the dump and that the poor drainage and the dump’s close proximity often resulted in polluted water flooding the houses when it rains.

COHRE has therefore called on the government to immediately close the dumpsite, to commit itself to in-city relocation as a suitable alternative, and to suspend relocations until the sites meet international and national housing standards. (Listen to COHRE’s findings and recommendations.)

Visiting Southville one rainy day in August, I also confirmed the deplorable conditions that people are made to endure in the relocation site and saw how murky black waters easily inundate the areas next to the dumpsite. Particularly flood-prone are houses built in Blocks 53, 55, 56, 57 and 58 that are closest to the dumpsite, with some of the units less than 10 meters away from the perimeter fence and the vegetated buffer zone.

Relocatees’ tales of woes

I was able to interview the distraught mothers whose children have died recently — Analyn Necerio, who lost her three-month-old twins, Ashley and Angelo; and Elena Moreno, who is grieving for her one year and seven-month-old baby Altea who died last June 12. (Listen to Analyn and Elena‘s stories.)

The mothers of the other dead children — Daniela Lico, aged two, and Anabelle Sabines, both of whom died of pneumonia — were unfortunately not around during my visit.

I also talked to Nida Garcia, 43, whose family lives in an unfinished house next to the dumpsite. She has a two-month-old wound on her right big toe that has not healed. (Listen to Nida‘s story.)

Adults are complaining about a host of ailments, from upset stomachs, acute bronchitis, acute respiratory upper tract infection, flu to other ailments while the children are also afflicted with serious skin diseases.

Recently, Maria Luisa Yabut, a three-month infant, has been diagnosed by Dr. Lilia Acebron, pediatrician at St. James Hospital in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, to be suffering from scabies and multiple infection.

“The Southville residents have long suffered from health problems that they believe are caused by the leachate and the toxins in their drinking water coming from the shallow wells built next to the dumpsite. Without access to basic services, it was clear that surviving with dignity in a place like Southville is very difficult,” said Dennis Murphy of the Urban Poor Associates (UPA).

In May, a study conducted by the Ateneo de Manila University of water samples collected from Block 65 were found to be unsafe for drinking given the presence of non-coliform bacteria. Residents were advised to boil the water obtained from the source for at least 20 minutes prior to consumption to avoid gastric upset, especially among children.

Looming health crisis

Fearing an emerging health crisis in Southville, groups like UPA, EcoWaste Coalition, National Secretariat for Social Action, and Justice and Peace (NASSA) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) have sought the intervention of the Department of Health.

Specifically, they are asking Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to send medical and environmental sanitation teams to Southville on a regular basis and to seriously look into the water, drainage, electricity and indoor pollution issues, which the groups say, if adequately resolved, would tremendously improve the environmental health conditions in the relocation site.

But inspite of the reported poor environmental health conditions in the area, it has taken de Castro to act on the matter only now after Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, wrote him again last August 21 seeking the closure of the said dump that “tends to exacerbate the poor living conditions in the resettlement site.”

“Living in close proximity with a dump raises the risks of developing serious health problems, especially among the children, women and elderly,” cautioned Rosales. “Dumps, as you know, are known sources of harmful toxins that are capable of damaging human bodies, contaminating the food supply and polluting the surroundings, including the air, soil and surface and groundwater.”

This is the third time that Cardinal Rosales has written to de Castro on the railway eviction issue. Last May 12, the cardinal asked the vice president to find alternate in-city relocation for displaced families and to work towards improving the living conditions in the Cabuyao relocation site. Earlier, Rosales expressed his concerns about urban poor dwellers facing eviction from their shanties along the railroad tracks.

Still, for all of the vice president’s media bluster regarding the closure of the Cabuyao dumpsite, it does not take away the fact that the Southville relocatees continue to live in a toxic environment — which only makes it imperative for the government to finally come to terms with the idea that adequate housing entails more than just putting a roof over people’s heads.

11 Responses to Not just putting a roof over people’s heads

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kardousa

September 9th, 2006 at 4:17 am

this is another reason why ChaCha will not bring any tangible and effective change to us, Filipino people. gov’t projects are implemented in haste just so the authority in place can have his/her self promo before the press. yet, the press is mum on the dismal conditions of these projects that stinks right under their noses. so long as the standard of governance is based on “pogi” points, and not on long-term and self-sustaining developments, we, the people will continue to rut in this cycle of weak government.

the press should demand from the ombudsman to investigate this rotten housing project, rather than show de castro as man for the masses. he is nothing but a big fraud, just like the alledged envelop-journalism he used to practise in his magandang gabi bayan days.

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naykika

September 9th, 2006 at 9:03 am

A simple matter of knowing what’s each other responsibility has not sink in yet among our inept and seemingly ‘all powerful’ politician. A vice president going around seeking publicity for the job that could have been done by proper bureaucrats had everyone have a clear understanding of what their responsibilities in the hierarchy. I think, until the day the President, vice president or any other public official know exactly what they are doing, forget about changing the Charter or anything else yet, but the way the things are run. Maybe any other changes are no longer necessary. And that’s true to some journalist too, who lapped on the the photo-ops, bait, sinker and all.

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jlagman17

September 9th, 2006 at 12:39 pm

How much (in Dollars) is the reason why the government relocated the poor railway families from danger zone to death zone???

Living near a hazardous waste site containing persistent pollutants such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and chlorinated pesticides increase the risk of hospitalization for respiratory infections and asthma.

These results are consistent with the hypothesis that simply living near a waste site constitutes a risk of exposure to contaminants, presumably by air transport, and that these chemicals can reduce immune system function and lead to more infections.

People living near to waste sites are hospitalized more frequently with acute respiratory infections.

This remains true even after controlling for other known risk factors, such as socioeconomic status, race and sex.

However, the degree to which exposure to these contaminants suppresses immune system function has been underestimated.

Exposure to organic pollutants and other contaminants can harm health and just living near to a contaminated site may cause exposure.

The effect of exposure is not different whether it is via food or air.

So the government really need to get these toxins out of the housing project to the greatest degree possible. But now, the question is how much (Taxpayers money)will it cost???

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johnmarzan

September 9th, 2006 at 2:21 pm

Why build a resettlement place for poor people near a dump site? because it’s cheaper.

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naykika

September 9th, 2006 at 9:34 pm

About Ten years ago when the city of Toronto landfill was closed after complaints from neighborhood residents and it was almost reaching its life span, the city proposed opening one further north in an abandoned minefields to be transported by rail. The site local officials loved the idea the landfill will bring to the economy, but the residents didn’t. Today the city has to haul its solid waste to the State of Michigan privately owned landfills for disposal. And Michigan residents started complaining, pretty soon, we just might have to recycle or revisit the minefields.

The idea here is how controversial, dangerous and as a matter of public policy, the public input should be taken into serious consideration when it comes to toxic wastes. The effect on people health is long lasting and can be passed to children and down the offsprings. So, it is not something the Politicians or anybody concern, to toy around for publicity, cut cost, or even make the source of issues for election campaign. To do so would be one of the greatest disservice a leader could do, right there along with corruptions and other wrongdoings..are you listening noli d.c.

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ka emong

September 10th, 2006 at 6:12 am

bakit hindi ang mga hinayupak na mga mandurugas na mga yan ang patirahin dyan…taumbayan ang kanilang dinudusta at pinag sasamantalahan…samantalang yung mga tinamaan ng lintek na mga pinahiram natin ng kapangyarihan ay syang mga nananagana at namumuwalan…nagawa na nating mag patalsik ng diktador, pinatalsik din natin ang isang babaerong lasenggo…siguradong kaya din nating gawin yan sa mayabang na unano…GISING NA BAYAN KO…

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freewheel

September 10th, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Tired of hearing and reading bad news?

The government have finally SUCCEEDED in finding a sure fire formula to put in check its steadily growing list ofineptness; lack of clear cut policy to control its ballooning population (for so long now), its impotence in providing decent shelter and jobs, not to mention the basic of them all, affordable to many– food and health services.

Yes, its true. The government for all its pomposity and huge budget, it SUCCEEDED in building resettlements where there is no safe water, electricity, nor land to till for its residents.

Depending on how you look at it, it SUCCEEDED, where it obviously failed in many other spheres, in rubbing salt to an open wound by having the relocation site sits practically beside a garbage dump site.

It is not hard to imagine that this is a result of a careful study among multi-government agencies to spite the the poor for being poor so they could always buy them off and promise an enchanted kingdom every election period (Ahh elections, its now the new opiate of the people).

At long last, the government have finally SUCCEEDED to put a veil on its grievous mistakes by slowly killing its own citizens–without them knowing it.

Great news.

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mac.bh

September 10th, 2006 at 4:11 pm

Hay nakuh! Paulit uit na lang yang problem na eto. Aalisin ang squatter sa mga area na dadaanan ng development project at bibigyan ng pabahay na bagamat hindi tumpak sa kung ano man standard meron tayo at masasabi pa rin nating mas bahay tingnan keysa sa mga squatters nest. Of course the government is bankrupt when it comes to providing decent housing to the squatters. But then wala namang programa ang gobyerno para malunasan eto and instead lina law was passed just because votes are needed.

If this government can provide a very good housing relocation project malamang mas dadami pa ang squatter sa metro manila. Imagine, mag squat ka lang at mag wait ng few years magkakabahay at lupa ka na. Tama ba yang policy na yan?

Kaya pala sa Saudi may mga nakakausap akong mga OFW na nababanggit na nakatira sa squatter area sa atin, tanong ko bakit e may pera naman sila. Sagot nila, e kasi dadating ang araw the government will provide a relocation site, kaya hayun! Kahit may pera squatter pa rin sila nakatira. So ano ang lesson dito? Hindi lahat ng squatter ay totoo, ang daming sindikato diyan sa squatter. Pag nabigyan ng maayos na bahay binebenta nila tapos mag squat na naman. Ano ba nangyari sa mga BLISS project ni Imelda? Sino na ngayon ang nakatira dun sa ngayon? Paulit ulit lang sila db?

Ngayon sasabihin ng media kawawa naman sila. E me ginawa bang project ang medya para sa mga taong tulad nito? Wala naman diba? Meron silang mga project dun sa mga seminary at bahay ampunan na pinapatakbo ng catholic church, e yung catholic church isa sa pinakamayaman na organization sa buong mundo. Asan ba ang mali?

Eto ngayon ang suhestiyon:
Una: gumawa ng squatter’s fund out of the following:
2% per project of every real estate company (ang yaman ni villar diba?)
1% sa lahat ng medya companies per year
2% of city collection
10% sa bawat release ng pork barrel ng mga congressman
1% from petroleum companies

Ikalawa: map existing squatter area, at dapat lagyan ng taning ang pagbuwag sa mga lugar na to.

Ikatlo: Hikayatin na magbalik probinsiya ang mga squatter, kung nabibigyan ntin ng pera yung mga ex-rebel bakit hindi ang mga squatter?

Ikaapat: Yung gagawa ng relocation site dapat yung mga squatters na rin. Ibig sabhin, yung labor sa kanila, yung funds galing dun sa item no 1. Matuto silang mag balikatan sa pag gawa ng isang bahay, para siguradong hindi nila yun ibebenta pagdating ng araw.

Hanggat hindi pinagbabawal ang mag squat hindi matatapos ang problema sa squatting.

Wag na kayong umasa kay Noli kilala na ninyo yan, matagal na.

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freewheel

September 15th, 2006 at 11:26 am

mac.bh;

yun na nga ang problema, paulit-ulit. puwede muna natin tutukan ang Southville Housing Project na ito, bago ang iba’t- ibang isyu kaakibat ng urban poor.

hindi lingid sa ating kaalaman na halos walang moderno at magagandang proyektong inprakistura mula Malaysia, Indonesia, Hongkong, Taiwan papuntang Gitnang Silangan o Middle East na hindi NADAMPIAN ng lakas pag-gawa ng Pinoy: bilang isang mason, pintor, elektrisyan, sekretarya, heavy equipment operator, CAD desayner, inhenyero, at marami pang iba;

ganuon din, ang mga kilalang pagawaan ng barko, mga kotse at trak, gamit elektrikal ng mga opisina at bahay, telepono, atbp. na may tatak at kinikilala sa buong mundo ng bansang Hapon at Korea: parating may ambag ang dunong ng Pinoy sa mga iyan;

sa maraming laboratoryong pananaliksik (R&D labs) sa Amerika: maging ito man ay medikal, arkitektura, militar, at siyempre pa, ang sa larangan ng kompyuter–kasali lagi ang Pinoy.

ang malaking tanong— bakit ang NAPAKA-SIMPLENG
BAGAY tulad ng pag-pili ng lugar na tirahan ng TAO, pag-kumpuni ng maayos na bahay ng TAO sa isang loteng baka wala pang 100 sq. m., pag-tukoy ng pang-gagalingan ng inuming tubig at elektrisidad ay hindi kayang tugunan?

maaring mag-kikibit balikat na lang ako kung ang may-akda nito ay mula sa pribadong sektor, subali’t ang nasabing proyektong pabahay, ay proyektong GOBYERNO !!

hindi na mabilang ang mga kaibigang OFW, balikbayan, bisitang banyaga; ang nanlulumo tuwing nababalitaan at nasisilayan ang ganitong kalakaran.

samu’t-saring katanungan tuloy; wala bang ibubuga ang Pinoy pagdating sa sariling bayan?

astig, masinop, marangal at masipag ang marami sa atin pag nasa labas ng bansa; siya naman ang kabaligtaran pagkaharap ang problema ng Inang Bayan?

PAG-UNLAD at PAG-BABAGO. sino nga ba ang ayaw nito?

pero teka lang, kaninong bulsa ang umunlad at nagbago?

p.s. marami akong gusto duon sa suhestiyon mo.

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INSIDE PCIJ » PCIJ wins 2006 PopDev media awards

November 30th, 2006 at 5:04 pm

[…] Alecks Pabico, PCIJ’s Multi-Media desk head, also received a citation for the Best in Online Opinion Writing Category. His article, “Not Just Putting a Roof Over People’s Heads,” looked into the condition of thousands of families relocated to the Southville Housing Project, the government’s resettlement area for families displaced by the North Rail-South Rail Linkage Project. […]

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The Daily PCIJ » Blog Archive » PCIJ continues winning run at 2008 PopDev media awards

November 26th, 2008 at 5:14 pm

[…] methods. Pabico, on the other hand, was adjudged Best in Online Opinion Writing in 2006 for his blog post on the living conditions of thousands of resettled families at the Southville Housing Project, the […]

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