Unless the lord builds the house, those who build it labor
in vain. (PS 127, 1)
AFTER the terrible destructions brought about by typhoon Ondoy in our metropolis, we now embark in rebuilding our lives and our cities. Life must go on. We must move on. We move now to the arduous work of rehabilitation. Let us do this not haphazardly and superficially so that we rebuild on firm foundations and the sufferings of others may not be aggravated. Let us allow ourselves to be guided by the Lord and his teachings.
On October 9, Aling Myrna and her teen-age son, residents of a community living in North Fairview, were shot to death by a private security guard as they protested the location of a fence being put up to keep them and their community “out of danger!”
Why do the thousands of people, people like Aling Myrna, cling to their homesites even in danger areas, and resist relocation to safer sites outside the city? The answer is simple. Their sources of livelihood are in the city, and there are none in far-away relocation areas. Commuting to the city from these areas would take many hours each day and would cost a very substantial part of a day’s income. Better the risks of life as an informal settler in a danger zone, they argue, than death by starvation in nice houses far away.
These, be it noted, are the people who keep the city humming. They are mainly market vendors and small tradespeople, bus and taxi drivers, washwomen and house help, janitors and construction workers, even policemen, firemen and public school teachers. They do not beg in the streets or steal food. Without them the city would come to a halt. Yet there is no legal place for them in the city.
Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Centesimus Annus” (no. 43) is sharp and to the point on this matter.
“The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace.”
Behind the killing of Aling Myrna and her son lies a whole “structure of sin,”: land values which are far beyond the reach of our poor and many of the middle class, low taxes on unused land, the use of vast amounts of land for shopping malls, for upscale residential subdivisions and golf courses.
The term “structure of sin” tells us that the evil is pervasive, built into the structures of our society, something of which we are all a part. If the construction workers who build our homes and offices received wages sufficient for legal income, those homes and houses would cost far more than they do. Our newspapers would cost far more if the scavengers in Payatas who collect old paper for recycling were able to live away from the garbage and filth. Indeed, practically all that we buy or the services we use bear the mark of this sin.
It is not enough then, to simply order people off the waterways. A deep restructuring of our society is called for, starting in the present crisis with urban and land policy. To this effort of restructuring, we, the Archbishop and Bishops of Metro Manila pledge our full support. Hence we call for:
1. Urban land reform so that the poor may have the possibility to have security of tenure in our cities where their livelihood is found.
2. A moratorium on demolition of the dwellings of the poor if there is no humane relocation for them as our present laws require. Humane relocation would include accessible places of work for them.
3. A follow through of the processes to allot public lands to the poor in the areas that have been given to them by presidential declarations. Let the public lands declared by the President be developed and effectively be made available to the poor.
4. Legislations to raise taxes on properties that are idle, or to altogether expropriate them. The right to private property should not be given priority but the common good.
“Christian tradition has never recognized the right to property as absolute and untouchable. The right to private property is subordinate to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone. Private property is in its essence only an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of goods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end but a means.” (Compendium on the Social Teachings of the Church #177)
5. The swift implementations of the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws by disallowing heavy and highly pollutive industries within our cities which are densely residential and commercial. The zoning ordinances of the cities should be reviewed. Heavy industries, and not the poor should be relocated outside of our cities. If this is done, more people will move out of our cities to work in these industries.
6. In re-settling the poor and rehabilitating our cities priority should be given to the employment of the people. Informal settlers have grown in number because of lack of employment possibilities in places outside the metropolis. The “squatting” problem is not primarily a problem of housing; it is a problem of employment.
7. Let us not blame the poor in the waterways for the flooding of our cities. Let us look beyond: the unabated logging in Sierra Madre and Mt. Banahaw, mining ventures in our mountains, haphazard collection and unplanned disposal of our garbage, irresponsible city planning and development of subdivisions, just to name a few. Together let us take a hard look at our present practices and have the political will to reform them. In truth we can say that the government officials and the rich have more to do with the destruction of our environment that aggravated the recent flood than the poor!
There are many cries for reform as we experienced the unprecedented calamities of our times. We join our voices as your pastors in this call but we call for much deeper reforms that would really address and better the situation of our cities. Only when the needs of the least in our society are addressed with our society achieve true and lasting development.
Let us not lose courage. Let is heed the voice of God in the recent events. God is telling us something. We have experienced the bayanihan and damayan spirit in a remarkable degree these few weeks. This tells us that if we want to, we can work together and be concerned even to the point of sacrifice. Let us then continue to work together and be concerned to reform our ways that the environment be respected and protected and the poor be given deeper consideration so that they too may have a more generous part in the development of our cities.
Your pastors in the Lord Jesus Christ.
+ GAUDENCIO B. CARDINAL ROSALES, D.D.
Archbishop of Manila
+ BERNARDINO C. CORTEZ, D.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
+ BRODERICK S. PABILLO
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
November 11, 2009