The poor fight, not wait for inclusion

The poor fight, not wait for inclusion

President Benigno Aquino III apparently owes Bernadette Sabalza and Susan Ladan an explanation.

The two women from the slums of North Harbor in Tondo, Manila, were among the urban poor community leaders who stood witness as Mr. Aquino signed a "covenant" at Del Pan Sports Complex in March 2010, in one of the sorties of his presidential campaign.

The covenant, they said, had the would-be President vowing to work for their "in-city relocation" or "on-site development"-buzzwords of urban renewal that pertain to the transfer of informal settlers to better living conditions not far from or in the same area they currently occupy.

Yet four years later, one week before the President delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona), Sabalza received for the first time in her life a notice saying she should vacate her home to make way for the government's modernization plan for North Harbor.

Her family, along with neighbours who got the same notice from the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), were given 30 days or until Aug. 22 to leave the area known as Slip Zero. They have two choices: Either avail themselves of a government housing site in Naic, Cavite province, or use a P27,700 (S$794) aid to find or build new dwellings elsewhere.

Ladan, meanwhile, faces no threat of eviction-"for now," she says. But in what may be considered a preemptive move, she wrote last week a one-page profile of her organisation at Isla Puting Bato, a slum colony on a Manila Bay breakwater. Her piece would be attached to a position paper reiterating her group's appeal to the government to provide them more decent homes. She dares to visualize mid-rise tenements facing the sea and replacing her shantytown.

No poster girls

Ladan, secretary of People's Solidarity of Isla Puting Bato, voted for Mr. Aquino. So did Sabalza, president of Samahang Magkakapitbahay sa Slip Zero; but the Aquino campaign sticker on her front door has been torn off, as if somebody who was really angry wanted it removed.

Their continuing struggle for a way out of poverty hardly makes them poster girls for the third Aquino catchphrase: "Inclusive growth."

An argument (or excuse) can always be made about the poor taking years and even decades to feel the so-called trickle-down effects of rising macroeconomic figures. Sabalza and Ladan-both high school dropouts when they moved to the city to escape rural poverty-have lived through five presidencies, each promising seats closer to the banquet for those who had long subsisted on crumbs.

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