Much has been discussed lately about the government funding moving informal settlers from danger zones like river banks to some other spot where their lives will be much safer, and our rivers, less polluted. The move of course comes from the flooding that sunk Manila (again) these past few days as the first onslaught of the monsoon season came.
The problem with informal settlers is nothing new. The problem compounded by the need of these informal settlers to find livelihood in the city. Some even get relocated, only to go back to the city to rent out land so they can be close to work. They keep the land they were resettled in. They improve it. Others are trapped in the vicious cycle, are one of the millions unemployed. We see their kids everyday for example, peddling wares, or offering to clean the windshield of your car, only to come out even more dirty than before and expecting to be paid in change. Perish the thought that you would only give a Peso.
The problem of flooding in Manila is also nothing new, as my Mom put it: worst when she was in school, and the waters would not subside so fast as they do today. Long after my mother and father graduated from University, my mother and I were likewise trapped in one of those habagat floods, and we’ve spent our fair share trapped in our car waiting for the water to subside.
Of course, neither problem is an excuse.
And both problems compound each other. The informal settlers along river banks for instance help clog the water ways. The Pasig River is virtually dead. This is, but part of the complex web of problems. Some of these rivers and waterways have died because commerce and industry have settled on top of them. Without care to the design or flow of water.
So why should our taxes go to resettling informal settlers? We each too have bills to pay. Mortgages, and taxes, smartphones and Macbooks to pay off, and for those parentals, the high cost of tuition fees to keep kids in air conditioned private schools. We each have our own little problem, and often, quite often the money you make doesn’t seem to be enough.
So imagine the rage of a taxpayer, whose well-earned peso goes to funding the move of informal settlers? Jobless. With so many kids. How can one expect to help fund moving them off those private lands, and public spaces to somewhere better? What happens to us who pay and work so hard?
You’ve never been poor until you’ve known what it’s like to have no money and have a loved one in the hospital, or cheat to have food to eat. You’ve never been rich or well-off until you can spend a million in a second, and neither blink nor care about the cost of anything.
Of course this is all a grey area. One can understand the no-dole out mentality. We worked hard for this! Everyone should. My father used to tell me that you can’t live alone. I never really got that lesson, until quite recently. I mean, how many of us, were given a break by someone? Someone hired us to do a job. Someone who loaned us money when we come up short some days. Or gave us a free pass, and a second chance to do better. Maybe someone helped us when we were sick and dying. Some advice, perhaps that led you to be a better person. Yeah, we worked hard to make pesos, and sometimes, we too make ends meet. Not everyone of those informal settlers do deserve that second chance; that helping hand; that makes their world, just a bit more livable.
There is another thing we need to think about. By helping move these informal settlers, perhaps we too are helping ourselves. Can you stomach the untold human suffering should a crisis prevail? To wipe them out? To see them sick and dying? What does that do to our soul? Knowing we could avoid the human suffering? Never mind the cost? And for another, isn’t nearly everyone in the Philippines, a taxpayer, courtesy of Value Added Tax?
Bill Clinton once talked about the Clinton Foundation’s initiative to rebuild Rwanda. He said something that struck home, thinking about legacies, nation-building, and what we leave behind: “When I think about the world I would like to leave to my daughter and the grandchildren I hope to have, it is a world that moves away from unequal, unstable, unsustainable interdependence to integrated communities — locally, nationally and globally — that share the characteristics of all successful communities: a broadly shared, accessible set of opportunities, a shared sense of responsibility for the success of the common enterprise and a genuine sense of belonging. All easier said than done.”
Then he went on. “Into this mix, people like us, who are not in public office, have more power to do good than at any time in history, because more than half the world’s people live under governments they voted in and can vote out. And even non-democratic governments are more sensitive to public opinion. Because primarily of the power of the Internet, people of modest means can band together and amass vast sums of money that can change the world for some public good if they all agree.”
This isn’t to say the situation doesn’t merit a review of the Lina Law. This isn’t to say, that the longer term solution is to build more factories, and more agriculture zones. We’ve seen that was the answer by our neighbors in Asia to the problem of poverty, and for us, that’s the same route. This isn’t to say that Metro Manila shouldn’t consider having just one government, so we can effect a single, unified Urban Design or that architects and designers shouldn’t now be required to account for flooding to avoid flooding; to study the effect of water flow; to consider earthquakes and other environmental factors as we rebuild Manila. Why we should let our taxes go fund moving informal settlers? As a Michael Jackson song said, “If You Care Enough For The Living. Make A Better Place. For You And For Me.” Isn’t that enough?