Families living under Quirino Bridge strive to survive
MANILA, Philippines – Manila has long been the glimmer of hope for many coming from the rural areas. They abandon their life in their hometown to seek a brighter future here.
Because of the absence of housing security, many resort to living in informal settlements – idle lands and government infastructure. Most of these places are already occupied by the same hopeful people.
For several years, they have been facing the same financial, health, and housing problems. (READ: Informal settlers: Integration, not just relocation) And because of congestion and limited space in the big city, not a few squeeze into the unlikeliest of places.
The Quirino bridge is one such place. It is home to approximately 100 families from different parts of the country. No one would think that a functioning community exists under the short and narrow concrete stretch.
Shelters made of scrap wood hang from the ceiling of the bridge and just a few inches above the surface of the water. More than one family reside in each house, providing hot and tight living space.
They make do with what they have. Living rooms where they spend daytime double as their dining area during meals. At night, when the noise of the trucks above drown the sound of the rushing water underneath, they think about how to survive tomorrow.
Gilda and her family settled in Estero de Pandacan in 1989 to start afresh, away from the rural life, only to be met by the harsh reality of urban life.
Six children depend on Gilda and her blind husband who contributes money from begging in the streets of Manila. A resident for 25 years now, she has gained a lot of experience in trying to survive each day.
In 2005, they were relocated to Cabuyao, Laguna only to return under the bridge after a year due to a lack of job opportunities and access to basic social services.
"Malayo yung center at ospital na may bayad pa," she lamented. "Kapag may immediate na sakit tulad ng LBM, kailangan mo pa mag-tricycle nang mahal." (Centers and hospitals are really far away, sometimes they charge, too. If you have an immediate concern such as LBM, you still need to pay a hefty price for tricycle fare.)
Her family became one of the 50 family-recipients of the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) last February 2013.
The MCCT aims to help families who are considered to be among the "poorest of the poor," such as those who live in informal settlements. The program is intended to help these families overcome their present situation.
Families displaced by conflict and calamities, belong to Indigenous Peoples' group, and have children with special needs such as disabled, abandoned, and working children are also covered by this modified 4Ps or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.
The 4Ps offers the same benefits but is intended primarily for families with children aged 0-14 years old and/or a pregnant mother.
The MCCT program usually spans a year, enough time for the poorest families to improve their situation. After a year and the expected improvement in the quality of their lives, families under the MCCT program are considered for the original 4Ps.
For Gilda, the MCCT meant relief.
"Malaking tulong talaga iyon kasi puwedeng pandagdag sa pagkain, pandagdag sa school at pambayad ng ilaw," she said. (It's a big help since it can be used to buy food, send my children to school, and pay electricity bills.)
Another beneficiary of the MCCT, Lyda, who also lives under the Quirino Bridge like Gilda, used to receive P1,400 a month under MCCT. This amount was already a huge contribution to the meager income her husband, a street vendor, brings home for their 5 children.
"Panigurado na rin na hindi magugutom iyong mga anak ko," she said. "Hindi na palaging hati sa konting pagkain." (It's already an assurance that my children won't get hungry. There is no need to always share.)
Lyda's eldest child is already a mother of two at 19 years old. Her 20-year-old partner does not have a stable job. They both still depend on their parents because of their young age. (READ: Young and pregnant)
Gilda and Lyda made sure that they followed the rules set by the DSWD to remain in the program. Among the requiremements was regular check-ups of their children to ensure their health and nutrition.
Both mothers did not want to lose one of the most helpful things in their lives then, just like the other mothers in their community.
However, problems began to emerge as early as the first month when they were supposed to receive their pay-outs from the DSWD. The money they were supposed to receive in February 2013 was released two months later. They resorted to borrowing money just to be able to eat every day.
Some families have bowls of instant noodles as their daily meal because of financial constraints, resulting in nutritional issues among children. There are those who sometimes sleep at night hungry. (Read: Lessons from everyday hunger champions)
Once they finally receive the money, a huge part of it goes to paying debts they incurred during the months they had no resources.
"Kung tutuusin, malaking pakinabang talaga kung regular nilang maibibigay sa mga pamilya," Lyda said. "Minsan pambayad utang na lang." (It's definitely a big help if they give it regularly to families. Sometimes we really use the money to pay off debts.)
The problem with the MCCT worsened when the payouts stopped in September 2013. According to Gilda, their current contract was supposed to run until December of the same year.
Her co-parent leaders contacted the local DSWD office only to be given vague answers to their questions. They were told that there was a problem with the papers submitted by the ones involved in the profiling of families.
"Binibigyan kami ng petsa pero hindi naman natutuloy," she said. (We're always given dates only for them not to push through.)
The families of Quirino Bridge were expecting to be mainstreamed to the original 4Ps after the supposed end of their current program in December 2013.
But without receiving 4 months' worth of support, they already felt helpless. Some mothers were depending on the promises of some officials they talked to.
"Pinanghawakan ko na talaga yung sinabi nila na makukuha namin iyon kung may mag-aasikaso sa amin, kaso wala pa rin," Lyda said. (I'm holding on to what they said that we will receive the money if there would be someone to work on this, but still there's no one.)
Other residents have started to feel as if they're being ignored by the same government officials who promised to help them in the first place.
"Sasabihin sa amin pasalamat nga kayo meron (CCT) pero sa akin di yan katwiran," one parent-leader narrated. "Mag-usap bilang tao dapat." (They tell us to feel grateful already since we have CCT but that's not an excuse. They should keep their word.)
A chance at a fresh start
Unlike the Department of the Interior and Local Government's Flood Plan that gives P18,000 to relocated families from the 8 priority waterways in Manila, the residents of Estero de Pandacan will allegedly only receive a 40-square meter house and a bag of groceries for one day. (READ: Yearend target: Relocation of 20,000 Manila families)
Families who are relocated to Bulacan and Laguna will not receive any financial support, only housing, which they will eventually pay rent for after a year, in addition to water and electricity bills.
Relocation of informal settlers has long been an issue in the country. They complain that they are left with nothing to start with, no money or job opportunity, in the places they're transferred to. Family members, usually the fathers, go back to the city to work. (Read: Failed relocation in 'Bayan ni Juan')
The Estero de Pandacan families are expected to be relocated in the first few weeks of June. As the date approaches, they are doing their best to brace for the possibility of having nothing to start their new life with, especiallty since they have not been receiving their MCCT payouts.
Two months ago, Gilda and Lyda became "Avon Ladies" or a direct seller of personal care products to support their families in time for their relocation after "losing" MCCT support.
"Maliit lang talaga ang kita tapos hindi pa regular kaya hindi maaasahan," Gilda explained. (The income is low and it's not regular so you really cannot depend on it.)
Lyda hopes to get enough money so that they can have something to start with once their little community is gone. Her children's welfare is her top priority.
She's still looking forward to the promised money from the MCCT as she's unsure how things will be after her house is demolished. She heard from her former neighbors that financial opportunities in the relocation sites were next-to-nothing.
Lyda's family is just one of the many members of the Estero de Pandacan community that considers the 4 months' worth of MCCT they are yet to receive as their key to a brighter future once relocated.
"Syempre magagamit iyon pang-negosyo, pang-kapital, lalo na't bago ka pa lang sa lugar na pupuntahan," she told Rappler. (We can use it to start a business since we're new to the relocation site.)
Meanwhile Gilda, despite wanting to be optimistic about the situation, couldn't help but feel as if there's no end in sight to their problems.
"Kailan pa? May pag-asa pa ba?" she asked. (When? Do we still stand a chance?) – Rappler.com