Thursday, October 13, 2005

Remembering poverty

October is the month when the world is supposed to pause, remember and confront the issue of poverty and hunger. Oct. 16 is World Food Day while Oct. 17 is the Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty--the latter by virtue of a UN Resolution and a presidential proclamation.

October is Indigenous People’s (IP) Month in the Philippines, and the IPs being among the poorest and hungriest in the country, the whole of October should belong to them.
In Southern Palawan, IPs and long-time settlers are undertaking a ``Solidarity March for Land and Life’’ that will cover the distance from Rio Tuba to Puerto Princesa City. It started yesterday, Oct. 12, and will last till Oct. 17.

The march will highlight the IPs’ call to the local, provincial and national government to look their way. The issues being raised are the slow processing of ancestral domain claim applications, government neglect and unfair local and national laws that threaten the culture and livelihood of indigenous communities. Among the marchers are members of the Palaw’an and Molbog tribes and fishermen from the towns of Bataraza and Balabac.

In 1974, when the country was under martial law, the Palaw’an and Molbog tribes were driven away from their ancestral domain in Bugsuk and Pandanan Island. It was so easy then for the dictator’s cronies to point to and claim the areas of their choice. Well, the IPs are now claiming back their land.

In 2001, the IPs filed an application for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). They have complied with all the requirements. The National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) had promised to conduct the delineation survey if the communities would raise the funds to cover the expenses. As of last year, the communities have raised the funds but the survey has not yet been started.

Meanwhile many of them have to contend with the 5,000-hectare pearl farm of Jewelmer, one of the biggest South Sea pearl producers in the world, owned by Danding Cojuangco. The local government has declared the area a no-take-out zone, meaning no fishing is allowed there so that marine life could thrive and flourish. The fishermen now look like the destroyers of the environment. What is good for the fishermen is not good for the pearls.

According to Task Force Bugsuk, an NGO helping the fisherfolk, the story of displacement, disenfranchisement and marginalization is duplicated in many areas in South Palawan. TF Bugsuk reports that in Aborlan, those who refused to give up their land for a golf course were sued by the government itself. In Rio Tuba, communities near a nickel mining operation are suffering from diseases caused by water pollution.

An NGO that has made remembering poverty a yearly activity is the ATD Fourth World-Philippines, an international movement that started in France and is involved with the poor. Its main projects here are street libraries for children and value formation for adults. This is commendable indeed but I wish ATD would also go into sustainable livelihood projects that would directly and materially improve the lives of poor families.

ATD recently came out with a study ``How Poverty Separates Parents and Children: A Challenge to Human Rights’’. It profiles six countries—the Philippines, Guatemala, Haiti, Burkina Faso, the US and the UK.

The chapters on the different countries gave complementary views of families whose children are in the custody of social services.

The Filipino parents profiled were more likely to voluntarily entrust their children to orphanages in hopes that they would thrive better in that environment than at home. Although the institutional and legal frameworks vary in different countries, there are striking similarities among parents who are faced with a series of obstacles. Too often, the outcome is despair.

A child in the US blames her parents for not having been able to protect her from the child welfare system; a child in the Philippines runs away from an orphanage to search for her parents. ATD says these are symptoms of institutions gone awry. And yet, there are also important ways for institutions to strengthen the bond between children and their families. ATD cites the US’s Child Welfare Organizing Project that proposes an approach that would enable parents to examine issues together and contribute to the planning of the child welfare system.

The children living on city streets in Burkina Faso have often been going in circles. They suffer from the rootlessness and the risks to health and well-being that result from their fending for themselves. Institutions have helped to protect some, but they have also left many of these children disoriented, not knowing how they can grow up and participate in their community. Here, the work of the Courtyard of 100 Trades is an innovative model that demonstrates how it is possible to reintegrate these children into the lives of their families and rural communities.

If you have time for reflecting on poverty, join the gathering around the Commemorative Stone in Honor of the Victims of Poverty (near the Chess Plaza) at the Rizal Park on Monday, Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Every year, on Oct. 17, in different parts of the world where ATD is present, activities are held around the commemorative markers. (There’s one near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.)

The Luneta ceremony will be followed by message writing and recreational activities for children and adults. I’m interested to know the thoughts and feelings of the children.

Poverty is most cruel to the young.