Thursday, July 24, 2008

Baseco worries, Juana Tejada rejoices

When you are poor you think of yourself as vulnerable, you consider changes in the landscape of your life that is not of your doing as threatening. Will the changes mean being thrown about again like flotsam and jetsam on one’s native shores? Where to move, where to live and where to find livelihood? Will so-called industrial and commercial development take over, leaving the vulnerable to fend for themselves?

Residents of the Baseco compound in Manila’s Tondo district are anxious that proposed changes in the place where they had been settled will mean they could be moved out. The government agencies concerned should be forthright with the poor and not leave them to speculate about their fate.

Some 6,000 to 10,000 poor families have been residents of Baseco since 2001. Baseco is 56 hectares in area. In the beginning it was frequently underwater but improvements on the reclaimed site were done. In 2002, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared that the 56 hectares should indeed be for the homes of the poor. That same year, four major fires hit the area which led to the reclamation of five more hectares. This area was divided into lots for about 1,000 families.

In 2004, the President introduced Gawad Kalinga (GK) and Habitat for Humanity, which built about 2,000 row houses. The people were happy with the housing and wished for more homes of that type.

Not long afterwards, a soil test was made and the results supposedly said that Baseco is at risk if a strong earthquake (8 on the Richter scale) hit. The ground on which the homes stood would turn into mud.

In 2007, this risk was brought up again. Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim asked GK and Habitat to stop building.

After that, the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) announced that an additional 10 hectares west of Baseco would be reclaimed. The people were worried. Will they be moved out of the 56 hectares and moved to the reclaimed 10 hectares?

Meetings with PRA and a visit from President Arroyo made the residents conclude that the government will indeed reclaim 10 hectares as proposed and the families on the 56 hectares will be moved there. A mini fish port will be built in the area, and 35 of the 56 hectares (the poor’s original home) will be used for commercial purposes.

That is cause for worry. The people have not seen a clear and detailed plan. Here are some of their concerns:

There are between 6,000 and 10,000 families in Baseco. If 3,000 families will be moved to the 10 hectares, where will the rest go? Will the resettlement apply only to the original censused families in 2001?

Will the new units be affordable? A survey by the Ateneo de Manila University’s Institute of Philippine Culture found the average family income in Baseco was P6,000 to P7,000 in 2002. Will the GK and Habitat homes be demolished? Where will financing come from? Can a place that had been declared as residential area for the poor be declared commercial?

The people want homes like those built by Gawad Kalinga and Habitat because, they said, these “encourage the formation of peaceful, neighborly communities.” They want some space for children to play and for old people to sit and watch them, space for daycare centers, chapels, clinics and job training centers. In other words, they want a simple but decent place for human habitation.

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Here’s great news on caregiver Juana Tejada in Canada from Oswald and Mila Magno who launched the petition on her behalf. Excerpts:

“To all of you 2,551 caring and compassionate people who signed the online petition and opened their hearts to Juana:

“We are pleased to confirm that Juana’s dying wish to be given permanent residency status in Canada has been granted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). At a press conference held July 18, 2008, Juana’s lawyer, Rafael Fabregas, announced that CIC has found Juana eligible for permanent residency status and will grant her visa application once all landing requirements have been met.

“This is great news for Juana and all her supporters. The threat of deportation … has been lifted. As Juana stated during the press conference, she can now focus on fighting her deadly medical condition.

“On Juana’s behalf, we thank you for signing the online petition. Without a doubt, your strong show of support for Juana helped persuade the authorities to reverse the deportation order.

“We thank Prime Minister Harper and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley for listening to Juana’s appeal for humanitarian consideration and acting accordingly. They have restored our faith in the innate goodness of Canadians.

“We thank Juana for remaining steadfast in her fight against the deportation order. She has said that she is fighting not just for her rights but also for the rights of caregivers like her. Her resolute determination to pursue her case until the end has, in our view, paved the way for the precedent-setting decision that will likely benefit many of the thousands of caregivers in Canada… The CIC decision on Juana’s case may lead to the removal of the requirement for a second medical examination as a condition for obtaining permanent residency status for caregivers, an onerous and unfair requirement that applies only to the caregiver class of temporary workers….

“Juana has Stage 4 cancer that has spread to her lungs and is taking morphine to ease her pain. Please lift her up in your daily prayers and ask the Almighty for her speedy recovery so that her joy will be complete.”

(For photos, video, statement, etc. log on to