Long way to stable lives
PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero Ballescas (The Freeman) - September 6, 2014 - 12:00am

It was a long winded road to where they live now, up in Danglag, Consolacion. After years of negotiations, they finally were relocated from Maguikay, Mandaue to their new community starting last 2013. More families still have to complete their relocation process but already about 50 families have transferred and built their homes, with loans and donations. The relocated families are trying their best to move on with their lives where they are now. The road to stable lives, however, remains difficult and fragile.

On the positive side, they now have their own land and houses. They are able to plant vegetables. Their new location is up on a hilly area which allows them fresher air than their previous Mandaue site. They were also, gratefully, unaffected by last year's earthquake and typhoon. They reported being happier where they are in terms of geographical location and their physical, natural environment. All the schoolchildren are able to walk to their nearby school.

They are, however, still confronted by challenges common to relocatees.

To connect their community to the nearby school, the community built a make-shift bamboo bridge when they transferred last year. Barely a year after, the residents reported the urgent, priority need to repair this old bridge or build a new one for the safety, especially of the children and of other residents who resort to walking to their destinations from their new community site.

As is common with many relocation areas, their new community is very far from the town proper. Hence, the search for work or customers (for those engaged in the informal sector) has been very difficult for most of the residents.

A limited number of the employed are working at a dried mango factory in their former pre-relocation site in Mandaue. Some females work in a foreign factory that pays the salespersons less than the prescribed daily minimum wage.  A few are drivers of habal-habal or tricycles. Two households were reported to have a family member out in Dubai and in Norway. Most residents, males and females, however, are unemployed.

Vegetables grow very well in the fertile soil of their community. However, they still need rice and other household items that they need to buy in the market and shops at the town center. To buy these items and also to transact other matters, they need to pay P30 for round-trip transport (habal-habal).

Other household expenses include electricity, lampara gas, and water fees, among others. Each household is also expected to pay their monthly amortization for their new house and lot.

The employed probably earned a monthly income of about P6000, reported those who joined Toyo University faculty Gaku Manago and me for a focus-group discussion in Danglag last August 29, 2014. This reported monthly income is barely able to meet the monthly needs and bills of households with employed members. How do the rest of the households, mostly with no employed members, cope with their needs and bills?

Many resort to loans. A few try to sell vegetables or food like banana cue, others. While they are happy that now they can claim they have their own place, their own land and houses within a better, healthier and more beautiful, natural environment, most of them are still haunted by the same woes that they experienced before their relocation: steady employment and sustainable sources of livelihood.

In the lists posted in their make-shift chapel in their new community, we observed a number of households already unable to make regular payments for their house and lot loans. Even if there are more payees than non-payees, the titles of their land and houses are pegged to complete payment from everyone. Therefore, to finally own their house and lot where they are now, everyone has to help each other out to earn enough to pay for these monthly loans. The more pressing daily needs, however, also have to be immediately addressed.

The promise and lure of a new relocation site nor of land and house ownership are not enough to tide the relocatees over. Safety nets related to stable employment, mobility and transport, basic facilities (like clean and steady water supply, drainage, electricity), education for children, among others, have to be part and parcel of any relocation plan to ensure stable lives for those dream to move on beyond their poverty soonest.

During our discussion, we proposed that the participants collectively focus on what resources they can pool together, as a community, and how they can work together to address the problems that they enumerated. The participants realized the simple added value of organizing a simple cooperative, to start with common items to be bought and sold ( like rice and other basic items), to help save on transport costs and to earn dividends for all coop members. Tie-up with resource persons who can inform them about organic piggery and poultry, setting up a well for their own water supply and more had also been initiated.

Realizing the power of community resource inventory and pooling, collective planning, action, and monitoring and link-up with concerned outside resource groups may yet pave a more stable path for better, sustainable lives for those in Danglag and other needy communities.


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