Cebu City's ‘libud-suroy’ problem

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

A news item in The FREEMAN last week caught my attention. As a city resident, I've long wondered about solutions to this particular issue. I’m referring to the problem of street dwellers, commonly known as “libud-suroy”.

In the said news article, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama stated that he has been aiming to reduce the number of street dwellers to zero since June. However, despite these efforts, many street dwellers remain visible in the city. Many are not even from here. This has led Mayor Rama to seek cooperation from other local government units to help return the street dwellers to their places of origin.

Rama has even warned department heads that they may be replaced if they fail to address the street dweller problem effectively. He also urged business establishments not to let these street dwellers sleep on their premises. The Cebu City Police Office has likewise been instructed to increase police visibility and detain street dwellers, especially those who threaten individuals for money.

All these measures supposedly align with the mayor’s vision of a “Singapore-like” city, which is, per se, a commendable goal. However, to truly address the issue, we need a clear and multifaceted strategy that delves into the reasons behind street dwelling. Simply treating the ‘libud-suroys’ as eyesores and relocating them doesn't provide a long-term solution. The issue goes beyond just having clean streets; it touches on deeper societal choices.

May I suggest that the city examine the push and pull factors behind the problem of street dwellers? Some of the factors may be both predictable and common; poverty, socio-economic challenges, and lack of education push some individuals from the countryside to seek livelihoods on city streets. Many resort to begging or street vending, which inevitably leads some of them to making the streets their home.

The potential income from begging or street vending, and the perceived opportunities of urban life make it harder for them to pull away from their life on the streets. For many street dwellers, the city offers at least a chance at survival, especially when contrasted with the stifling lack of economic opportunities in the countryside.

One could argue, however, that these factors alone are not sufficient justification for people to live on the streets. It's true; there are others in similar situations who have not resorted to begging or making the sidewalks their homes. But then again, treating our “libud-suroys” as mere eyesores and nuisances would only frustrate policy makers who aim to clear the streets of their presence. The problem will just recur, waiting for the opportune time to resurface.

Who is truly keeping count and delving deeper into the issue beyond its surface? A study conducted nearly half a century ago in a Pakistani city, titled “An Economic Analysis of Street Dwellers” (Hamdani, 1978), revealed that 96% of street dwellers were male, with about half being recent migrants; 75% lacked basic education.

The majority of them supported dependents outside the city, remitting a third of their income. Surprisingly, on average, they earned nearly twice the minimum necessary income required for an individual to survive each month, especially considering they obviously don't have to pay for rent. Some, especially beggars, lack both locational and familial ties, having been either widowed or estranged from their families due to personal reasons.

This study was conducted in Rawalpindi City, Pakistan. My point in bringing this 1978 study is that in proposing solutions, our leaders' efforts to address the issue of street dwellers, or any urban problem for that matter, could greatly benefit from informed strategies based on data and facts on the ground.

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