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PHILIPPINES: Day 6: Urban poor shares farmer's plight on land struggle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRESS RELEASE
AHRC-PRL-044-2008

PHILIPPINES: Day 6: Urban poor shares farmer's plight on land struggle

(Hong Kong, December 7, 2008) The place where they reside and make subsistence living may be different but the urban poor and the farmers share the same struggle: to own a plot of land, build a decent house and earn a livelihood from it.

Like the farmers in Haciendas Bacan, Grande and Paraiso, in Negros Occidental and Hacienda Yulo in Laguna, the urban poor in Baseco Compound in Tondo, Manila, are likewise struggling for land ownership in the metro.

Driven by the lack of opportunities in the countryside, some of those hoping for a better life in the metropolis often ended up living in urban poor areas. They are persons whose makeshift houses, their families and their livelihood are often targeted for violent demolitions, and these violent demolitions that routinely happen without prior warning or relocation.

Even though the 57-hectares Baseco compound is government property, the people who have lived there for several years have never owned the land where their houses are presently built. A local group reported that at least 47,000 families had been occupying this land which is a reclamation area that used to be part of Manila Bay. The Baseco villagers have been living with constant threats of demolition and the fear of losing their livelihoods once their houses are taken from them.

Quite apart from threats of demolition, as the residents living there are unable to organise their community due to the question of the legality of their occupation, they are also under constant threat of fire and other natural disasters due to congestion. In January 2004, about 20,000 families lost their homes when about 2,500 structures were razed to the ground.

Some of those families whose houses were destroyed had to rebuild them for the third, if not fourth, occasions.

Thus, to highlight their plight, even though they lacked preparations and have no proper training, at least fifteen persons, most of whom are women, joined the two-hour run from Manila City to Quezon City. Even though they were not able to join Fr. Robert Reyes for the entire run they managed to run from the Baseco Compound to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

What the group did in completing the run was to join Fr. Robert from time to time. Thus, they have been able to complete the run despite of their exhaustion, the severe air pollution along the route and exposure to scorching sunlight.

Upon arriving at the DAR, they met the farmers on hunger strike. The group shared their thoughts and offered moral support and reflections to the farmers whose health conditions are visibly weakening as they continue with their hunger strike. The nine farmers, one of whom is a woman, are on the sixth day of their strike.

One of the villagers from the Baseco compound could not help but cry as she reflected on theirs and the farmers' struggle to own land. Others sharing their views mostly originate from the provinces in the countryside who have settled in Baseco for survival.

The group then offered prayers to the farmers and prayed over the bottles of drinking water the farmers would have to take as they carry on with their strike.

 

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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