From a Squatters’ Village to a Housing Project

Row houses in Bulacan

In December 2012, I posted an interview with Maria, who at that time was living as an “informal settler” on public land in Blue Ridge, in Quezon City, a good location close to her work and to facilities and shops. She’d been living there since 1979. She and her husband had to use community toilets, but they had their own running water and electricity. Their room was small, about the size of a middle-class bathroom. In 2005 their houses had been demolished to make room for road widening. For months they lived in tents, but then the barangay [local government officials] told them they could rebuild their shanties further up the hill. Before my previous interview with Maria, the squatters had been told they’d be relocated far outside the city, in Montalban Rizal. (Link) The following is an update about a year later.

Maria’s story

Maria at the door of her new house

In Blue Ridge we had a community of 75 families. I’d been living there for 23 years. Others had lived there most of their lives. The old people might have been there for 50-60 years. Some said that at a long time ago maybe only 15 families lived there, but the children got married and built houses there also and settled down.

Then in 2012, the barangay officials came with the mayor and some media men who interviewed us. The officials told us that our place was dangerous because it was on the fault line and it was also on top of the sewer. They said they would be moving us all to Montalban Rizal, over 25 kilometers from Quezon City, but that it would be good for us because we wouldn’t be squatters anymore. The new places were rent to own or rent to buy. The first year was rent-free because we’d have to adjust to the new location. After that, 200 pesos [$4.76] a month for four years, then it would double, then after a year it would double again to 800 pesos. It would take 30 years to pay for the place. In Blue Ridge I didn’t pay rent because I owned the house, but the land it was on belonged to Metro Manila Water. I just paid for the electricity and the running water. Water was about 500 pesos a month [a day’s salary].

We told the officials we would agree to move if the whole community could still be together. We heard this was approved by the National Housing Authority, but we didn’t hear from them for a long time. In the middle of 2013, just before the election, the barangay officials came back, and they said the first 23 families on the list would be moving to Montalban Rizal the next day. We were kind of shocked since we hadn’t heard anything from them for three or four months. We said. “Sir, why didn’t you tell us that you would be moving us?” They didn’t explain. They just said it had been decided and the papers had been processed, and the National Housing Authority had told them to move some of the residents.

When we had a barangay meeting, there were 47 families who had finished the paperwork required by the National Housing Authority. Some people didn’t want to move because their work was nearby. Blue Ridge was a very good location. But maybe 18 families volunteered to be first. Then right before the move another five volunteered. I couldn’t move because the paperwork wasn’t done.

Anyway, the first batch moved before the election on May 14, 2013.  Then maybe two weeks after the election the second batch moved, the 47 families who didn’t volunteer. The officials said, “If you don’t move now you won’t get another chance. They’ll take your name off the list. This area is a danger zone, but don’t turn to us if anything happens. No one will help you.”

So there was the fault line, the sewer, and flooding with Typhoon Ondoy and then again with the habagat, the heavy rainfall where lots of Metro Manila got flooded. As it turned out, we were lucky we weren’t among those who moved to Monaltban Rizal before the habagat because their new houses had water up to the roof even with the very high ceilings, maybe like one and a half stories. Some of the people who were flooded out just grabbed empty houses in Montalban. “I will take this place then.”

The authorities moved the second batch, maybe another 23 families. All of them filled up one block of houses. It was good for them to be together, but this time it was in a different area. The moving broke up the community. The rest of us were just waiting to be moved. We were shocked when they said there was no more room in Montalban Rizal. We were moved to Bulacan, which is 39 kilometers from Quezon City. But there’s a very good road going to Bulacan. The road to Montalban is shorter, but the roads are not very good, you have to change jeepneys more often and you have to go by the Payatas, the dump.

At first we refused to go to Bulacan. One of our neighbors said, “No, sir. We won’t go because our relatives are in Montalban. We’re all family. The five families in our area are together.” From Bulacan it’s too far to go visit the people who were moved to Montalban. You have to take three jeepneys and a pedicab, so it’s 60 pesos [$1.39] one way.

The officials said, “Take a look at the place first. If you really don’t like it, wait for a vacancy in Montalban. But if there’s no vacancy and Bulacan is full too, then you’ll have to move even further away.”

The National Housing people took us out to see the houses. They showed us ours, and they also showed us a model house which had been fixed up with a loft. I think our house sits on 40 square meters. Then there’s two meters in the front and also two at the back. So for two people like us it’s quite big. It’s one large room—two rooms if you add a loft.

The place is nice, but we only have electricity at night when they turn on the generators. Sometimes we don’t have power for three days. It’s hot in the evening, and there are lots of mosquitoes. They’re putting in big posts for electricity, but we don’t have it yet. Actually, water is more of a problem. You can buy mineral water to drink, which is 25 pesos for five gallons. Otherwise, there’s no water. The National Housing Authority told us before we moved that there was no running water, but someone would deliver it. It’s not purified, just deep well water. In one day I have four containers. I can do the laundry at work, so we use the water here for showering and washing dishes. Then we run out and we have to make another trip. Sunday I paid 65 pesos.

Also, the delivery doesn’t accommodate all of us who live there. Yesterday somebody was saying, “Five days, no delivery of water in our area.” Sometimes the water is delivered by three trucks a day. In Block 1, there are 44 houses. There are 59 blocks. One truck holds enough for one block of houses.

When the water service was privatized, the price went from five pesos for a five-gallon container to ten pesos. I heard that the people delivering the water are making a big profit. Even if they have to pay 22,000 pesos [$500] for the water, they can charge 30,000 pesos for it, so they’re making 8,000 pesos a day. People argued about it, and we decided we’ll have to approach the National Housing Authority people because it’s very difficult for all the people living there. We were told it’s not a public utility. It’s private. So there was nothing they could do. Last Saturday reporters came from ABC5 Action News in response to complaints. They wanted to interview people, but security threw them out.

Before we moved, one of the barangay officials said that they would set up livelihood projects for us, like making some potholders or stringing beads or something like that. But later they didn’t mention it. There’s nothing to do, and I don’t know most of the people here.

On the days when I have jeepney service, we leave there at 3:30, and I’m at work at 5:10. The driver doesn’t stop to pick up passengers. If we commute, when it rains it’s too muddy and slippery to walk, so we have to take a tricycle [motorcycle with sidecar]. They charge 20 pesos for a very short distance. Then after the tricycle we take four jeepneys—to Tunko, to Philcoa, to UP campus and then to Katipunan. All together it’s 300 pesos just for transportation for the two of us.

If it’s not raining, it’s dusty because they’re making houses still. There’s lots of heavy equipment. I think the National Housing Authority is planning to build 4900 houses there by October or something like that. Tomorrow I think they’re moving in 500 families from Payatas City near the dump and near the river. In Payatas City garbage is a problem, and the waterways should be clear so there’s drainage when it rains.

In Bulacan there’s good access to the hospitals in Commonwealth, and there’s a nearby clinic, whereas in Montalban Rizal there’s only an infirmary, and the nearest hospital is on East Avenue in Quezon City.  Maybe the transportation costs the same, but you have to walk from your house to the street. If you don’t have transportation no one will take you there—unless maybe a neighbor has a tricycle and you can talk him into taking you.

Some kids in Bulacan have already started school. There’s a tricycle service to take them to school for 300 pesos a month, which is not bad. The government or public school is free, but you have to buy your own school supplies and uniforms.

Food is more expensive in Bulacan than in Quezon City. Bananas like the ones I bought for one peso in Blue Ridge are 2.50. Fish might be cheaper if there’s a fish pond. But meat is more expensive, maybe another five pesos. I heard that in Montalban in the afternoon you cannot get fresh meat, the meat smells bad. But in Bulacan people raise hogs and chickens, so even if the meat was quite expensive, you can see it’s fresh. When we get electricity I’d like to have a little refrigerator so I can buy food in the city and take it home.

We’re happy in Bulacan although it’s an inconvenience because it’s far from my work. We’re hoping and praying that we will have running water and electricity soon and that Jessie will have work. We have our own toilet inside the house. We just got new doorknobs. We’re fixing up the house, but only little by little because of the expense. When Jessie doesn’t have work he works on the house.

At Maria’s old place in Blue Ridge there’s now a warning posted saying no houses are allowed.