In September of 2007, my friend Bob Barton and I went to BASECO with our friend André and nuns from the Missionaries of Charity. I think Bob’s photos show the friendliness and resiliency I have often observed among the poor.
The community is on a stretch of reclaimed swampland bordered by Manila Bay and the Pasig River. It’s called BASECO for the shipyard, Bataan Shipping and Engineering Company, which has abandoned it.
After turning off a main road, the van passed through a better-looking housing development and then stopped not far from the water’s edge.
About 12,000 of Manila’s poorest families live here as squatters, euphemistically called “informal settlers,” who are under constant threat of natural disasters, eviction and demolition.
High water forces residents out on a regular basis. Fire breaks out every few years—maybe because of landfill gas rising from the dump below—and spreads quickly through the ramshackle huts, along with rumors that fire was deliberately set in order to clear the area. Infectious disease spreads easily.
A few years ago BASECO gained notoriety as a place where economic necessity forced residents to sell their blood and sometimes their kidneys for transplants into the bodies of rich foreigners. Malnutrition leads to underweight and under-height. A large number of children do not complete elementary school.
The ramshackle huts we saw were put together with bamboo and whatever pieces of corrugated iron, cardboard, bamboo, scrap wood and plastic sheeting. Some houses were on stilts with space in the bamboo floors allowing people to see the sand and water below.
The people were curious about these foreigners and friendly. Predictably, when Bob pulled out his pocket-sized camera he attracted a crowd of children, and he kept shooting after the rain splattered and streaked his lens.
Several boys were happy to run and fetch the soap because the rain gave them an opportunity to take a bath.
We took a look at the church and said goodbye.
Afterwards, André, Bob and I went for coffee at the nearby Manila Hotel—so, from one end of the economic scale to the other.