Slums, squats or just home?
I don’t particularly like the term “slum” nor “squatter”, these are quite simply people’s homes. I’ve visited such places in the Philippines in Manila, Palawan, Mindanao and now Davao (which is in southern Mindanao). I’ve also visited such places in West Africa and Nepal, Pakistan and India. I don’t like the situation these people are in, but I do like the people who live there.
Exit for me
Davao holds the key to the vital piece of paper anyone staying over 6 months needs; to leave the Philippines. An exit clearance. Finger prints, photos, and a mass of photocopying. Now available nationwide at varying costs, depending on your “express fee”. No, in truth it is quite easy. And, actually makes sense. If you’ve been arrested in The Philippines, or charged it “should up” show here. In other words it is a mandatory line of protection to prevent the bad people from leaving without due process.
Good people live in slums
Davao, a friendly enough city, depending on where you look. In Gaisano mall I spent 2 plus hours walking around. I don’t think one person said hello to me though. Excluding the sales girls wanting me to buy something. I walked the streets of Davao and I think only 2 people gave me a nod. However, within 2 minutes of being in the squatter area in Davao I was getting hello’s, welcomes, “are you lost?” and great cheery smiles. This was the complete opposite to what the tourist in my hotel had depicted as his face dropped in horror when I suggested he come too. His young local girlfriend looked even more horrified.
“It’s dangerous,” she commented. “Dirty. They’re on drugs, they’ll rob you. It’s not good to go there.”
Safety in the slums
For me it’s one of the safest places you could possibly be in Davao, or for that matter in The Philippines. For me at least. Maybe not for the average tourist or traveler. I walked down the dilapidated side street into the narrow wood surrounding side streets of the slum. People were getting hair cuts on the street, washing clothes, chatting to each other. Every day life. Each person looking up to give me a wide-eyed stare before smiling widely with a greeting.
Why and who are the squatters?
Filipinos call these people squatters. They live here because it’s beside a large city which is good for causal work, hand outs, opportunities and the sea. In fact most of the houses are actually in the sea. They’re built on wooden stilts. When the tide is out it’s best not to walk under these houses. Each house has a direct toilet aimed below. The flush happens only when the tide comes in. The sea also offers food. Crabs, fish and various seaweeds are within shoreline distance. And so, as I walked along the shoreline the boats, raised on platforms 7 feet off the ground, made sense. When the tide comes in, they are all ready for departure.
The plight of the squatter
Unfortunately during my time in the Philippines I’ve rarely heard a good word about squatters. Locals turn their noses up at them and deem them dirty and crime ridden people. The higher richer class of Filipino only seemed to talk about the eyesore they cause to the cities. And, the due date for the planned demolition of their homes.
Talk is cheap when it comes to life in the slums
I’ve heard from at least one NGO who tries to protect their right for a place to live. And, one high-ranking official who babbled off a plan to rehouse them. Sadly it reminded me of a similar scenario from the slums in Lagos, Nigeria. People were told they’d be offered alternative housing. This was said as their house was being destroyed in front of them.
In The Philippines two letters from the authorities are meant to be delivered beforehand warning of this. They said alternative housing was awaiting them. The reality was; they are yet to be built, and even then it would cost money. It was after all only an “offer” of alternative housing. Moreover these areas are far away from the cities. Too far from the food source of the sea, income possibilities of a city. Never mind the non-existence of sanitation, electricity, and water.
“It looks good on paper, in the media and in legislation. But in reality, it meant no houses.”
I hope the same does not happen in The Philippines. But fear it will. These people are the most friendly people I’ve met in the Philippines. Argue what you may about the legalities of squatting. In this day an age, it’s a matter of survival, not ill will.
A query on life today?
I continued my walk along the shore as people stuck their heads out between the cracks in their weather-beaten houses. Some covered in soap suds from their morning bath, others with toothbrushes still in mouth. All with big smiles and welcome greetings. Why is it that people from the “slums” are ill spoken of, mistreated and cast out from society. Yet, are more friendly than those in the expensive malls and along the city’s streets?
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Coming soon: Last Feature Article: Deadly Islam in The Philippines … then ( last journal entry)
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