[News item reprinted from the Nov. 3, 2008 issue of Indian Catholic - New Delhi, India. UCAN stands for Union of Catholic Asian News. Fr. Nonong Fajardo, C.M. is the Director of Adamson University’s Integrated Community Extension Services (ICES) that created the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility (VCSR) and Coordinator of the Archdiocesan Housing Ministry in Manila.]
PARAÑAQUE CITY, Philippines (UCAN) — Children in a village south of Manila were playing on railway tracks in early October when a horn blew in the distance and sent them scampering toward nearby wooden shacks.
The ground shook as the train passed through Barangay San Martin de Porres in Paranaque City, south of Manila. Families here have built homes illegally on sections of the 30-meter-wide area assigned as passageway along the tracks.
The government is relocating residents, reportedly because of the danger of living so close to the tracks, to build up the road there and to rehabilitate the railway.
Of the 1,630 families in San Martin, 70 percent have qualified for relocation in screening conducted by a committee that included representatives of various government agencies and Manila archdiocese's social-service organization, Caritas Manila.
About 80 percent of those who qualified have relocated to a private subdivision in Laguna province, farther south, just outside Metro Manila.
On Oct. 11, Araceli Natino, officer-in-charge of the National Housing Authority (NHA) south sector, which includes Parañaque, told UCA News the Church's housing ministry helps the government as well as San Martin residents.
People being relocated trust the Church and the "mere presence" of the Church people and workers in the NHA-initiated Local Government Interagency Committee (LIAC) "opened the people up," reported Natino. Her agency is responsible for removing illegal structures.
The Church is a "moral force" that lends credibility, and when it affirmed the government's offer at San Martin, the people believed and accepted it, the officer explained. Speaking with UCA News just before the start of a general assembly of remaining San Martin residents, she said NHA hoped to complete the transfers to Laguna in October.
Relocated families are to pay the government 200 pesos (US$4) monthly after one year. This will gradually increase to around 600 pesos. They have a maximum of 30 years to pay off their housing loan.
Paranaque diocese is among five dioceses created since 2002 from areas formerly served by Manila archdiocese. The late Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila reportedly proposed the move to better serve the growing number of Catholics, at that time numbering 8.7 million in the 11 cities and four towns of the capital region.
By August 2007, according to National Statistical Coordination Board data, 11,553,427 people lived in the region.
Research by the Jesuit-run Institute on Church and Social Issues the previous year found that more than 5 million people in Metro Manila did not have "decent housing," and more than half the metropolitan area's people lived below the poverty level.
Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, who succeeded Cardinal Sin as Manila archbishop in 2003, set up a housing ministry and appointed Father Atilano Fajardo as coordinator. The Vincentian priest is among Church representatives who sit on the interagency committees for urban-poor development projects.
"Networking" with government agencies is part of the Church's answer to the need for land, buildings and services to the poor, Father Fajardo told UCA News at Vincentian-run Adamson University in Manila on Oct. 7.
In his view, the ministry should "go beyond advocacy," and its role in government housing committees is to ensure state policies and procedures are humane and free from "vested interests" of government officials and bodies.
The government has no standard policy on housing, he said, so he tries to make sure that terms for relocation are "reasonable." This can be achieved, he continued, with faith in the basic goodness of all people, including politicians, and "tapping that goodness."
He tries to get the government and people to dialogue, because "once they talk, solutions can come."
Homeowners who gathered at the Oct. 11 San Martin general assembly told UCA News they look to the Church to provide what the government cannot give. Dante Panis expressed hope that Caritas Manila will help give them livelihoods.
Tamie Quiban said relocated residents felt "great" owning homes with a floor area more than double what they used to have, while paying just about the same rent they used to near the railway.
Father Fajardo warned, however, that after relocation, the Church should minister to the community, or it could become a breeding ground for social problems.