Wise Men and Women of Camarin:

An Urban Poor People’s Story of Displacement and Determination

6 September 2016   "When we were still living near the Tullahan River, our family can still afford to have chicken in our meals. Now, we can no longer afford to eat chicken." This is how Mimi Doringo describes their situation now, almost 2 years after they have been relocated in Camarin Residences I. Camarin Residences I (CamRes1) is a medium-rise housing project of the previous Aquino administration. Part of it is alloted as in-city relocation for the urban poor living near so-called danger zones as part of the government’s Oplan Likas program. The families subject for relocation have been given an amout of P18,000 as financial aid after they abandoned their homes. They were oriented that their lives would be better in their new homes because it is far from threats of floods and other calamities. Thus, despite the hesitations of the community members, Mimi’s family and many of her neighbors accepted the financial aid and agreed to be relocated. The 24-sq. meter unit in CamRes1 became their new home by 2014.  It was also a start of new struggles for Mimi, her family and their community. "You have a decent house but you barely have enough to feed your family." This has become the usual morning complaint from Mimi's neighbors. Like other urban poor relocatees, one of the problems they immediately faced after relocation is the lack of livelihood and jobs. And this remains true even for in-city relocatees in Cam Res 1. In their previous homes alongside the Tullahan River, jobs were more accessible to family members. After being relocated, the cost of going to work doubled, even tripled, for most of them. Some had to find other jobs, while some, like Andy, Mimi's husband, had to stay away from home on workdays and go home only once a week to save some money. An added burden to the lives of the residents of CamRes1 is the high cost of rent and utilities. When they were first transferred to CamRes1, Mimi and her neighbors were not informed about other fees that they would have to shoulder like the administrative electrical charges and payment for the water committee, among others. The rental fee is already high as it is, between P600 to P1,000 a month, considering most of the relocatees have no jobs and they have no livelihood until now. They were informed that the rental fee would increase every 5 years, however, it came as a shock to them when just after a year, they were already being charged with higher rental fees (i.e. from P1,000 for the residents occupying 1st floor, it increased to P1,200). Prior to their transfer, they were also informed that they would have to pay some miscellaneous charges monthly, that would amount to P300. Again, they were surprised when the bill arrived and they were being charged with P425 for the miscellaneous fees. They collectively campaigned against it and engaged the NHA to a dialogue. Eventually, they were able to lower the fee to only P147/month. The cost of electricity and water is also higher than the usual residential rate. For a family of five, like that of Mimi’s, whose main source of income comes from wages earned by her husband who works as a construction worker, their monthly dues would amount to P14,000. This amount is P2,000 more than what her husband earns every month which is just P12,000. Andy, Mimi’s husband would have to work overtime most days and Mimi would have to be extra careful in spending their money to make both ends meet. Forging unity, advancing rights Late 2014 when Mimi, her sisters and some other neighbors became members Workers in Struggle for Employment, Empowerment and Emancipation or WISE3. At first, Mimi and a few of their neighbors attended several discussions and trainings on human rights and housing rights. In the process, they realized that their situation is not isolated but in fact similar and connected to issues of other urban poor relocatees. “We gained a better understanding of our plight as urban poor relocatees and its root causes,” Mimi shared.

Members of WISE3 in Camarin Residences

Soon, they formed a chapter of WISE3 in Camarin Residences as they gathered more members and successfully conducted activities. They initiated and led campaigns to lower electricity costs. “Before, we do not have individual electricity meters, our bill every month was computed per appliance. Our average bill is P800/month. This is ridiculous because we know we don’t consume too much electricity as we only use it for the lights, cellphone charger and a single electric fan. Again, through our collective action, we were able to acquire individual meters. From P800/month, our bill dropped to P100-200/month. At first the task was daunting, but nothing is impossible when there is collective strength and determination. We constantly held meetings among ourselves, planned our action and held dialogues with the authorities. It is tiring but the fruit of our labor and unity is sweet,” Mimi said. But issues lingered. Recently, Mimi and her neighbors in CamRes 1 lost their water supply after some of their co-residents failed to pay monthly rates. Unlike in other housing facilities where each household has a separate meter, CamRes 1 has one mother meter for all residents. As such, when some households face financial difficulties and fail to pay their water bill, the entire community lose their water access. When this happens, it becomes very stressful for the residents. Some children were not able to go to class because they can’t take a bath and some adults incur injuries while carrying pails of water from the ground floor to as high as the 5th floor. While there is a water tank delivery that services CamRes1 whenever their water supply is cut, the price is very expensive at P40 per five gallons. The local government also provided water tank delivery but it was never enough for the entire community. Some residents end up fighting over water supply. “Again, we held dialogues with the authorities, the Maynilad and the NHA. At first, they allowed us to pay a portion of our bill and sign a promisory note and our water supply was reconnected but then after the promisory note, our neighbors were still not able to settle their fees, some of the Maynila personnel came back to cut our water supply again. I personally have to sit on the water-meter to prevent them from cutting the line. We picketed near the mother meter for a day to ensure that it will not be disconnected again,” Mimi recalled. On August 3, WISE3 held a dialogue with some officials from the Caloocan local government, Maynilad and the National Housing Authority regarding their demand for individual water meters. “Water is our basic need, we are not even asking it to be free of charge, we just want to have freedom of access and allow us to have our separate household meters,” Mimi said. Larger challenges ahead For Mimi, there will still be many challenges ahead for them. Their demands for lower amortization and access to services and livelihood have yet to be addressed. “It is really difficult to be poor. Our experience is that of constant displacement. Displacement from homes, jobs and services. These are the very basic things we need in order to live decently,” Mimi said. Similar to problems of other urban poor, Mimi and the rest of CamRes 1 residents’ issues boil down to issues of livelihood, decent jobs and social services. Housing problems are real and concrete but unless these basic problems are addressed, housing programs will not suffice. Instead, such will result only in more burden and problems for the urban poor. In facing these challenges, Mimi and WISE3 Camarin have to muster their strength because as experience taught them, only with solidarity can they continue to hope for a better future.###