Decent Shelter: A Desperate Dream
Continued from page one...
In 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines (then the Commonwealth of the Philippines) the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. By the time the Japanese surrendered to U.S. troops on Sept. 3, 1945, the Philippines lay in ruins. Manila held the heart-breaking distinction of being one of the most ravaged cities in the war, second only to Warsaw, Poland.
Even so, the nation's complete independence came, as scheduled, on July 4, 1946, and the Filipino flag flew over the island nation for the first time. Less than 20 years later, Ferdinand Marcos was elected president. During his second term, Marcos declared martial law. According to the Bradt Guide to the Philippines: "The rich were shamelessly lining their pockets, while the poor, as a result of rising prices and a general deterioration in their quality of life, were progressively getting poorer."
"There are two worlds here," confirms Mac Bradshaw, a longtime staff member for World Vision in the Philippines who handled church relations for the JCWP. "There's extreme disparity. There are 400 families that control maybe 80 percent of the wealth."
Yancy Modesto, an architecture student at the University of Santo Tomas, agrees, and wrote his thesis on housing the urban poor. He cited the post-war years and a lack of focus on education, as contributing factors to the disparity.
"Right after the war, there were more educated students," he says. "With the Marcos reign, for 20 years, education wasn't a priority. Low-cost housing wasn't a priority. The [Corazon] Aquino administration -- because of the problems with the Marcoses --couldn't do a lot she wanted to do. Today, the quality of teachers and students is not as good. After grade 2 or 3, there's no motivation to go on. [Children] think selling cigarettes gives them enough to survive a day."
Today, Modesto says, the housing deficit in Manila has reached alarming proportions. The most conservative estimate of housing need is 86,000 units annually, while the most the government has been able to provide is 13,500 units a year.
Another obstacle to building more affordable housing is the staggering cost of land, a problem that plagues countries throughout Asia. Real estate in urban Manila commands up to $10,000 per square meter, a rate that rivals the $2 million per acre prices reported in San Francisco. Ruben Morales, treasurer of HFH Philippines national board of trustees, points to the Asian economic crisis as having a hand in increasing the need for housing. "The economic crisis has aggravated the whole thing," Morales says. "Factories have closed down, and multinational companies have pulled out."
As a result, the Filipino tradition of bayanihan, where the entire community helps a family build a house, has faded. "Individualism is getting more strong," Morales says, "probably because of the economy. Job insecurity is high here. People say, 'I have to take care of myself first.' "
Habitat also is partnering with other agencies to provide job training to replace disappearing factory positions, and to offer microloans to entrepreneurial Filipino women to help the families meet the obligations of homeownership.
Popular Filipino Sen. Sonny Jaworski, who spent a day at the Maragondon site, notes that trade agreements and the nation's efforts to improve wages also have contributed to the current housing shortage. "A country like ours is trying to adjust closer to the level of industrial nations," he explains. "We're not a haven for cheap labor anymore. That's a problem."
Jaworski says the Habitat model presents an excellent opportunity to meet the Philippines' housing need. "This is how the world should exist," he says, "with this spirit of brotherhood. It's a great feeling to make a difference in the lives of those close to us."
Pat Curry is a writer based in Athens, Ga. She volunteered her professional services to HFHI's Habitat World magazine during the JCWP in the Philippines.
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