The Women of Catmon

Poverty and Motherhood in an Urban Poor Community in Malabon

 “Isusubo na lang, ibibigay pa.” This is a saying often used to describe the sacrifices mothers make for the sake of their children. For thousands of poor Filipino mothers, this is an everyday reality.

Poverty in general is associated with limited access not only to resources but also to opportunities that could otherwise help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. In poor households, mothers carry the heavy impact of the deprivations that their families suffer.

In Sitio 6, Barangay Catmon, Malabon, you can find mothers like Marlyn and Madelyn in the frontlines of barricades made from rusty galvanized iron and scrap wood. Their association, Sandigan ng Maralitang Nagkakaisa ng Dumpsite Catmon (SMNDC) has been at the forefront of their community’s struggle for their right to decent shelter. For these urban poor mothers, the sacrifices they make are not only for their children but for their community as well.

The urban poor community of Catmon has been conducting regular consultations with the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) on the issue of housing and the provision of other basic needs, particularly their lack of access to safe water and electricity.  Several dialogues have been facilitated by NAPC between the local government of Malabon, service providers like Meralco, national housing agencies, and the community. Strengthening the partnership between the government and the poor and marginalized sectors of society is one of the key aspects of NAPC’s mandate. The participation of these basic sectors in governance and nationalist development is envisioned to create a mass movement, politically and economically empowered in the fight against poverty.

With shelter as one of the 10 Basic Needs of poor Filipinos identified in NAPC’s anti-poverty framework, Kilos Sambayanan (Kilos para sa Sampung Batayang Pangangailangan), NAPC is pushing for a comprehensive public mass housing program to guarantee the right of the poor to decent shelter. It puts emphasis on housing as an important aspect of human development, which includes shelter as well as amenities such as water and sanitation, electricity, and even access to various social and economic infrastructure.

A community built on a dumpsite, Sitio 6 is at the center of a land dispute involving the Community Mortgage Program (CMP). It is home to around 2,000 families who are mostly contractual workers, garbage collectors, charcoal makers, and food repackers, some of whom, have been living in the area for 50 years.

Madelyn, who is also the SMNDC president, told NAPC in a consultation on March 23 that since 1986, when she started living in Catmon, the community have been rejecting the program because most of the residents in the area cannot afford to pay the high mortgage with the meager income they get from “pag-uuling and pangangalakal”. The program, allegedly is also being run by a land syndicate.  According to her, a neighbor who is under the CMP reported that they have been paying for 16 years but when another claimant of the land came, their payments went back to zero.

Their refusal to join the CMP and their exposure of the “anomalies” of the program, according to Madelyn, has earned them the ire not only of the groups who joined the CMP but also of the LGU, so much that even the application process for their electricity and water connection has been made difficult for them. The residents get their electricity from a central connection controlled by the same people leading the CMP in Catmon, she alleged. She had to shell out P25,000 + P12,800 association fee to the CMP leaders to get the connection, because they were prohibited to apply for a direct connection. She found out later from Meralco that she only needed to pay P1,500 for the application.

They have seen it all, Madelyn said - slain leaders, land grabbers bearing fake titles, hired goons, demolition teams, and now they are even up against the LGU, the different HOAs in the area and even some of their own neighbors who joined the CMP project. They also received reports that a big corporation is interested in the land.  Their urgent call is for the implementation of CMP to stop in the community, freely award to them the land where their houses stand, and that provisions for basic utilities like electricity and water be made available to them.

Madelyn came with Marlyn and 100 of their neighbors to their makeshift headquarters when they found out NAPC will be visiting the community on April 23. It was supposed to be a sit-down interview with their president but Madelyn said, when the community learned that someone from NAPC is coming over, they all wanted to come, eager to hear from the national government. It was a show of force, Madelyn said.

They have nothing to hold on to except their collective strength, they said. “Mahirap ang kalagayan namin. Lalo na sa katulad namin mga nanay, iniisip mo pa nga kung paano mo bubuhayin ang mga anak sa sa araw-araw, nag-aalala ka pa baka bukas wala ka nang bahay. E marami sa mga nanay dito, hindi nag-highschool, walang maayos na trabaho.”

In several consultations held by NAPC, Madelyn has always been the outspoken leader of their community, while Marlyn often sits quietly in a corner, answering meekly when asked. But on that Friday noon, in between tears, she was as feisty as Madelyn.

“Katulad ng marami sa amin dito, nanay-tatay ako. Nagrerepack ako ng uling sa umaga, sa gabi nangangalakal,” Marlyn, mother of four, kept fidgeting with her hand towel, trying to hold back tears as she sat down to tell her story.

“[Naiiyak ako] lalo na kapag yung anak ko nanghihingi ng gatas, mama pahingi ng dede, baon, ganun. May isa pa akong anak na ginagamot, dun sa bituka niya, akin lahat yun. Suwerte ko kung kumita ako ng P300 sa isang araw. Minsan tumutulong sa akin yung 13 years old ko magrepack ng uling. Mahirap.” Marlyn said.

Single mother, four children, one sick with something she cannot even pronounce (“basta sakit sa bituka”), P200 per day from “pag-uuling,” a little extra from “pangangalakal,” – her story is not unique, it is probably the story of everyone else inside that makeshift tent. Yet the group who, a while ago, was animatedly talking about the one who was shot dead inside the public market last night, fell silent as she wiped her tears with her hands, leaving smears of charcoal on her face. The lazy drone of the industrial fan and the buzzing of dumpsite flies, were now the only sounds you can hear while Marlyn was talking.

“Two years natigil sa gamutan ang anak ko dahil limang libo ang kailangan namin buwan-buwan. Yung hinahalo sa Wilkins niya, P1,500 kada linggo. Sa P200 lang na kinikita ko araw-araw, mag-CMP pa ba ako? Paano ko mababayaran yun ng regular sa loob ng 25 years?” Marlyn continued. To join the CMP, they have to shell out P700 for membership, P1,700 monthly mortgage, P3, 600 with penalty.

“May mga lider na kaming pinatay, yung iba tokhang daw. Hindi narereport sa media,” Marlyn said, adding, “kaya binabantayan namin ang isa’t-isa.”  In between taking care of her children, repacking charcoal by day, and “pangangalakal” by night, she helps guard the barricade and the headquarters as harassment and intimidation against their association have intensified.

What they need, the residents said, are regular jobs with decent wages, and decent housing.

“Dati nung hindi pa tumataas ang bilihin, nabibilhan ko pa ng orange mga bata. Sa P200 dati, may gatas na ako, bigas, ulam. Ngayon, ultimo pangkape wala na.  Yung dating P38 kong binibiling bigas, P42 na ngayon. Tapos bibili ako ngayon ng singkwenta pesos na isda, kung dati anim na piraso, ngayon tatlo na lang, kaya ginagawa ko hinahati ko na lang para magkasya. Pag hindi kasya, nangungutang pa ako sa kapitbahay.” Marlyn said.

Last year, Marlyn was also part of the “Barikadang Bayan” the community set up to thwart threats of demolition in the area.  There were 500 people in the barricade, all of them were women.

The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) estimates a housing backlog of 2,017,909 units as of December 2016, due to unacceptable housing (799,780 units), doubled-up households (493,427), and for future/recurrent needs (724,702). Total housing needs are projected at 6,796,910 units over the 2017-2022 period (NEDA, 2017).

The housing backlog has already escalated into a humanitarian crisis.  Mothers like Marlyn and Madelyn leave in constant fear that tomorrow, their children will have to sleep in the streets, but they will not stop fighting, they said, for it is only through collective strength that they can win this fight.

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