05/31/2006, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

Card. Rosales: "New South Rail must not destroy lives of the poor"

To construct the railway tracks from Caloocan to Los Banos, the government has displaced thousands of very poor residents. The archbishop of Manila has written to vice-president De Castro in their defence.

Manila (AsiaNews) – It is "sad and unjust" that those paying the highest price for a railway "should be the poor of the area" constrained "through force and threats" to knock down their homes and to leave, said Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales. The archbishop of Manila wrote a strongly worded letter to Noli de Castro, vice-president of the Philippines about the construction of a new railway track in the south and especially about the clearing of people out of the area.

"Poor people living along the railroad tracks from Caloocan to Los Baños have come to me several times to ask my help with their relocation problems. I met with them and government officials last March and made suggestions based on children's education, family income, and distant relocation," the cardinal told the politician.

"People have since reported to me that not much progress has been made in these matters, except that the government in San Antonio, Makati was more open to appeal cases. It is clear the situation in the relocation area of Cabuyao is seriously poor. I attach a summary of a study made for the Diocese of Malolos in the north and for our own use. Note that hunger has doubled since people were relocated; the water is not potable without boiling; there is still no light; family incomes have fallen. Lastly, it is unlikely there will be classes for 4,000 children in the relocation area in June.

"Distant relocation is the prime cause of much of these problems. If people were relocated near their work and schools, for example, family income would not suffer so much and the children could continue in their own schools with the help perhaps of some school bus service.

"It is also sad to hear that poor people are encouraged by the government to move to the relocation area even when it is not ready. People have told me they have been threatened that they will not get a spot in the relocation area if they don't volunteer to demolish their houses and move out at once. It is illegal to threaten people thus.

"Therefore, I am asking you as representative of the government to first assure housing, water, electric and school facilities before setting definite date for all evictions. This will allow the government to complete the unfinished tasks in the Cabuyao relocation site and to look more closely for in-city relocation sites."

The cardinal then suggested: "NGOs and people's groups with whom we work have found close some land in the Taguig/Bicutan area that would be ideal. Obviously there are objections to use such valuable land for relocation of our poor. We have to look again at our priorities. Do they reflect the Christian social teaching? Some data on these Taguig/Bicutan sites are attached.

"We hope we can work with you in the future in improving conditions in the relocation area and in finding alternate in-city relocation. We are grateful for the explanations that have been given, but it is not right that the poor bear the major burden of a railroad that will benefit everyone in the society. This letter will be brought to your office by the people with whom I have talked. I hope you can meet with them."

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