In the country recently the urban poor particularly squatters find themselves on the front pages of national dailies. Instead of good news of them, the stories were of their eviction, either because of unexplained fire or direct notice from the property owner.
Of the first cause, I got to witness first hand how the evicted families looked like homeless. These families were from the Guadalupe stretch on EDSA. During the fire, they were brought to “live” on the street on Adalla fronting Rockwell and a portion of Salcedo Village. Returning there after some months of leave from the place, I found the street closed off and shocked to see families on cardboard mats under canvas shades. Next I noticed was the smell. The place or street reeked of a strange mix of human and garbage odor. My natural reflex was to cover my nose but I remembered that I’m a development worker, working against poverty and what better way to get under the skin of poverty than its stinking smell, and so I put down my hand and braced my stomach. I didn’t see garbage cans or a portable toilet and wondered about their state of sanitation. I noticed babies and young children on the mats with their mothers. Some others were asleep, open to passers’-by and the public’s scrutiny. Some were eating on the road/ground because the mats were for sleeping on. Where was human dignity here? On the street are human beings living as rats while all around them are gated homes and top shops.
My landlady told me the families had been there several weeks until Makati City Hall repatriates them to their “homes” in the provinces. I opined that Makati City Hall should at least give the families a taste of wealthy Makati while they are there instead of treating the families like stray animals.
The encounter brought home once again a view that treatment toward the poor and the homeless is a matter of perspective. If you see the poor and homeless as below you naturally your treatment of them follows that mindset. But if you see the poor and homeless as your equal despite their poverty then you’ll give or work out for their rights despite their poverty. That’s justice. If we take this further and bring in Catholic teaching, God despite my sins does not cut off my supply of air, nor does He/She cut off His/Her supply of love to me despite my sins. That’s true love and true love is true justice. The most unfortunate thing as in the treatment of those homeless from Guadalupe is that Makati City Hall sees people as hierarchichal, that is, there are people on the lowest rung, on the middle, up high, and at the very top. And treatment depends on where the people are on this hierarchy. That’s the grossest invention this world has ever made, I believe. And it is what’s widening the divide.