Climate refugees: losing homes and hopes
MANILA, Philippines - Not all climate refugees have an equal shot at having slots in the housing program of the government. Find out why in this report by Purple Romero:
Teresita Suarez and her family spent two Christmases here.
The evacuation center in Pescador, Navotas is cramped, hot and noisy.
The space allotted to them: a double-deck bed.
The Suarezes are among 100 families still here.
There used to be 1,500 families in this so-called Tent City since Typhoon Pedring in 2011 and Typhoon Gener in 2012.
Many of them are going to be relocated to a housing project in Barangay Tanza, also in Navotas, and in Bulacan.
TERESITA SUAREZ, EVACUEE: Nakapagpasa na po kami. Hindi po ako naaprubahan, marami kaming hindi naaprubahan. Hindi po namin alam. Ang sabi daw po, yung iba may bahay, kung anu-ano sasabihin nila. Yung iba naman sasabihin sa DSWD 'pag may magulang ka o kapatid, sasabihin nila ano na lang daw sharing.
(We’ve already submitted our documents, but our application was not approved - many among us had their respective applications denied. We don’t know why. They said some of us have houses, some from DSWD would say if you have a parent or a sibling, just share a shelter in the relocation site).
Teresita's application for relocation was denied.
She was considered ineligible because she supposedly had her own house, in Barangay Pitong Gatang, Sipac, Navotas.
The house belongs to her parents.
SUAREZ: Naaprubahan na po ang iba, ako lang ang hindi. Kesa daw may bahay daw ako sa Pitong Gatang, ang sabi ko naman hindi naman po sa akin yun sa magulang ko yun inaano naman nila na sa akin daw yun. Nakikiusap nga po ako sa kanila. Yung bahay na yun nakakatakot na rin po e. Pag bumabagyo dun humahampas ang alon sa bahay. Nawarak na nga po likuran nun. 'Pag umuulan, umuuga bahay na yun.
(The application of others had been approved, except for mine because they said I have a house in Brgy. Pitong Gatang. I told them though that I do not own that house, my parents do. I’ve already pleaded with them. It’s scary to live in that house. When there’s a storm, the waves hit the house. The back of our house was destroyed already. When it rains hard, the house shakes).
We visit the house, which is facing the sea.
A huge slab of its wall had crumbled with the impact of strong waves.
In Pitong Gatang, houses on stilts built on the seashore remain.
One of them belongs to Sonia Suarez.
Sonia wanted to leave her house since Typhoon Pedring.
But she wasn't granted a family card, the document that proves she was a victim of the disaster.
SONIA SUAREZ, RESIDENT: Hinihingi nila address ng asawa ko sa Palawan para masulatan. Solo parent kasi ko. Di ko alam anong purpose nila dun.
(They were asking for the address of my husband in Palawan so they could write him to confirm that I’m already a solo parent. I don’t know what is the purpose of that).
May nakasagutan pa nga kong taga-dswd kasi bakit daw hindi ako nakapirma sa family card, sabi ko bago ako nung panganak e.
(I had a spat with someone from dswd because they asked me why I wasn’t the signatory on our family card. I told them I just gave birth and couldn’t attend to it personally).
Like Teresita, she wants the DSWD to look at her home and see for themselves how unsafe it is.
SONIA SUAREZ: Nasilipan nila ko na may natitirhan ako dito. Sabi ko Mam puntahan ninyo bahay ko na tinitirhan ko kung matino ba. Oras ng bagyo masisira na naman yan.
(They saw that I still have a house. But I told them - Mam, visit my house and see for yoursel f if it’s still safe to live there).
Climate change experts worldwide have coined a term for people displaced by extreme weather events like Teresita and Sonia.
They are called climate change refugees.
Climate change expert Dean Antonio La Viña says their numbers are growing.
DEAN ANTONIO LA VIÑA, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: Those people who had to leave their homes temporarily or permanently because of climate-related events. People who ran away from floods, people who have to move because of extreme weather events or because their houses and communities are no longer livable because of climate-related situations. Those are what we call climate change refugees.
In 2010, climate refugees in the Philippines reached a million following tropical storms Ondoy and Pepeng.
When typhoons Sendong and Pablo hit areas of Mindanao in 2011 and 2012, over 200,000 climate refugees had to leave their homes.
They had no choice but to move to evacuation centers, like schools and basketball courts.
In Navotas, 200 families live in this basketball court and share these four bathrooms.
Malou Amante spent 6 months in a basketball court along with 400 families--- before moving to the tent city, where each family lives in a 16-meter space.
There's no partition, no rooms, no comfort rooms, not even doors.
She shares bathrooms with the other families.
Teresita, on the other hand, lives with 8 other families in her tent.
With no division or protection, diseases spread easily.
In 2011, almost all 8 families caught measles.
SUAREZ: Marami pong sakit, may ubo, may sipon, tigdas-hangin, lahat po kami nagkahawa-hawa bago pasko kasi dikit-dikit lang po.
(Many get sick, there are those who have cough, colds, measles. Families easily catch the disease from each other because of the cramped space).
Malou, who didn’t own a house before the disaster, was more fortunate.
After 8 months, she got the DSWD’s endorsement to a housing project in Bulacan.
MALOU AMANTE: Matagal proseso kasi nakatira sa pitong gatang private tinitirikan under observation nililinaw kong taga-pitong gatang, rehistrado. Napatunayan na kami'y talagang taga-Navotas
(The process took a long time because we lived in Brgy. Pitong Gatang, where our houses stood on private lots. We were under observation as they verified if we were registered voters from that area. They were able to ascertain that we really are residents of Navotas).
Other evacuees like her opt to move to the relocation site in Tanza, Navotas, which was built in 2011.
On the 8-hectare relocation site stands 1,500 houses, some of which were funded by the local government, the National Housing Authority and and nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity.
The houses are 22 square meters-big, with comfort rooms lined up outside the houses.
One of those who moved there was Elizabeth Menamen.
The house she was renting was washed out by typhoon Pedring.
Elizabeth chooses to move to Tanza even if she can only stay there for 25 years – and not own it - because this is where they earn a living.
ELIZABETH MENAMEN: Sa Bulacan kasi mahirap wala kasing trabaho doon yung anak ko nandoon nahirapan sila. Punta sila dito manghihingi ng pera, minsan lalaot e pag walang huli wala ding pera.
(It’s hard to live in Bulacan because employment opportunities are scant. My son has no work there. They go here to ask for money instead).
La Viña says when climate change refugees--- choose to stay in the air-rea they originally lived in the sensible thing to do is to redevelop that air-rea so they can have sources of income.
LA VINA: Well, the state of the art solution is find a place nearby where they are currently living redevelop that area because it's gonna be very difficult to move them away from their jobs or their children from schools.
But Teresita doesn't have the option of Tanza or Bulacan.
The local government is firm-- those who own houses are not a priority for relocation.
JOHN REY TIANGCO, NAVOTAS MAYOR: Pag private po yun resposibility po nila yun, lahat ng humingi ng pabahay paano po natin mabibigyan yun kung private po yun tapos humingi sila pabahay maraming maghihingian. Priority ng government walang tirahan talaga
(When they are hit by a typhoon in private, titled area, that's their responsibility. We're worried they might be using their private homes and get a housing unit.The priority of the government are those who are homeless).
The DSWD says evacuees whose houses are in danger zones may be considered for the housing project.
But that's a big maybe.
JENNIFER SERRANO, DSWD OIC-NAVOTAS: Yung talagang danger zone possible, still private property allocation for pabahay limited. Buti sana kung never-ending definitely they will come a time na i-ki-clear out may mandamus sa Supreme Court kaso kung ano lang binigay na slots dun lang
(It’s possible to consider applicants who live in danger zones. The allocation of free housing for those who have private properties remains limited, however - it’s not as if the slots are that numerous. There will come a time when they will be transferred to a different location because of a Supreme Court order, but it would still depend on the number of slots available).
Whether they own houses or not, these families become climate change refugees because their homes could not withstand extreme weather events and calamities.
The government must come up with a more nuanced solution to this predicament.
After all, people like Teresita cannot spend their Christmases in evacuation centers forever.
Purple Romero, Rappler. - Rappler.com