Friday, September 14, 2012

Rural migrants live on danger zones

The strong typhoons that hit some parts of the Philippines late this year were testaments to the unquestionable tempest of nature’s fury. In fact, these had resulted to the loss of many lives and brought extensive damages to properties and agricultural lands worth billions of pesos.

Eventually, these natural calamities gave trauma to many Filipinos, especially those whose houses are still under water in Central Luzon. Yet, many of us continue to ignore the signs of dangers, especially during the rainy season, when most water tributaries would have the tendency to overflow during heavy downpours.

As gleaned from news reports, most of the victims and fatalities were reportedly living along or close to the rivers and creeks, where debris, effluents, flotsam and water hyacinths are abundant because of the dwellers’ uncaring attitude toward the environment. Obliviously, they make the water tributaries their depots for wastes, instead of throwing them where these garbage are supposed to end up. Over time, these water tributaries could only hold so much. As the big volume of thrash accumulates, the flow of water is prevented from running freely into the seas thus allowing rivers and creeks to overflow due to clogged drainage systems.

The question now is: How come rural migrants still flock to Metro Manila– where air pollution, traffic congestion, humid weather and inundations are common problems that they have to live with the whole year round? Are they smitten by the flickers of bright neon signs along major roads at night, ride modern public transportation system, and while away their time at modern recreational facilities that are not common sights in the places where they came from?

Others may have different motives as to why they left their rural paradise and prefer to live in the urban jungles. Could it be because of the peace and order problems that currently exist in their places of origin? Or that they just wanted to feel how it’s like to live in the big cities. Unlike in the metropolis, life in the rural areas is drab and lonely. But why trade simple living or fresh foods to eat and air to breath for chaotic and polluted atmosphere, which are common problems in most big cities like Metro Manila?

Unknowingly, there are trade-offs that many of us have to contend with. As people are pulled to the cities, land spaces become constricted. With most cities already bursting at the seams, more people are added to the existing population thereby straining the local governments’ delivery of basic services intended to those who need them most. As the city population grows, accommodation for housing facilities is impacted. Without a place to stay, rural migrants are forced to squat in slum areas, especially along the railroad tracks and river banks that expose them to great risks.

And what do we expect when squatter colonies take shape in those areas? With no amenities of their own, squatter families discard their wastes everywhere thus polluting the water tributaries and the environment as well. Then health problems occur because of the unsanitary conditions that are spawned by pollution. When they could not find jobs to support themselves and their children, they become hungry and sick. Worse is that their kids could not go to school and some of them end up along the busy streets, selling flowers and begging for alms and some food stuffs to passing motorists, while their parents look on to monitor how much they had earned during the day’s work.
When night falls, try to peek beneath the concrete flyovers and bridges and you’ll find them curled up, sleeping to pass the cold nights away, and being feasted by mosquitoes. Some take the courage to sleep in wooden carts, with corrugated boxes that serve as their mattresses, and the starry skies as their wide, copious roofs.

Decision-makers are aware of the above scenarios. However, instead of addressing these social problems, their attention is diverted somewhere else, if only to put on the sideline what seems to be their obligations to the people. Ironically, it is hard to think that some ranking government officials were suspected to have amassed enormous ill-gotten wealth for their selfish interests thus depriving the millions of impoverished Filipinos their rightful share of the government resources that were meant to uplift their lives, and fulfill their long-stalled aspirations for a better life. However, the currents run counter to their aspirations, which made the poorer suffer more, while the rich become richer.

If only to appease the negative sentiments of the people, the national government was quick to introduce concrete and pragmatic measures to alleviate the sad plights of those who are socially disadvantaged. But it seems the government initiatives to contain the tentacles of poverty were not enough to address the issues at hand. Reason? The positive impacts of development programs were limited only to those who are living in the urban centers, while leaving majority of the rural dwellers scavenging for whatever jobs they could afford to have. This is because the concentration of opportunities is only found in major urban centers, while the countryside has yet to experience the trickles of progress due them.

And I wouldn’t be surprised at all why the movement of people from the rural areas to the cities has remained an enigma. Due to limited resources, the hands of government are tied which makes it useless to sustain anti-poverty alleviation projects. When the national government fails to collect the correct taxes from big taxpayers, whereby a portion ends up in the pockets of some corrupt officials, delivery of basic services to the needy is strained so that uplifting the lives of the poor has been defeated. This sickness is not new at all to many of us. This has become incurable because some of those who were entrusted to collect more taxes are allegedly the ones conniving with corporate accountants to cheat the government. Hence, the new tax czar has been challenged to improve revenue collections, if only to sustain the expenditures and programs of the national government.

Despite the launching of various anti-poverty programs, their implementation has barely moved due to politics. Time and again, it is a pain in the ass to see the mushrooming of projects, where the names of callous politicians appear, every time elections are closing in, especially those who wanted to build their image to win more votes from the electorates. It is not clear at this point in time whether or not the wishes of the poor to improve their lives could be achieved under the undaunted efforts of the new leadership. For ordinary people, it takes guts to thrive in this dog-eat-dog competition, where survival of the fittest is the name of the game.

Big cities in Metro Manila, for example, have a wide array of amenities that are readily open to the public. Instinctively, people’s curiosity for new things is often tested. Without much money to spend for goods, owing to the small income that most people get, it is just impossible for them to satisfy their basic needs. Knowing that almost all the goods and services are expensive, how can an ordinary or medium-earner squander what he earns for the day and ends up with nothing to eat the next day? With meager earnings, but for those greedy corporations who rake in huge profits at the expense of the efforts of their lowly workers, life for them has become a daily struggle. If ever their labor-related woes are addressed, these are only given band-aid solutions by no less than their bosses, who have the means to hire the services of legal luminaries against those who complain against their corporate greed.

As the old folks said: “If we’re not earning enough to live on a shoe-string budget to make both ends meet, better stay in the province, where we can be close to Mother Nature.”

At least, in the countryside, minus these amenities, we can go fishing using simple fishing gears and methods as long as they are not destructive to the environment. Or we can plant some vegetables and raise livestock in our own backyards for personal consumption. Excess produce can be sold for cash. Aren’t all these wonderful nature’s bounties enough to allow us to live in peace, and enjoy life as we hear the plaintive songs of the birds around us all day long?

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