(Second of three parts)
The lack of jobs, unstable income, and decent housing, as well as high crime rates – problems exacerbated by the city government’s lack of a pro-people development paradigm – are just among the manifestations that Bacolod is unlikely to grow as a “humane city”.
BY KARL G. OMBION
The capital of Negros sugarlandia has recently been praised in Manila-based Money Sense magazine as the country’s most livable city, with the article citing as main bases the costs of living, accessibility to basic services, and peace and order situation.
Aside from this, city officials have also boasted of the numerous awards garnered by the city, among them accolades for supposedly being the most business-friendly city and the most developed IT (information technology) center in Region VI.
An assessment however of the basic social and economic facts in the city show a different trend, and seem to prove only the long-standing critique of social scientists and progressive organizations that the leadership of the region’s capital city has failed to address its own internal economic and political problems, aside from failing to alter the prevailing feudal and semi-feudal conditions spurred by the region’s mono-crop, sugar-based economy.
The lack of jobs, unstable income, and decent housing, as well as the high crime rates – problems exacerbated by the city government’s lack of a pro-people development paradigm – are just among the manifestations that Bacolod is unlikely to grow as a “humane city”.
Data provided by the Bacolod Housing Authority (BHA) revealed that half of Bacolod’s estimated 41,610 households are considered as “squatters”, or those families not owning lots and houses or are living in “extreme danger zones”, and without stable jobs and income.
According to the BHA, the number could have soared to as much as 60 to 65 percent of the city’s population as the 39,921 listed as “squatters” were still lifted from 1997 database of the city. “If we consider the 1.38 percent annual population growth rate of the city and the pattern and rate of migration from Negros rural areas to Bacolod, the figure of 39,921 “squatters” is already understated as the number of squatters most probably have gone higher considering the city’s present population of 499,497,” the BHA said.
The city officials are thinking of buying 30-60 hectares of land to accommodate the existing over 1,000 “squatters” with pending court cases as well as those likely to be ejected anytime soon, and to around 200 waitlisted household relocatees with pending orders of demolition.
The city’s existing relocation sites in Barangay (village) Handumanan, Fortune town; in Brgy. Estefania, and in Vista Alegre in Brgy. Granada are already filled up and any move to allow more entry of relocatees in the said sites might only cause more troubles to the city and the “squatters”.
But even this would not be enough because the number of “squatters” continues to grow while the jobs available are so far inadequate.
The leaders and representatives of various urban poor associations in Bacolod recently reiterated their demand for an immediate moratorium on all demolitions and ejections while the city government has yet to settle the demands of urban poor for on-site development, or guarantee the provision of viable and sustainable relocation sites for all the affected communities and groups.
In an urban poor conference initiated by the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), Negros chapter and its allied organizations led by Bayan Muna, which was held recently at the Redemptorist Convent hall, four workshop groups expressed collective alarm and condemnation over the wave of forced demolitions the city government has carried out the past months, leaving hundreds families scampering for temporary shelters.
Amalia Perez, Kadamay-Negros chairperson, said, “The city government has violated the Philippine Constitution, the Geneva Conventions on the Rights of Peoples, and the Urban Development Housing Act, due to its failure to provide relocation sites and the attendant support services to demolished communities, and also in carrying out violent and inhumane demolitions of houses and ejection of urban poor.
“Right now, more than 4,000 households have notices of demolition and pending court cases of demolition and ejection, and unless the city government orders a moratorium or strikes an agreement with court judges for a moratorium, there would be more homeless persons in the coming months.”
The workshop groups further tackled issues like actual income capacity of urban poor households and their experiences with various housing schemes carried out and partnered by the city government like the Community Mortgage Program (CMP), Miscellaneous Sales (MS), Direct Purchase (DP), Gawad Kalinga (GK). They all concluded that the city government’s housing program is oppressive and anti-urban poor.
“It is clear that the city government has designed its housing schemes with bias for the elites, business, expats, tourists, as shown by its expensive and exorbitant housing units,” Juanito Tanalgo of KAISAHAN, an alliance of local neighborhood associations, said in the local language.
“We could hardly even meet our daily food needs, and they still want to hog tie us with high mortgaging fees and other charges for the housing unit,” he added.
Bacolod Councilor Jocelle Batapa-Sigue aptly said that the huge number of “squatters”, “jobless”, and odd jobbers” in the city reflects the inability of the city government to provide adequate employment and support systems to its people.
“The acute corruption in the city government also exacerbates the failure to provide adequate and sustainable basic services to the urban poor; it’s in fact stealing something that belongs to the people,” she said.
Official city and labor statistics processed by the author revealed that of the city’s total labor force of 228,000 as of 2007, 74 percent have no stable jobs and incomes and the rate is still growing. The rate of employment is a mere 26 percent and economic trends show that prospects are not getting any better.
Of the 74 percent, 43 percent or 98,700 are underemployed or odd jobbers, while the majority are either self-employed or working in family-based small businesses. Thirty-one percent or 70,664 are unemployed or continue to look for employment.
Only 26 percent or 58,636 are employed as regulars, probationary and under renewable job contracts, or with clear employer-employee relationships. Majority of this section of the workforce are covered by the city’s estimated 21,000 registered businesses as of end-2007.
Of the employed, 30,028 are in general and professional services, i.e. schools, government offices, the communication and transportation sector, and other utility services.
Around 22,854 are in agri-aqua farms, e.g. rice, sugar, fishing, fishponds, vegetables, orchards and coconut plantations.
Commerce and trade accounts for 3,554 of the employed, while processing/manufacturing accounts for 2,200.
The level of unemployment conditions in the city is not surprising given the city government’s slow job generation vis-a-vis the rapid population growth and migration rate.
In fact, this condition is similar to that of all other cities and town centers in Negros.
The city government’s stress on the service sector is problematic because it is the sector with the most unstable employment, while the agriculture sector which still constitutes the biggest resources and labor reserves of the city remain largely neglected.
The city has 16,945 hectares of land, of which 9,101 hectares or 53.7 percent are devoted to agriculture; unless the city does something to address this reality, it can never achieve an all-around development.
It is a must for the city to re-orient its thrust toward spurring growth with jobs and development with equity, or it will be saddled with growing unemployment and population in the long run.
The region’s seasonal, mono-crop, sugar-based economy that serves as the bastion of surplus labor and causes the continuous urban migration to escape widespread and worsening poverty and hunger in the rural areas is another factor to be blamed.
Dole-out social services.
The Leonardia administration reported that from June 2005 to June 2007, the city spent P68 million (P32 million in 2005-2006 and P36 million in 2006-2007) in various social services.
A scrutiny of CSSD (City Social Services Department) projects, however, reveals that most of these “services” were dole-outs: relief services, one-time trainings, meetings and conferences, and printing and publications of materials.
More revealing is the fact that CSSD services went mostly to constituents of the political forces and allies of the Mayor and others in the city leadership. Thus the problem of effectively measuring the impact of these services arose.
Class A city with no hospital.
The Leonardia administration has until now failed to set up a hospital of its own, and is relying for almost everything on its excessively undermanned, poorly equipped City Health Office, which is housed in a small building.
The City Health Office has been catering mainly to first-aid and primary cases, while the rest, especially major medical cases are referred to the Bacolod-based Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital (CLMMRH), or profit-seeking private hospitals.
According to CLMMRH official sources, 75-80 percent of its patients are from Bacolod City, but support from the city government is quite minimal: a few dozen nurses and midwives, and half a dozen doctors rendering part time services.
Ironically, many ask, where do the millions being allocated yearly for health concerns by the city, and the millions more in donations from various local and international humanitarian foundations go? An accounting of the funds is being asked but no report has been made public yet.
What is even more ironic is the fact that the city government has been spending millions on salaries of 199 City Health Office personnel whose presence is hardly felt even in the city’s most depressed and disease-stricken barangays.
No less than the Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce, Inc. had once noted the crime surge in the city, pointing to the rising incidence of holdups, robberies, and numerous petty crimes such as snatching in the capital city.
MBCCI vice-president for external affairs Oscar Zayco noted in one media interview that a crime against persons and property have surged in recent months with incidents averaging three to four times a week.
Bacolod City Police Director S/Supt. Ronilo Quebrar also admitted that criminals in the city have not only increased and become more daring in carrying out their illegal activities, but seem to find it easier to stage their crimes.
He attributed the problem though to the city’s lack of police personnel. The city’s police force numbers only 473, thus amounting to a ratio of one policeman for every 1,189 citizens. He said the ideal ratio for a big city like Bacolod is 1:500.
Zayco also believes that the lack in the police force is not the main reason but the grinding poverty stalking the whole sugarlandia, which causes the increase in the rate of rural-urban migration and thus the commission of all sorts of crimes.
“As the city grows without much employment to offer, thousands of people flowing in supposedly to find ‘greener pastures’ here end up engaging in illegal activities just to survive; the city of Bacolod has become a mixture of ‘highly mobile and transient’ people which makes it harder for urban authorities to monitor and control the population,” Zayco noted. (Bulatlat.com)