Philippines: Address the “structure of sin”
NewsNotes, March-April 2010
Vol. 35 No. 2
The following piece on a recent pastoral letter from Filipino church leaders was published in the January 2010 issue of World Mission magazine as a sidebar to a longer piece entitled “A society living in sin?” The larger context of the letter was the country’s response to typhoon Ondoy, which slammed the Philippines in September 2009.
In a pastoral letter, released in November, Manilla Archbishop Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales and his auxiliaries, Bishops Bernardino Cortez and Broderick Pabillo, call on the government [of the Philippines] to address the “structure of sin” that lies at the root of the housing problems of the poor in the metropolis. The “structure of sin,” they explain, involves land values that are far beyond the reach of the poor and many in the middleclass; low taxes on unused land; and the use of vast amount of land for shopping malls, upscale residential subdivisions and golf courses.
The letter reminds that, to start the rehabilitation and rebuilding that follow the destruction wrought by typhoon Ondoy [which hit in late September 2009], a deep restructuring of society is necessary, beginning with the government’s urban land policy. To this end, the three prelates call for the following actions:
- Undertake urban land reform so that the poor may have the possibility to have security of tenure in our cities where their livelihood is found.
- Issue a moratorium on demolition of the dwellings of the poor if there is no humane relocation for them as our present laws require. Humane relocation would include accessible places of work for them.
- Follow through on the processes to allot public lands to the poor in areas that have been given to them by presidential declarations. Let the public lands declared by the president be developed and effectively be made available to the poor.
- Enact legislation to raise taxes on properties that are idle, or to altogether expropriate them. The right to private property should not be given priority but be for the common good.
- Implement swiftly the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws by disallowing heavy and highly pollutive industries within our cities which are densely residential and commercial. The zoning ordinances of the cities should be reviewed. Heavy industries, and not the poor, should be relocated outside of our cities. If this is done, more people will move out of our cities to work in these industries.
- In resettling the poor and rehabilitating our cities, priority should be given to the employment of people. Informal settlers have grown in number because of lack of employment possibilities in places outside the metropolis. The “squatting” problem is not primarily a problem of housing; it is a problem of employment.
“Let us not blame the poor in the waterways for the flooding of our cities,” the letter states. “Let us look beyond: the unabated logging in Sierra Madre and Mt. Banahaw, mining ventures in our mountains, haphazard collection and unplanned disposal of our garbage, irresponsible city planning and development of subdivisions, just to name a few. Together, let us take a hard look at our present practices and have the political will to reform them. In truth, we can say that the government officials and the rich have more to do with the destruction of our environment that aggravated the recent flood, than the poor!”
The cardinal and the bishops said that the spirit of bayanihan (voluntary sharing of labor) and damayan (sharing of self) that was remarkably shown by the people in the aftermath of the devastating typhoons points to the people’s capability to work together up to the point of sacrifice. The many cries for reform, they said, should be heeded but only deeper reforms can address and improve the situation in the cities. “Only when the needs of the least in our society are addressed will our society achieve true and lasting development,” they underlined.