09 September 1999

Poverty alleviation in Kalookan City
First of two parts
Text and photos by Gina Mission



Aling Aida and her four children

The day was cloudy, but Aida Anos remembered quite vividly how her life shone that day. And despite the string of "bad luck" that had been besetting her family, she felt sure then that things would change for the better, even when she wasn’t sure how or why. A light of hope glimmered in her heart.

___It all started, Aling Aida, as she is known in their barangay, told CyberDyaryo, when a woman she could only remember as coming from the Kalookan City Hall, visited her sometime in June. Thinking it was just one of those "surveys" where they would be asked questions like number of family members, annual family income, etc., she even ignored her visitor at first, excusing herself to supposedly finish the laundry. But instead of leaving, her visitor announced some good news from Malacaņang. Or so she was told.

___"Sabi niya ‘may biyaya galing Malacaņang. Hindi ko alam kung ano, pero dadating ito sa ‘yo (She said, ‘there’s going to be a gift for you from Malacaņang. I don’t know what, but it will come to you’)," Aling Aida recounted.

___Aling Aida is just one of Kalookan City’s 100 poorest family beneficiaries, who are going to be the "human face" of the administration’s poverty alleviation program (PEP). PEP is President Joseph Estrada’s centerpiece program in government, through the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).

Ricardo Ancete, his wife Nimfa, and
son Bonjovi in the 10-square-meter
space they call home.

___The PEP sought out the 100 poorest families in each of the 78 provinces and 83 cities in the country, the reason being the recognition of the family as the basic unit of society, as well as the values Filipinos attach to it. The 100 poorest families also serve to make monitoring and evaluation of PEP more defined. A cluster of 20 to 25 families will be provided with a viable enterprise in the barangay where they reside. A minimum of four different barangays is chosen in each province and city. This brings a total of 644 barangays as the core barangays for evaluating the progress of the program.

___PEP’s beneficiaries would not, however, be limited to the 100 poorest families in each province and city, because that would only total 16,000 poor families. Government target is to help alleviate the living conditions of 2 million Filipinos each year, which is possible, according to the NAPC, by spreading whatever support given to the 100 poorest families, to the general public in each barangay.

___The NAPC used the Minimum Basic Need (MBN) approach in identifying the 100 poorest families. This method considers three basic needs of the Filipino family. First is survival, which involves food and nutrition, health and water, and family. Second is security, which involves shelter, peace and order, public safety, income and livelihood. Third is enabling services, which involve basic education and literacy, participation in community development, family and psycho-social care.

___A March 16, 1998 local government memo directed the provincial governors, through their respective municipal mayors, and city mayors to identify such families from the poorest barangays in their respective jurisdiction.

___"I don’t really know how or why I was chosen. Some say they drew our names and I was one of the lucky ‘winners’," Aling Aida said. At 51, she has only one dream she would like to achieve: to put up a sari-sari store, like the one she used to have, until two years ago when poverty and the rising cost of living forced her to close shop.

___"Noon pa man mahilig na talaga akong magtinda-tinda sa kanto. Dyan ako magaling (I’m used to selling stuff. It’s what I’m good at)," Aling Aida said.

___A native of Samar, Aling Aida came to Manila in the late 60’s to work as a maid, her vehicle to "success." But luck seemed elusive and instead of being able to save money to start a small business, she fell in love and "invested" her little money in her new family. She got married in 1970 to Gener, a jeepney driver, who she said, earns "just enough for the family." They have four children, now aged 15-24 years old. Only the youngest is in school.

___In 1987, the family moved to Barangay 8, Kalookan City, where they currently live. Not quite a decent place to start life anew, but good enough "to support their needs."

The poorest of the poor: Barangay 8 in Kalookan City in the rain.

___Barangay 8 is a typical slum area. According to the barangay secretary, Paulo Mesina, about 75 per cent of the 20,000 residents, are poor. And by poor he meant, "really poor." Mesina described them as follows, "These are the ones who can hardly eat three times a day, have no dependable source of income, and cannot afford to send their children even to public elementary school."

___Most people in Barangay 8 are engaged in buy-and-sell ventures. Being a squatter area, the place offers considerable opportunities for scrap recycling business. The narrow streets of the barangay are made even narrower by what at first seemed like garbage scattered all over the place. Aling Aida, later clarified that those were actually the major source of income for many residents - scraps.

___As Aling Aida put it: "Kahit papaano, nabubuhay kami dito. Pwede akong magtinda. Yung mister ko, kung hindi makabiyahe, pwedeng maghugas na lang ng jeep. E kung sa magagandang lugar, meron bang ganito?" (At least we manage to get by in this place. I can peddle anything. If my husband cannot drive a jeep, he can earn money by washing jeepneys. If we stay in a nice place, will there be the same livelihood opportunities?)

___Not far from Aling Aida’s house lives the Ancete family – Ricardo, 27 and Nimfa, 30, and their child, Bon Jovi, 5 - another PEP beneficiary. Minimally-educated and unskilled, the only work Ricardo can find in his birthplace is odd-labor work. Their house is a typical barong-barong made of makeshift materials given to the family by friends and relatives.

___Both Ricardo and Nimfa are native to the place, and both grew up witnessing the poverty of Barangay 8. But sometimes they still find extreme poverty, and perhaps, sheer bad luck, to be strange. Poverty, they admitted, is something they’ve known all their lives, and yet at times, it still seems beyond their understanding.

___"Ewan ko ba, hindi naman ako nagkulang sa sikap. Pero ang hirap talaga ng buhay. Seguro ganyan talaga ang kapalaran namin (I don’t know, I work hard, and yet I’m still very poor. Maybe that’s my destiny)," Ricardo lamented. Even Nimfa is all praises for her husband, as he is, in her words, "talagang mabait na tao (a really good person)" who neither smokes nor drinks and is hardworking.

___But as fate would have it, they can hardly make both ends meet. Their barong-barong, around 10 square meters in size, is the most impoverished in the row of makeshift dwellings situated right along the barangay’s estero (drainage system). All three in the family sleep, eat, rest, and do all their domestic activities inside the small place. When CyberDyaryo visited their home at around four in the afternoon, the family was deep asleep in the vacant space inside that could only accommodate their bodies. Nothing more. To offer a worn-out kiddie plastic chair to a guest meant they all had to get up and vacate the space they had just slept on.

___Both husband and wife have their tale of starvation, and of terrible family fights, especially when Ricardo could not find work for an extended period of time. Sure, both have asked for help from their parents, but they can only ask so many times. Besides, both admitted that the food tastes best when you’ve worked hard for it.

___From their 10 years of living together, both have also come to realize that no matter how hard they’ve tried, it still hasn’t been enough. It is a fact they have started to accept, even as they ask themselves: "Where did we go wrong?"

___Coping with poverty must have its own built-in immunity feature. When Ricardo was visited by "a woman for a survey," he, like Aling Aida, just ignored it. "Hindi naman kami naniniwala sa mga ganyan. Palagi ng nangyari sa amin ‘yan. Ilan na rin ang nakapuntang ganyan sa amin, pero wala namang nangyayari (We don’t believe in those surveys. It has happened to us in the past. We’ve been surveyed for a quite a number of times, but nothing has happened so far)," he explained.

___But unlike Aling Aida who didn’t lose hope, and believed in what the woman who "surveyed" her had said, Ricardo just dismissed what he was hearing outside as pure lip service. "Sabi nila pabahay daw yan, magkakabahay na raw ako. Sabi naman ni Kapitan, ‘o, kasama ka sa listahan, may bahay ka na’. Iba-iba ang sinasabi, kaya hindi ko na lang pinansin (They said it’s a housing project, that I would be given a house. The barangay captain said that since I was in the list, I am already ensured to get a house. I heard different sort of things, so I just ignored them)," he added.

___Unbeknownst to either Ricardo or Aling Aida, however, sometime next week, the 1999 Lingap para sa Mahirap fund – from which they stand to benefit - of P2.5 B will be released. The fund will be used for medical assistance (P500 M), irrigation and potable water supply (P400 M), housing (P400 M), food assistance (P400 M), protection of youth and children (P300 M), and livelihood assistance (P500 M). As is the rule of government funds, the money must be used on its intended projects before the year ends. With only three months left, however, both implementers and beneficiaries still appear unprepared for this enormous project.

___As Ricardo admitted:"Hindi naman namin talaga alam kung ano ‘yun. Basta narinig na lang namin na kasama kami sa listahan," (We don’t really know what it was. We just heard that our names were included in the list.). Whatever the listing of their names meant, the woman didn’t find it important enough to explain it to them, or exactly what either of them could expect.