Condemnation and Cohesion in the Slums of Manila
Officials in the Philippines have condemned its slums, but locals are trying to hold on to their communities.
"This is a place where you cannot stride along without hitting your head or bruising your elbow, so people creep and shuffle. Here, you cannot go to the toilet without standing in a queue. Here, sex between a man and a woman has to happen within breathing distance of their kids and earshot of 20 other families. This is the classic 21st-century slum. A billion people live in them, one in seven of the world's population. By 2050, according to the United Nations, there could be three billion. The slum is the filthy secret of the modern mega-city, the hidden achievement of 20 years of untrammelled market forces, greed, neglect and graft.
Yet Mena, at my elbow, is feeding me an incessant mantra: 'We are happy; there is social cohesion here; we are organised; it is clean.' The reason is this - the Estero de San Miguel has been condemned. The president of the Philippines, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, has decided to clear Manila's slums and send half a million people back to the countryside. That suits the business elite and the political clans that run the country fine. 'Many of our people are no longer interested in agriculture, so we need to give them incentives to go back,' says Cecilia Alba, head of the national Housing and Urban Development Co-ordinating Council. 'If we had to rehouse the slum-dwellers inside Manila in medium-rise housing, it would cost a third of the national budget.'"