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Relocation of slum settlers in the Philippines

Photo of the actual relocation site Montalban

The winding road is seemingly endless, lined on both sides with a plethora of junkyards, slum areas and ravines of trash. 

At the end of this stretch is the Montalban relocation site for some 200,000 slum dwellers from all over Manila located 30 kilometres away from the Philippine capital city.

On the surface, the village looks like a welcome respite from slum life – the houses are bigger, made of concrete, and built on paved land. But just a few minutes in the relocation site would make one realise that it is far from being livable because there is no livelihood and essential institutions nearby such as public schools or hospitals.

The relocation site stands on a barren stretch of land, no trees and not enough plants, directly under the unbearable heat of the sun. It is one of many identified geo-hazardous sites in the Philippines, which means that the area is prone to flooding. Settlers experienced the latest flooding disaster in August last year when monsoon rains went on for several days and nights.

Photo from the National Housing Authority of their relocation sites all over the country.

Lito Badion, leader of a settlers’ organisation and a settler himself who has relocated in Montalban, said the monsoon rains caused floods that went high up the ceiling of the houses of his neighbours who live in the lower parts of the site.

“This is why on the surface, the site looks livable,” he says.

Now, some of them are thinking of starting life anew in another slum area. And this is the reality of slum life in the Philippines. The reality is stark and telling.

The settlers migrate from the provinces in search of better lives in the cities. But the government, usually upon the requests of big developers, demolish squatters to pave the way for development – malls, leisure parks and more malls.

The Philippines’ informal sector is growing and while the government’s policies include them, the individual men and women who toil in the underground economy and live in the slums don’t feel they’re part of the country’s development.

These informal traders usually settle in slum communities and other urban dwellings. They long for decent-paying jobs and permanent homes, not just relocation sites that offer no livelihood programmes or long-term solutions to poverty.

The Philippines is a country of 94 million people, where almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Most live in densely populated and cramped slum areas all over the country. Economic growth – recorded at 3.7% in 2011 – isn’t enough to trickle down to the whole population, especially the informal sector.

Government researcher Marife Ballesteros, in a 2010 paper published by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), a government think-tank, said the Philippines  has a huge slum population, among the biggest in Asia. She said that in Metro Manila, the heart of the national capital region, an estimated 37% of population – over 4 million people – live in slums.

The relocation site in Montalban.

The conditions in these slum areas are far from livable – cramped spaces, fetid air and overpopulation. The government often turns a blind eye on the situation due to a lack of adequate relocation programmes.

The National Housing Authority, the state agency mandated to provide relocation programmes, is perennially criticised for failing in its mandate.

But NHA information officer Pides Orata says that through the years, the agency has successfully put up relocation sites in various areas in Metro Manila with livelihood programmes.

Settlers like Badion say otherwise but the Aquino administration promised to do better, with a so-called conditional cash programme for all informal settlers.

Patterned after conditional cash transfer programmes in Latin America, the government provides cash assistance to poor households on the condition that they send their children to school and give them nutrition care.

In an interview, the country’s Budget chief, Florencio Abad said: “President Benigno Aquino wants all informal settlers covered by the programme.”

All pictures by Iris Gonzales/

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About The Author(s)

Iris Gonzales

Iris Gonzales


I'm a Manila-based journalist and blogger. At present, I work for The Philippine Star, covering public finance and the macroeconomy but I also write many other stories here and there. I blog about development and human rights issues for the London-based The New Internationalist.

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