Neoliberalism & slum fires

There are hundreds of slum fires every year in dozens of countries since one billion people now live in sprawling urban squatter colonies of makeshift housing. Fire forensics are seldom reported but fire officials routinely cite the cause as faulty & pirated power lines, flammable building materials, or gas tank explosions. Residents often claim arson & criminal negligence by municipal authorities. The locations of slums in areas targeted for gentrification & urban development renders the claim of arson entirely credible–even likely.

The number of slum residents is expected to double in the next 15 years to two billion people as millions of farmers & farm workers are expropriated & displaced by the IMF model of agribusiness plantations. Every year, 240,000 displaced rural residents move to Manila. Philippines, making it the fastest growing city in the world. The World Bank reports squatters now comprise 40% of 12 million Manila residents. They are mostly unemployed or part of the informal economy & live on USD$1.00 a day or less. They live along waterways including Manila Bay, railroads, around garbage dumps; thousands make their living scavenging those garbage dumps for recyclables.

The savagery of neoliberalism is relentless. Under IMF investment strategy, public domain urban lands now inhabited by those squatters must be privatized for commercial & industrial development, including resorts, casinos, mega-shopping malls, special economic zones. The squatters have to go.

In 2008, the Philippine Supreme Court authorized government officials to demolish “illegal structures & dwellings” along all waterways connected to Manila Bay & ordered it over & done with by December 2015. The court ordered authorities to clear out tens of thousands of shanty residents but laid out no relocation guidelines–legitimizing a free-for-all for neoliberal barbarism. President Aquino & other officials made it quite clear they intended aggressive action to clear squatters & relocate them to the isolated, rural areas they originally fled from to find work. One government official said he had received orders from Aquino that “If push comes to shove, we will have to blast those houses.”

Officials tried to make it easy on themselves by offering incentives for squatters to relocate. A government relocation program offered family grants of 18,000 Philippine pesos (USD $403) to move. They sweet-talked residents claiming they were trying to move them out of flood-prone zones. If their concerns were so damn humanitarian, why didn’t the government instead use the relocation dough to build levees & public housing!?

Another tactic employed by officials has been to burn the slum communities to the ground. There have been dozens of slum fires all over Manila in gentrification/urban renewal zones. Tens of thousands have been made homeless but with no place to go most reclaim what was salvageable from the ashes & move back to the site to rebuild. Not to be daunted by public resistance, officials wait a period & then burn the new settlements to the ground. Many people, including several children, have died in these conflagrations.

This photo is of a fire (March 12th) in Malabon City, a part of metropolitan Manila being slated for gentrification. Over the past few years, there have been several slum fires in Malabon with several deaths & thousands made homeless. Fire investigators are still determining the cause of this fire. (Don’t hold your breath!) Public housing was announced in 2012 to quite a lot of fanfare but on completion would provide housing for only 720 families. In 2013, the government proposed relocation of 24,000 “informal settlers” (as they call the squatters) & in fact the population of Malabon has decreased in the past few years. There are no reports on how successful relocation efforts were or where those relocated ended up. One hopes they took the lousy $403 bucks & stayed put in Malabon.

In the barbaric phase of capitalism, human life is expendable & poor people just a nuisance. Their fate is no concern compared to greed. It’s time humanity put an end to such tyranny.

Housing is a human right!

(Photo by Erik De Castro/Reuters)

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