Talk or reference of informal settlers are confined mostly in the country’s urban centers, most specifically in or around the Mega Manila area.
But that phenomenon is not common in urban centers alone. It is a basic fact which prevails in small and big towns in the country. It is because the landless are not only found within the perimeters of big cities, but also in the provinces.
Also in Calabanga
Here in Calabanga, former residents of the town who had been away for a long time, and returning for a visit, will wonder where the settlers of ‘Intramuros’ and ‘Muntinlupa’ were relocated.
Back in the 1950’s many of the families who were landless in the town, joined by others coming from elsewhere, settled in the vacant lot owned by, and surrounding, the Catholic parish church of Our Lady of La Porteria here.
They settled in the vacant lot which at that time has no peripheral fence. So that families were able to put up their houses which ranged from semi-concrete to small nipa huts. Some enterprising settlers opened their sari-sari store, too.
The community that emerged in the area referred to the place as “Intramuros,” getting its namesake out of the historic Walled City in Manila. Families on the west of the church called the territory as Muntinlupa, borrowing its monicker from the same town, now a city in Metro Manila.
The public market was just a few meters away at the town center still referred up to this day as Parada. (Parada, Bicol term for stopping point, where the public transportation make a stop and passengers get off).
The area is also a short walk towards the nearby elementary school and the municipal hall and government center.
But some things are not meant to last. Decades later, the families were made to move out of the land they occupied.
The parish needed the land as part of its expansion- in the construction of new buildings for various ministries, facility and services.
Eventually, foreign nuns representing a Catholic religious order arrived and set up the Dominican School of Calabanga on the southern side of the property.
Displaced families found their way in the vacant lots, among others, just like the one between San Pablo river and the rice farmlands (Bicol term: tara-taculod). When the waterway was upgraded with a concrete rip-rap reinforcement and realignment, the lot area got widened too, eating up some few meters from what used to be the rice fields.These informal settlers have constructed their dwelling places made either or with combination of concrete, wood, coco-lumber, nipa and galvanized iron. But many structures always look like in a state of construction in progress
The huge lot on the western side, fronting the town’s government center was cleared for lease of commercial establishments.
(Now, a town mall is slowly rising in the area, which could wrap its construction and start commercial operation very soon. It replaces the previous commercial stalls and terminal buses that ply the routes of Metro Manila-Calabanga-Tinambac and back.)
Edged out and without assistance from the government, the informal settlers relocated their families on the vacant lots just beside the walled Dominican School, in Barangay San Francisco, more specifically fronting the fringes of sitio Marpos of Barangay San Isidro.
Displaced families found their way in the vacant lots, among others, just like the one between San Pablo river and the rice farmlands (Bicol term: tara-taculod). When the waterway was upgraded with a concrete rip-rap reinforcement and realignment, the lot area got widened too, eating up some few meters from what used to be the rice fields.
Informal settlers in the area are aware that the lot they setup their houses is claimed as public land by the National Irrigation Administration. Owners of the rice land immediately bordering the irrigation shoulders claim to own the lots, too.
Settlers put up their homes made either or with combination of concrete, wood, coco-lumber, nipa and galvanized iron. But many structures always look like in a state of construction in progress.
Residents even have planted gabi, cassava, banana, fruit-bearing trees which include mangoes, indian mangoes, and coconut trees in the area.
The local electric cooperative provider has now made available the service of power which afforded the residents to experience the benefit of electricity. But residents still do not have access to clean potable drinking water.
Potable water comes from the private stalls of water filter refilling stations. Most of the time, residents fetch free drinking water from neighbors with CAWADI connection. Calabanga Water District is the franchise operator which get its free source of water from the spring in Barangay Balombon at the shoulder of Mount Isarog.
Laundry is done using the water from the silted tributary when the tide is high or from the deep well hand pump.
Many of these informal settlers do not have a regular source of livelihood. Some of the family subsists from the measly hand to mouth existence with income earned by the man of the house through padyak, or the man-powered tricycle.
Majority of the families are enrolled in the DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program even as many endeavor to add in their income but only during rice harvest season as paid hands.
Residents traverse the levee from across the river through rickety bamboo poles and coco lumber foot bridges. The other side is actually the backyard of houses lining the main road. During bad weather and rainy season, the crossing is a challenge as flood water overflows.
Children crossing the bridges at night are exposed to the risk of falling as it is unlighted. The area is a haven of many young children though.
So, can we say now that the informal settlers in the urban centers are much better off than those in the rural areas?