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Photos from the water co-op meeting day

There is so much news here. The Filipino journalists all think it must be terribly boring to work on a newspaper in Aotearoa. They look at me (representative of NZ media) dismissively when I tell them we only really have one major newspaper per city in comparison to the eight broadsheets and 20 tabloids in Manila. But then Manila has a population of 11 million and the entire country has more than 80 million inhabitants compared to our measly 4 million.
All the stories jostle each other for page space, at the same time competing with the “Lifestyle” stories/celebrity gossip/ thinly disguised infomercials which, like in papers across the world, seem to be slowly squeezing out the actual news.
Things which would take up the front page for weeks in NZ barely get a mention sometimes here.
A bomb goes off in Mindanao. An 11 year-old is shot dead when police raid her home looking for insurgents. A hostage is released, a hostage is taken, ransom is paid, someone denies ransom was paid. The leader of the tricyclists (motorbikes with side cars, which transports people and goods) protesting over petrol price increases is shot and wounded. Amnesty for Abu Sayyaf (armed terrorist group) is suggested and then laughed out of the house, in other parts of Mindanao a cease fire is called so peace talks can resume with other insurgent groups. President Arroyo takes another overseas trip with her huge entourage, on the taxpayers' Peso but this time it is to an interesting forum which I hadn't heard of before – a kind of reverse G8 for nations at the other end of the G8 spectrum. I could go on.... But before I do.... The trip Gloria went on was to attend the Non Aligned Movement Summit in Egypt which is for countries, not aligned to any major power block (even though the major world powers tend to seep up all other nations in their quest for supremacy).
According to Wikipedia it “Started as an attempt to thwart the cold war in 1955” and aims to “ensure the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony, as well as against great-power and bloc politics”. - I don't know how well they achieved any of this but it's still an impressive mission statement and Hamilton-Paterson says the Philippine's participation back in the fifties was displeasing to America to say the least. - Even now the U.S. still likes to think of Filipinos as their “little brown brothers”, their American outpost in Asia. In a recent (and much vaunted) first Asian leader trip to visit Obama, the U.S. president praised Arroyo for her human rights work (are you crazy? see previous blog for her human rights record) and anointed the Philippines designated co-ordinator for the rest of Asean.

The journalists I talked to at the National Union of Journalists Philippines were outraged by this, saying things like “it's good for America to get Obama for president, but it doesn't change anything for the rest of the world. No one man is big enough to change U.S. foreign policy, there is too much money and business at stake.”
I tend to agree with their skepticism about Obama. The whole “come on everyone, out of Iraq..... and into Afghanistan. Now this is where we can really do some good, if only we are prepared to spend more money and send more troops and be prepared for a long haul...”is  somewhat disturbing.
An Indian man I talk to in the swimming pool tells me I should report some good news, “ not like all the sensationalism on BBC and CNN”.
I ask a researcher from the Institute for Popular Democracy about this, about whether the Philippine media is failing the people by concentrating so much on negative stories. He replies that the journalists are aware of the concepts of developmental journalism and the need to help build up a nation by telling some good news about it, but that “it's a matter of supply and demand”, and the supply of negative stories is huge - “turn this way and there's six stories of corruption, turn the other way and there's another six on war”.
He also cited the Filipino's love of a scandal, but I think this is fairly universal.

Another source blames the Marcos years for giving developmental journalism a bad name. He says all the propaganda lies they distributed through the state sponsored media heaping praise on themselves and the economic development of the country during their reign of power came under the developmental journalism heading.

Its very easy for anyone to get bogged down by all the bad news, to feel that corruption and greed will hamper any progress which individuals or groups try to make, to believe that there is no point trying to help people who don't seem able to help themselves....
The other day I met another foreigner who has been here a few months working on various projects, who crystalized for me the experience of many foreigners working for change in a 3rd world country beset by seemingly insurmountable problems. Tom is young, intelligent, enjoying his job, enjoying his Filipino colleagues, really happy to be here and slightly despairing. During our conversation he notices himself sounding less than optimistic about the state of the nation and tries to remind himself, not too successfully, of some of the upsides.
It reminds me of finally meeting with Green Steve last year whose praises I had heard for almost as long as I had heard of Karenni refugees in Thailand. After working with Karenni refugees on human rights and environmental issues for the past 20 years, where to a large extent nothing of the macro picture involving Burma has changed, he looked and sounded tired, (but maybe he just needed a break.)
I don't know if this story is true but I still remember someone telling me how the environmental group Steve had helped facilitate, excitedly invited him round one day to eat an endangered species of monkey they had just caught.
Back in Manila what Tom finds particularly depressing is over-population and massive resistance to introducing any form of birth control. This huge population means there are simply not enough jobs and though in order to combat this you will find incredibly inefficient systems where you have five people doing what could be done by one, if only they would streamline their processes, there is still very high unemployment.
Erik from IPD tells me that only something like 20-percent of workers are formally employed, the rest of the employed are farmers, drivers, seasonal workers etc.
In Manila City (as opposed to the whole Metro Manila area- which is comprised of several different cities like Auckland) it is illegal to buy the contraceptive pill.
They are trying to push through some sort of family planning bill which would encourage education about other forms of contraception aside from “natural family planning” but the huge sway which the Catholic Church has over the country is making it difficult.
Tom tells me with horror, a story of women getting an IUD inserted and then being refused communion by her local priest, (nothing being kept secret in small rather open communities).
I don't think this can be in a big city though. Marie says "many Filipinos prefer to use contraceptives rather than have another baby, so they ignore the church".
It distresses me that the Bishops can't have the same sort of sway when it comes to banning other activities which go against their teachings such as murder and corruption, although I guess they try. – I read stories about them urging restraint to anyone considering revenge after the bombing of a church in Cotabato and they have been active in spreading information about disease control in relation to swine flu. Their presence also means that the death penalty will probably never be reinstated here, although they can't do much about the extra-judicial death penalty as metered out by corrupt politicians or war lords.
During the Marcos years and after, many of the clergy were instrumental in monitoring election ballet boxes and visiting political prisoners, and often faced death, along-side any one else standing up to warlords/corrupt mayors/ignorant army thugs.
During Edsa (the people power revolution which was instrumental in deposing Marcos), they could be seen kneeling in the streets in front of tanks beside the 10,000 other protesters.
However it should also not be forgotten the effects of the first Spanish friars in the Philippines who treated their parishes as private fiefdoms meting out medieval cruelty as they saw fit and painting an image of Philippine Muslims as heathen pirates from the south, which probably still effects politics today.

Ed is equally pessimistic about the plight of the poor masses. He explains agrarian reforms to me.
Tenant farmers working on huge blocks of land owned by wealthy families, who generally acquired their land either through impressive stealth and cunning or straight out collaboration and/or marriage during the years of Spanish occupation, were given rights to the land so they could grow crops and couldn't be evicted. They have to give 60% of any profits they make to the landowner. This doesn't sound like a particularly good deal to me but Ed says they are much better off under this system, which means if they don't make any money for some reason then the don't owe anything. - 60% of nothing is nothing. In different industries the division of profits is different and a benevolent landowner will pay for production costs also. Tenants are also given the option of buying the land off the owners with a government mortgage, but owners who don't wish to sell can simply over-evaluate the value of the land so as to make it prohibitively expensive. Buying back land which is your ancestral domain anyway must be an annoying prospect....
The peasants fought long and hard to make these gains and being shot by police during protests is still not that uncommon. Somehow Cory Aquino, the President after Marcos who implemented land reforms, managed to not give up any of her giant hacienda to peasants. In all the banner waving and glorifying over her death last week it should be remembered that under her administration police opened fire on and killed many peasant farmers attending a peaceful protest to urge for the promised land reform to be delivered. (If you are rich or powerful in the Philippines, it seems you can get around anything.)
This is a very brief summary of a much more complicated issue which has its roots in the 300 odd years of Spanish colonialism followed by American then Japanese then American again colonialism, which obviously wrecked havoc on land rights and the national psyche, but for eloquent description of history, rural poverty and land tenure, read James Hamilton-Paterson.
Here is a quote from his book America's Boy explaining how many of those who orchestrated the popular uprising against different colonial powers were often betrayed by the land owning classes. In this case he talks about peasant farmers but equally he explains how the guerilla armies which were a major force in resisting Japanese imperialism along side America in the Philippines, were later labeled as communist insurgents by an America keen to use the country as a strategic base in Asia for warding off Chinese and Russian communist expansion.

"Neither Congress nor the Philippine (Commission reckoned with the ignorance of the common people nor with the opposition to the aquisition of land by poor Filipinos... on the part of their richer and more intelligent fellow countrymen ... The cacique does not wish his labourers to acquire land in their own right for he well knows that if they did so they would become self supporting, and it would cease to be possible for him to hold them as peons, as is commonly done at present.." Dean C Worcester, The Philippines Past and Present, (New York 1921) pp830-1

Ed tells me he used to be very pro-farmers, until he tried to work with them and make his family land more profitable for everyone involved.
He tells me he had all these ideas of setting up a craft business and providing work for the peasants living at his family estate and how he gave jobs to some of his neighbours as caretakers for his unoccupied family home, only to find that they had let the plants die and were siphoning his water for their own houses.
He can't understand why they don't want to grow their own vegetables on their land instead of buying them at the shop and why they only want to work half the day or only in the planting and harvesting seasons.
“They are so lazy, all they want to do in the afternoon is drink and watch cock fights and wait for handouts.” (cockfighting being a national past-time here – all over the city you can see big glossy roosters tethered outside apartments, I think there is even a cockfighting channel)
He particularly can't understand why when they go overseas they work so hard that Filipino workers are in demand in several countries. Possibly the pay-rates overseas engender them with the feeling that they really can get ahead, possibly its something to do with their homeland having not been owned by Filipinos for such a long period of history?
Myself often preferring to err on the side of laziness, (although I do like growing my own vegetables), I can understand why beyond being able to provide for your children without resorting to stealing from your neighbour, people may prefer to just kick back and relax, but Ed just sees fertile land going to waste and possibly fertile minds too. It's like the rich, or middle-class and the poor, across the world often have two very different mindsets. Bringing in my experiences with youthwork and with Karenni refugees, I think it takes very special people to be able to cross that divide and be able to both listen to what a group actually wants and inspire them to take action to change their lives.
This of course needs to be parenthesized by saying that dividing people into rich and poor probably isn't particularly accurate, as material circumstances don't necessarily reflect mindset and I've seen people inspire themselves without any outside intervention- those farmers who organise and lead the protests for example, the revolutionaries and guerrillas who fought off the Spanish, Americans and Japanese from their islands here, all the amazing Karenni I met. Perhaps inspired and uninspired would be a better set of definitions?

But all this has been a way of working up to some good news. Of writing of solutions both for the downtrodden and oppressed who can't seem to raise themselves from the dirt in which they squat to watch their rooster fights and for Ed's stolen water and umbrage at the prevailing lethargy.
I did an interview at the Institute for Popular Democracy last week, which is kind of a think tank or research orgnisation, trying to improve democracy in the Philippines. One of their projects is organising water co-ops so that the 50% of Manilans who aren't connected to the water mains don't have to rely on buying bottled water in or filling buckets from trucks which the mayor delivers every few days.
(this is a painting of the 4 presidents since Edsa (people power revolution which deposed Marcos)The gallery owner told me it represented the common people still yoked like the carabo while their leaders grew fat and happy off the peoples backs)
NUJP party

Erik who who explains all this to me is passionate about the water project which he believes can be a vehicle to mobilize the people into becoming interested in true democracy and removing the power of corrupt mayors to buy votes.
He is so passionate that he gesticulates wildly as he speaks and eats breakfast at the same time, flinging rice from his chopsticks, grains of which get stuck in wayward strands of wispy hair.
He never seems to get enough time to eat and is so busy fighting for democracy that he has to stop at McDonalds on the way to a water co-operative meeting.
He asks me if I am a “serious and sustained” vegetarian. He says he is a carni-vegetarian, which I think means he aspires towards only eating fish but doesn't always quite achieve it, such as when there are no fillet-o-fish burgers at McDonalds so he has a bigmac.

And finally the water co-op story:

“Water is life”, says Bagong Silang Water Cooperative member Lorda Feudo, yet more than 50-percent of Metro Manilans still don't have clean water on tap.

Those the least able to afford it are spending the majority of their salaries buying in water or wasting their days chasing water-trucks up and down the street just to survive.

However an energetic group of communities are taking the matter of water supply into their own hands and forming water co-operatives, so the daily struggle for water is one less thing they have to worry about.

Before we started the co-op and got connected to Maynilad Water, life was very hard, says Feudo.

“It was difficult relying on trucks to deliver water. We had to wait and run after the truck many times. Sometimes the trucks were not coming, so the day was useless, only watching for a truck that didn't arrive. It is so tiring, running to get water and then running home carrying the pails.”

“Sometimes we had to fight others who pushed in the line. Those who know the truck driver got more water. Everyone was very frustrated, sometimes angry”, adds another member Noemi Pajo.

We are sitting in their little office in Maharlika Village, Bagong Silang, Caloocan City, an area almost entirely occupied by relocated urban poor who have been moved from central Manila.

Outside you can see water barrels lining the streets of those houses who have not opted to join the co-op, while inside the office large charts show monthly expenditure and intake and the position of each board member.

“Financial transparency is very important,” says Feudo.

Maynilad Water had been promising water connections since 2002 but were unable to deliver and eventually after the co-op formed in 2008, Maynilad asked them to help provide water to other local households demanding their services.

The way water cooperatives work is that members front up the cash and labor to install pipes themselves and instead of having a meter for each household they have just one “mother meter” which measures the entire co-op's water consumption.

In effect they are buying the water in bulk from their water provider and taking care of the pipes and fee collection themselves.

The Maharlika board is comprised of housewives who received help and free workshops on how to set up a cooperative, write a business plan and build consensus from the Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD).

“We are all mothers,” says Feudo. “The men are all at work, they don't do household chores, so they don't know our water needs. They come home and say 'Why don't we have any water?'”

The women run the co-op themselves, each board member volunteering one day a week in the office while a manager, plumber and cashier all receive salaries of P3500 per month.

Despite the extra work of running the co-op the women say life has changed for the better since the daily struggle to find enough water has been replaced with water on tap.

“Household costs became very easy, everything becomes easy. When we want to take a bath we can. We don't have to wait we can do washing when we feel like it. It gives relaxation to our minds, life became very easy because water is life”, says Feudo.

According to the IPD households in non-connected areas can spend as much as P2,000 per month on water, including their labor costs for haulage, compared to an average P80 for those connected.

In Maharlika Village households have gone from paying up to P1750 per month for water to P600, “so they are happy.”

To supplement the free water delivered by trucks households buy in mineral drinking water, and also where possible buy water from local wells or other households who are connected to the Caloocan Water System in adjacent communities.

However the amount of water delivered by trucks varies greatly and in some areas trucked in water makes up less than 30-percent of water consumption.

“They may not feel it because they pay on a daily basis, but most of their income is going water”, says IPD researcher Kristine Quiray.

Quiray helped the women form their co-op and can attest to chaos of water truck deliveries.

“I remember holding one training seminar where suddenly right in the middle everyone dashed out of the meeting because a water truck had been sighted,”she says.

The co-op has 172 members so far and aims to reach 1500, however it wasn't easy to bring people round to the idea of joining and fronting up the initial costs of installing water pipes and a mother meter, especially when they could get free, but not enough and not necessarily drinking quality, truck water.

“They had to see the pipes installed in the streets outside their houses before they would really believe it could happen and pay the P1100 startup fee,” says Feudo.

The co-op began with just 22 members and P22000, but fundraising and a donation of 20 pipes from the son of the town's mayor who said he was “happy to help people who are helping themselves” got them started and after a year of successful running they were able to secure a grant from the Peace and Equity Foundation.

Quiray once took the group on a study tour to visit the Lusrai Co-op which started with water and has gone on to provide “ad-on services” such as life insurance, in Antipolo City.

Other models were also studied in Binangonan, where there are 21 water co-ops, the oldest having formed in 1976.

Now, as the pilot water co-op of IPD, Maharlika co-op receives visitors itself.

The women proudly inform me that they have had guest researchers from China, Singapore, Sweden and California all keen to learn about their project.

But despite their success the co-op is still far from reaching their 1500 household membership.

“We feel ok, but we are worried that there are few applicants coming to us”, says Feudo.

“But we feel we should continue, no matter what.”

She says they had a surge of applicants during the dry season, but they are in competition with the local government water provider who charges only P6 per cubic meter of water compared Maynilad's P12.

However they are hoping the local government water which is running at a loss, is often not suitable for drinking, has very low pressure and only works from 5 p.m. to 8 am, will eventually close down.

In comparison the women say Maynilad's water is very reliable and fine for drinking, although they still boil it for infants.

The local government also trucks in free water.

The IPD asked the local government to use the large funds – as much as P400 000 per month - spent on trucking in water to invest in structural development for the co-op instead, providing water connections to many more homes.

The IPD believes this would be a much more efficient use of government funds, and a much more effective means of getting water to the constituents, but the local government wasn't interested.

Water co-ops are somewhat of a passion for IPD researcher Erik Villanueva.

The IPD is basically a facilitating and research organization founded in 1986 interested in political and electoral reform, local government, social movements and development issues.

Villanueva sees water co-ops as a vehicle for engaging ordinary people in the workings of democracy and throwing off that famous Filipino fatalism which can see people simply waiting for destiny or other outside forces to help them instead of taking an active hand in improving their own quality of life themselves.

“The fight for water can open up a way to challenge local political elites”, he says.

Villanueva says the adoption of water co-ops is wide spread throughout Manila, especially on the outskirts and it is not just the urban poor who are making use of the system, but middle class home owners associations too.

“It wouldn't have been possible for the spread of access to water without water co-ops,” says Villanueva.

Currently one of the IPD's projects is forming a water co-op network association to bring all the different co-ops together in order to share expertise.

They are also negotiating on the networks behalf for a bulk discount from the water providers, but so far despite the co-ops providing the materials, labor and management which allow the water corporations to deliver their services, neither Manila Water Corporation Incorporated or Maynilad Water Services Incorporated have been interested in offering a discount

Quiray describes the situation as selling “retail and wholesale at the same price”.

Outside of Manila central, only 50-percent of the population is provided with level three faucet water, while in Metro Manila most of the 680 000 informal settler families also can't get connected.

Villanueva can understand the reluctance on the part of water providers to invest in high risk areas.

In the case of squatter settlements, the communities have no legal title to the land so the companies investment isn't safe and if the community gets moved on they won’t be compensated for their infrastructure.

Also non revenue water (NRW) can be as high as 70-percent in some areas, from leaks, water theft and people simply not paying their bills.

Quiray says Maynilad Water told her that recovering costs from areas such as the resettlement area of North Caloocan was extremely difficult and that even just fixing damaged pipes cost more because they had to send an extra worker to guard the truck so the tires wouldn't get stolen.

Maynilad water was unavailable for comment.

Villanueva says when the community takes over the management, these issues cease to be a problem as it is much more difficult to avoid paying your bills when it is someone from your own neighborhood collecting them.

“The incidence of NRW is very low when the community patches the leaks and collects the fees themselves”, he says.

Despite this, the water providers still claim ownership of the pipes and meters which the co-op have installed as the laws recognizing co-ops and their rights are not strongly enforced.

“How do you encourage urban poor or middle-class to invest in their own infrastructure, when neither the government nor the water services recognize or support their efforts?” Villanueva asks.

“Local officials promise water connections which often don't get delivered and then deliver free water from trucks in the meantime, with their names plastered all over them. This way, people will know who to be grateful for; this kind of behavior destroys the will of people to act on their own initiative and organize themselves.”

He describes watching people scrabble for water from trucks as “horrible and disgusting”.

“Politicians exchange services for votes and this becomes the currency by which the relationship of patronage is maintained. Instead of services like roads and water being the normal function of government, they are handed out like goodies in exchange for votes and the political elite maintain their position by exploiting the apathy of these voiceless, faceless, helpless masses who are made to remain dependent on someone else.”

He cites roads which end abruptly at the half of the village who didn't vote for the local official, as examples of “a democratic system that fails”, but also admits it is “not just the fault of officials, but those who elect them”.

Water co-ops are a way of sidestepping these traps, he says, freeing both the community and their elected leaders to campaign and vote on real issues rather than the mayors having to find ever new ways of raising the cash to buy the personal loyalty of their constituents.

Meanwhile another water co-op is in its founding stages in Recomville 2, a village described by one of the freelance facilitators from the Akbayan Citizens Action Party as a “government housing project gone awry”.

“Can you imagine a government housing project with no electricity and no water?” he asks.

The village has already secured its electricity connection through its own efforts.

The water-barrel lined streets are a hodge-podge of finished and half built houses with weeds growing up through the open rooves.

A father bathes his child beside one of the barrels outside his house on the street.

The meeting itself is held in a hastily constructed hall not big enough to accommodate everyone so that some attend by looking in through the windows.

However those at the meeting have great hopes for the future of their village.

The President of Recomville 2, Phase 3 and 4 says that though they have existed for four years without water “it just takes someone to start a project and when they see it working there is no need to invite people to join, they just start paying and paying”.

Lyn Tayawa is a mother of two who is helping to organize the co-op before she has even moved into the neighborhood.

“I am just waiting the pipes to be connected so I can move here and open my store,” she says.
“We are all very excited to have water here.”

Beyond politics and posturing, housewives and mothers in communities all over Manila have a very simple need to be met – water.

Because as Lorda Feudo so succinctly phrased it: “water is life”.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 15th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Obama is just a marketing phenomena, a new brand name for the same old shit. He isn't pulling out of Iraq like many people think. He is leaving troops there long term along with permanent U.S. military bases. How is that the work of a principled man? Has it not been proven beyond doubt that the U.S. invaded Iraq on fabricated pretenses. The U.S. is a rogue terrorist state.
Aug. 16th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
So not planning on going to the U.S. anytime soon Nick?
There goes the road trip plans....

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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