Squatter Village Fire Near Our Home Leaves 10,000 Homeless

Around ManilaForeign Service Life
April 20, 2011

On Tuesday at 12 noon Nick and I watched as a massive black cloud began to rise from an area called Guadalupe, which is part of Makati City (where we live) and blocks from where many of our Rockwell-residing friends live.  We found out later that a squatter village burned to the ground, destroying 1000 homes and leaving 10,000 people homeless (Yes, I typed that correctly – roughly 10 people lived in each shanty.)

First a little background on Shanty Towns (or Squatter Villages).  In Manila, 37% of the 12 million population (or roughly 4.5 million people)  ‘squat’ on properties like these.  Why so many, you ask?  Well, here’s what happens.  Rural Filipinos dream of moving to the big city where they can make more money.  The problem is there are already too few jobs for the amount of people here, so when the new arrival gets to the city, there’s a good chance they won’t find work.

Since they may have used all the money they had to get to Manila, they have no way to pay their way back to the province. Ultimately they end up either at Tondo or squatting in a village where they don’t have to pay rent (and can depend on the kindness of others to get by for awhile).

Slum fires are common in Manila, where houses are made of flimsy materials and house families of 8-10 per unit.  All it takes to ignite a village is a rice cooker left on too long (as was the expected cause in this fire).  This problem is not going away anytime soon.  In fact, shanty populations are expected to double in the next few decades according to the local newspaper, The Inquirer.

The only good news here is that no one died in this fire and the government has temporarily relocated the displaced in two stadiums nearby.  That still doesn’t solve the problem of where these 10,000 people are now going to live though… Sadly, there is no easy solution to this problem.  There are not enough jobs to feed all the hungry mouth in Manila and until that changes, shanties are always going to exist out of necessity.

You can see in the picture above that nearby residents are standing on their roofs observing the scene (not super safe, if you ask me)… it was also reported in the paper that residents ran back in to save what few possessions they had while the blaze was still being contained.  It gives you an idea of how deep the desperation and poverty run here.

Here’s a shot of the blaze being put out.  Thanks to Angela Peterson for shooting these AMAZING photos to give those of us who weren’t close a sense of the devastation.  The entire photo gallery can be accessed HERE.  Finally, a couple of quotes in the newspaper show a classic local response of chalking up adversity to “God’s Will.” This has proven to be a double edged sword as it creates a foundation of resiliency, but also provides a convenient excuse to ignore the real underlying issues. Read these quotes and judge for yourself:

Ella Garcia, 56, a mother of four, said that perhaps, Tuesday’s incident was just meant to test her faith.

“Maybe there’s a reason why all of these things happened. Look at the timing, today’s Holy Tuesday. Maybe He’s just trying to send us a message,” said Garcia in Filipino, tears welling up her eyes as she described the scene as “hell-like.”

“This is probably our penance,” added Joel Salvador, 47, who said that all he was able to save were the clothes he was wearing and his dog. “At least my family’s safe; that’s good enough.”

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  1. Mary says:

    According to Manila Bulletin http://mb.com.ph/articles/315018/defective-electrical-outlet-blamed-guadalupe-fire it was a defective electrical outlet where a cell phone was charging that caused this huge fire.

  2. Sarah Novak says:

    Thanks for the update Mary – I hadn’t seen the final cause. They only had ‘guesses’ in the articles I read. So sad, no matter what started it…

  3. bfiles says:

    that’s heartbreaking.

  4. kero says:

    It’s heartbreaking, true – it’s also a fact that a lot of local politicians “cuddle” the families in the squatter colonies because they are sources of votes come election time…

  5. Sarah Novak says:

    It doesn’t surprise me, just makes me more sad…

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