CEBU City Mayor Labella’s priorities are the right ones for the city. Like his priority of free (food, supplies and maybe transportation?) basic education to the city’s school children is spot on. Declogging traffic and preventing floods with efficient drainage and waste disposal systems are both in need of Cebu City’s close attention.
But right as his priorities are, he nevertheless is missing one. I am talking about the city’s informal settlers. Homeless or living in shanties in nondescript lots they don’t own, they are some of the weakest members of Cebu’s society. If a society’s greatness is measured by the way it treats its weakest members and if Mayor Labella aims to be a great mayor, he must prioritize the relocation, housing and security of tenure of these people.
They are not part of the traffic problem as they do not drive their own cars or own businesses with big or small trucks to deliver merchandise. But they are on the murky receiving end of disastrous flash floods as many of them live on river banks or even in rickety houses on stilts in the water itself. They are in harm’s way and should, therefore, be relocated.
They are also part of the drainage and pollution problems as they invariably throw their waste directly into the water next or under their houses. You can hardly fault financially-challenged people for resorting to this cheap and practical way of disposing of their trash, personal waste included. If Mayor Labella, therefore, wants proper waste disposal, one big step forward would be to relocate informal settlers who are clogging and polluting the city’s drainage system with their waste.
Other than prisoners (and of them later), I cannot think of any other group of people that is badly in need of government help in moving up a notch the quality of their life in the city. Nongovernment organizations (NGO), funded by foreign (where are the locals?) charitable institutions, are doing the organizing and educating of these settlers. But only government can relocate and house them at affordable prices and terms. Yes, they are willing to pay for their lots and houses if the City sells them on easy terms.
Human development, as the term human implies, is about people. It’s not about mega structures of steel and concrete. Developing Cebu City is about making it livable not for a few but for all of its citizens. Mass transport, more and bigger roads and bridges, orderly traffic, etc. are good if you have a safe and secure place to come home to from work.
What I write here about Cebu City’s informal settlers is also true for the whole of Metro Cebu. In fact, I won’t be surprised if they are the missing priority of all major cities in the country.