A large proportion of the inhabitants of Manila’s shanty towns come from the island of Samar, in the centre of the country. An exodus which is rooted in the inequalities of rural life in the Philippines.
In the area around the bridge spanning the river, which is as black as coal and overflowing with garbage laughingly retrieved by children, a whole population is busy patching up poor dwellings of tarpaulins and boards destroyed that very morning by order of the municipality. We are in Caloocan, not the poorest quarter of Manila, but certainly not the richest. Anna Vanessa, who comes from the island of Samar in the centre of the country, arrived in Manila when she was thirteen years old. Because, she recalls, “life was impossible in Samar: too many typhoons, not enough work…”. She adds that she does not blame the municipal wreckers: “They are only doing their job”.
In private this worn-looking woman, aged about forty, adds that the “wreckers” and the “squatters” who live near the bridge have come to an agreement: when the town council gives orders for the destruction of the illegal dwellings of the “squatters”, the “wreckers” warn them discreetly and all they do is check that the houses really have been destroyed – in reality they have been dismantled by the “squatters” themselves, which causes less damage. “That’s what makes it different from Samar”, adds Anna Vanessa with a throaty laugh. “Over there, she explains, the typhoons destroyed everything, took lives and never gave any warning of their arrival… Here it’s hard, it’s very hard, but it’s better”, she says again with conviction, although her voice is drowned by the noise of the traffic.
An island whose inhabitants are leaving
One aeroplane later, and here we are in Samar. Samar is one of the main hubs for migration to Manila. With just over one million inhabitants, it is the third largest island in the country. This low figure is difficult to explain, when compared with the number of people living in the Manila shanty towns who come from the island: “I wondered if Samar (…) was more densely populated than the rest of the country, which would have explained these proportions, but this is not the case”, writes Jean-Marc Oswald, author of the 2010 audit commissioned by Children of the Mekong on the situation in the Philippine shanty towns.
Indeed, taken over the Philippines as a whole, the population of Samar is ridiculously small. Worse, if this figure is compared with the figure for the population living in the Manila shanty towns, six or seven million – half of whom would have come from Samar – we can see that this half would in reality be greater than the number of people still living in Samar.
Stay connected to learn about the reasons why so many people want to leave Samar Island.
Text and photos: Jean-Matthieu Gautier, originally published in Enfants du Mekong’s magazine 172.