An unidentified scavenger stands dangerously close to a bulldozer at the edge of a mountain of rubbish 24 December 2006 in the government garbage depot in Lumbangan village, about 10 kms east of Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. Hundreds of scavengers, including women and children, some as young as three years old, dig for scraps in the village. They complain about the lack of livelihood opportunities for the poor and government support for their children's education. (Mindanao Examiner)
ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 25 Dec) – For many people in Mindanao, Christmas is just one ordinary day. They go hungry just the same, but despite the poverty situation in many parts of the island, south of the Philippines, Filipinos expected a happy Christmas.
According to the survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS), three out of five or 62 percent of Filipinos expected a happy Christmas. Most Filipinos also say they are thankful that they are still alive and have good health. The survey was conducted last November 24 to 29 with 1,200 respondents.
But not all news is good. The SWS says expectations of a happy Christmas are down from a high of 82 percent in 2002 to 77 percent in 2003 to 64 percent in 2004 and 62 percent in 2005, the same as this year. The number of those anticipating a happy Christmas has been declining in all areas since 2002.
In Zamboanga City, many of the poor say they slept without food on the table on Christmas Eve. “We slept hungry and we woke up hungry also. Christmas is just an ordinary day. For people like us, who needs a celebration? We are worried on how we are going to survive this harsh life,” says the 38-year old Joel Quimpo, who lives near the government garbage depot in the village of Lumbangan.
The village, about 10 kilometers east of Zamboanga City, is dump for tons of garbage that could be anything from a harmless piece of rubber ducky to more toxic materials, such as computer and television parts and even bottles of poisonous pesticide and expired food products.
Quimpo says: “Many of us garbage diggers feel hopeless by this situation and there is no help either from the government or the politicians. It’s good that few people who have kind heart still come here once in a while and give us little help, but our children need education for them to have a good future.”
Hundreds of people, many women and children, brave the heat in search for scrap.The area is a paradise for many jobless people in the village, but it is equally as dangerous and unhealthy, and many scavengers are suffering from respiratory diseases.
Last Christmas Eve, many had waited for Santa Claus to arrive at the dump site, but there was no sign of him. It is Christmas again and another year will soon come to pass, but Santa did not show up for the children who waited for him to visit. That Santa was not the great gift-giver from North Pole, but local politicians the villagers call their own Santa Claus.
On Christmas Eve, the Sultan of Sulu Archipelago, Sharif Ibrahim Ajibul Muhammad Pulalun, came unannounced at the garbage depot and distributed rice and food. “We are just helping the poor here, whether they are Christians or Muslims,” the Sultan tells the Mindanao Examiner.
While many of Zamboanga’s poor say they are unhappy, the sane was the situation in the Muslim autonomous region. Many in the region’s five provinces complain about the lack of government projects and livelihood opportunities for Mindanao’s 4 million Muslims.
But Mindanao is also home to about 13 million Christians and most of them are also without jobs.
President Gloria Arroyo, in her Christmas message, promised more jobs to fight poverty. “This is our mission: to build prosperity for the greatest number of our people,” she says.
While many people in Mindanao suffer in poverty, in contrast, many Filipino and foreign holiday-makers in the central Filipino province of Cebu celebrated Christmas in lavish styles – partying in posh hotels and spend Christmas in beaches like Boracay Island and El Nido Lagen Island, the most luxurious resort in Palawan Island.
According to Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, with the economy on a roll, Filipinos have every reason to be upbeat not only this Christmas but in 2007.
Bunye says that the "markets have been surging to record highs, investments are up, the purchasing power of the pesos is steady and all indicators support a bullish 2007."
He says the Filipinos have witnessed the government's decisive action to "move the economy to bear social fruit in terms of better-paying jobs, enhanced social services and a reduced incidence of hunger and poverty."
"Good governance and the people's enterprise are making things happen in the Philippines," he says. (Mindanao Examiner)