“Any person or family that, without any direct fault on his or her own, does not have suitable housing is the victim of an injustice.”

(Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace on the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, 1988)

As we close our Year of Social Concerns, we call the attention of our people to a grave problem that many, especially among the urban poor, suffer the lack of adequate housing. The Church teaches that “the principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force? This Love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without health care and above all, those without hope for the future.”(Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church # 182)

Adequate and humane dwelling is a basic right. (cf. Compendium #166) Their inadequacy breeds other problems such as immoralities in the home, the abuse of children, the lack of education of many young people, unhygienic conditions in the family, joblessness among the people, malnutrition of children, and criminality.

Our urban poor people, as human beings and children of God, have basic human rights to clean and inexpensive water, decent house, communities free of stagnant disease-ridden water, and uncollected garbage. They have a right to security of tenure, to be free of a constant threat of eviction and fire, and very importantly, they have the right to organize themselves to seek solutions to their problems in a democratic and a non-violent manner.

Despite their own efforts and those of many groups, including government and the Church, we cannot say our urban poor people enjoy these rights today. We are all compelled to do everything possible to remedy this situation. We must all work that all may have their own homes that are suitable for God’s persons who are made in God’s image and likeness. We cannot achieve complete success in a short time ? we lack resources for one thing ? but we can do something.

A. We call on those concerned to stop uncaring evictions and demolitions. We have laws in the land that tell us the proper processes for eviction. Let these laws be respected and followed, especially by law-enforcing agencies. Among other things, these laws provide us that relocation sites be prepared to receive the evicted families and that these sites should have adequate provisions for basic human needs, such as water, light, access roads, schooling for the children and work for the people. If plans and money are set aside for improvements of the cities and towns that would necessitate people to be moved elsewhere, also proper plans and money be set aside for the places where they are to be settled with painstaking consultations.

B. Government officials have made promises and even made official proclamations of lands to provide security of tenure to many poor families sitting on government properties. Many of these proclamations are not followed; they have remained empty words. Let the officials not play on the basic needs of the people, and cuddle them in pursuit of election victory.

C. As we did in our 1997 Letter on Homelessness, we again urge the immediate creation of a government-church-civil society commission that will provide guidelines for the further development of our cities so that the urban poor will have a decent place to live in and development will combine with sound environmental concern. The said commissions in each city and town can immediately conduct consultations to discuss and resolve the issues on homelessness in a pro-active way. Planning of mass housing for the poor is a concern of public officials for the sake of the common good, and not only of property developers for their own profit.

D. We commend the initiatives of various groups who on their own provide for housing for our poor families. We encourage all people of goodwill, especially people of faith to support these groups or to create their own initiatives to help the homeless to have houses that they can call their own someday.  We encourage the homeless to be partners in pursuing the endeavor.

We cannot afford to be indifferent and complacent in front of this grave injustice that many of our brothers and sisters suffer day by day. We, as a Church, are committed to put the resources of the Church towards this dream.

While Filipinos are getting known all over the world as good construction workers and builders, we are not able to provide houses for our homeless. Let the dream of God for his people be ours. “Look, I am going to create new heavens and new earth? They will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit? For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, and my chosen ones will themselves use what they have made.” (Is 65, 17-22)

Let us dream the dream of God and work that this dream may come true!

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

Archbishop of Jaro
President, CBCP
28 January 2007