ALAGAD: who or what are the urban poor?

The party-list Akbayan Party held its national congress at the posh Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City on May 25, 2012.  Graced by no less than Pres. Benigno Aquino III, his mere presence in the event has assured Akbayan of presidential endorsement and support for the 2013 mid-term elections, as well as substantial media coverage and exposure.

On the same day the “lesser-known” party-list Alagad Party held its own national convention at the modest function hall of the Inner Wheel building in Quezon City without fanfare and presidential pomp.  Except for the motley group of urban poor leaders, supporters and advocates that made up the convention, the event went unnoticed by media people and Metro Manilans.

Yet the Party represents in Congress one of the largest marginalized sectors of society and the biggest source of labor and services for the productive and service sectors of the economy — the Urban Poor Sector.  But that is not to say that Akbayan is less relevant or important than Alagad.

Who or what are the urban poor and why they deserve our attention and concern?

We meet them in our homes and communities, on the streets and at work as household helpers, public utility drivers, security guards, utilities, office employees, construction workers, traffic aides, street sweepers and contractual workers for the myriad of jobs that keep the urban economy grinding and our cities more livable.

They are the fortunate (?) ones with a modicum of regular income to squeak by.  The unfortunate ones scrape a living scavenging for garbage, vending or working as casual day laborers.

Without the Urban Poor factories, transportation, construction sites, shopping and amusement centers, hotels and restaurants, markets and grocery stores, and the entire service sector would grind to a halt.  Without them our cities would decline and with it our accustomed world and way of life.  They are the hands and muscles that make it possible for business and industry to thrive in urban centers and in turn provide us with work and comfortable living.

Yet some of us tend to lump them all as desperate wage earners and “squatters”.   They don’t realize, much less acknowledge, the immense contributions of urban poor labor and services to the urban economy and the quality of life we enjoy. 

Their miseries and deprivations are the stuffs of our favorite TV soap operas, but we don’t really think that such tragedies are, indeed, happening in real lives.  Neither do we give much thought about their rightful share in the fruit of their labor.

Urban poor are real people just like you and me, except that they have lesser in life.  They too have hopes and dreams like everyone of us.  And they number about five million souls in Metro Manila alone.

Urban poverty is a huge challenge for both its “host” city and local government in terms of capacity and allocation of resource, space and social service.  It is a complex social phenomenon which may not be resolved in isolation at the local level without addressing the roots of rural to urban movements of poor people and a host of mitigating factors of both local and national origin.

The poor will always be attracted to job prospects or livelihood opportunities in urban centers which are not present in rural towns and villages.  Survival, whether physical or economic in nature, is a human instinctive behavior.

Although urban centers present real opportunities for poor people, they can also create and feed conditions of deprivation for the poor.  Everyday the urban poor deal with challenges that may include:

•  inadequate and insecure housing

•  limited access to employment opportunities and income

•  congested living conditions

•  little or no social safety nets

•  limited access to health services and education

•  unhealthy and sometimes violent environments

•  lack of proper nutrition

•  social stigma and inequalities

There are no fast and easy solutions to urban poverty.   Poverty reduction in urban areas requires a combination of local and national measures, and these would take time, resource and capacity to accomplish. 

For instance, unless the economy in rural areas improves urban centers would still experience influx of rural poor seeking new employment and livelihood opportunities.  In other words, urban poverty feeds on the state of national economy.  The movement of poor people from rural to urban areas represents a mere shift in the spatial location of poor people.  In a word, the “urbanization of poverty”.

Urban poverty reduction would require resource and capacity build up, sustainable job creation, education, lower population growth, adequate government policies at both national and local level, and comprehensive planning for urban growth and management particularly at the local government level. 

Since urban poor mostly work in the informal sector of the economy and are unable to avail of public social safety nets, a package of “appropriate” social measures should likewise be set in place over time.  Such measures should include social security and health insurance coverage, in-city housing instead of distant relocation sites, and lifeline subsidies for basic services such as water and electricity.

Alagad cannot solve the complex problem of urban poverty, but it can create conditions and opportunities for the reduction of poverty in urban centers.  Its job in Congress is to translate solutions for poverty reduction into concrete policies and programs through legislation.  At the same time, the Party should serve as the the urban poor’s “bridge” to employment and income opportunities, household welfare, and bilateral ODA (official development assistance) programs, which can be tapped with enough hard work and perseverance.

We all benefit from the labor and services of the urban poor, and we owe it to them to ensure that their priorities and concerns are heard and articulated in the halls of Congress through Alagad <>.

Finally, joblessness remains at the core of poverty in the country today.  Poor people without jobs will remain poor.

Author:  Rene “RC” Catacutan
Published 28 June 2012

Related photos

Urban poor dwellings against a backdrop of skyscrapers (photo credit:

Jeepney drivers (photo credit:

Factory workers (photo credit:

Construction workers (photo crfedit:

Vegetable vendors (photo credit:

 Fruit vendors (photo credit:

Fish vendors (photo credit:

Meat vendors (photo credit:

Nurses (photo credit:

Security guards (photo credit:

Automotive mechanics


Garbage collectors (photo credit:

Street sweepers (photo credit:

Alagad party banner (photo credit –

Alagad Party founding president Diogenes “Dodgie” Osabel (photo credit:

Congressman Diogenes “Dodgie” Osabel (left) taking his oath of office at the House of Representatives (photo credit:

Congressman Diogenes “Dodgie” Osabel addressing participants to Alagad National Congress (photo credit:

Participants to Alagad National Congress (photo credit:

Garbage scavengers — symbol of grinding urban poverty (photo credit: youronevoicecanmakeadifference)

A typical community of slum dwellers along the banks of filthy creeks and waterways, “sanitized” by government billboards for arriving foreign tourists and visitors (photo credit: Yahoo! News)