The Filipinos are renowned for their love of festivals. The problem is, says Imelda Romualdez Marcos, the first lady, "We seem to want to have a festival in our families too." Most Filipino couples have three, four, or more children.
That has resulted in serious economic problems. Fertile land in this mountainous nation of 46 million is limited. Most farms can no longer be divided and still provide an adequate living for a family. Indeed, property division is prohibited in the case of farms that were subject to land reform.
As a result, thousands and thousands of landless sons and daughters have drifted into the cities, primarily Manila, swelling already massive slums.
The rate of population increase in the Philippines, noted Mrs. Marcos, has been brought down from a horrendous 3.2 percent a year to a still rapid 2.4 percent. A government birth-control program and economic and social factors are prompting parents to limit the number of children they have.
"Considering we are 85 percent [Roman] Catholic and we are Orientals, I think we are doing very, very well," said Mrs. Marcos.
Nonetheless, Manila's slums are among the worst in Asia. In the Tondo area of Manila along part of the waterfront, shacks stretch for miles. And, unless government programs prove highly successful, that slum and others could get far worse.
A World Bank report estimates that within the next 20 years the population of the Philippines will have grown to 75 or 80 million, almost double its present size. Up to two-thirds of the added population may want to live in urban areas -- "even under optimistic projections of rural employment," the bank figures.
If present trends continued, Metro Manila would swell from 6 million to 16 million by the year 2000.
As a whole, urban population has been growing at a 3.5 percent rate per year in the Philippines. Manila, by far the largest city in the nation, has been growing even faster. Six other cities in the country have populations above 100 ,000.
The World Bank says that the urban poverty threshold for the Philippines (as of 1977) was $250 per person per year based on a least-cost diet. Some 39 percent of families in urban areas do not reach that income level. About 80 to 90 percent of families in typical urban slum areas have per capita incomes below that level.
In Manila, more than 2 million people live below the poverty level. More than 30 percent of Manila families "live in squatter and slum settlements without secure tenure and lacking safe water supply, drainage, human waste disposal, and clean access," notes the World Bank report.
Disease rates and infant mortality are from three to eight times higher than for nonslum areas of the city. In regard to disease and malnutrition, the city slum dwellers are worse off than their poor country cousins. In the slums as many as 2,000 persons live on as litte as one hectare (2.47 acres). The people are often jammed into two- or three-story wooden houses, with roads the only open spaces. These homes are frequently mixed in with labor-intensive cottage industries.
In the last four years, the Marcos government has reoriented its policy from squatter removal and relocation toward improvements in the slums of housing, water, sewage, and other facilities, plus the expansion of urban land for low-income settlements. In letters of instruction in 1977, President Ferdinand E. Marcos institutedslum improvement as the principal national program for meeting the basic needs of these rapidly growing communities.
So far, the so-called Zonal Improvement Program (ZIP) has been instituted in five regional cities and in Metro Manila. The program involves the acquisition, or expropriation where necessary, of squatter land from absentee landowners for resale to residents. The aim of this "urban land reform" is to provide a secure basis for residents to improve their housing. It also provides for basic services, health, educational and community facilities, and home-improvements loans to low-income families. Initiated in 1977, the 15-year program is building up momentum to provide 15,000 upgraded house plots per year (for 150, 000 persons per year) after 1983. It should eventually serve 2.2 million people.
Comments the World Bank, which is providing funds for the program: "If these programs are continued and are successful, they will have a major impact over the next 10 years on the lives of the poorest 30 percent to 40 percent in the country's towns and cities."
A second program, the Metro Manila Infrastructure Utilities and Engineering Program (MINUTE), conceived in 1978, provides for investments in drainage, sanitation, water supply, and street improvements in bad slums.
A third slum upgrading program, the Program for Removing Sewage from Streets (PROGRESS), intends to provide a low-cost alternative to new central sewerage systems. It improves the collection and disposal of foul and surface water wastes from streets.
The World Bank figures MINUTE and PROGRESS could improve conditions for about 4.8 million people over eight years, starting in the worst slum areas and then moving into gray areas.
A fourth program, Sites and Services, is to provide 6,140 low-cost serviced plots on 79 hectares of land in sites at the city fringe. These are to be close to employment opportunities and within affordable travel distance from central Manila.
Without these four programs, the slum population would grow from 1.8 million today to about 3.8 million by 1995, the World Bank predicts. If all four programs are pursued as planned, the present slum population plus a further 1.5 million people living in poorly services areas together with the increase of the low-income population are expected to be provided with "a reasonable minimum level of service by 1995."
A fifth program, Livelihood, provides assistance in marketing, management, buildings and equipment, and small amounts of working capital, land and services , and manpower training, to micro and small businesses and productive cooperatives and associations.
Several years ago, the World Bank launched its first slum program in the Tondo area -- a sort of prototype for a more ambitious slum upgrading program approved last spring. That Tondo area, the bank report says, shows "a remarkable improvement. . . . The vast majority of families have invested considerable personal capital in transforming their homes from shacks into attractive two and three-story dwellings within a period of six months, thereby providing opportunities for subletting and more efficient use of the land. Streets are paved and clean, and gardens are being planted. The earlier atmosphere of tension has disappeared."
Foreign observers here sometimes comment on the danger of political explosions in the slums of Manila. Slum upgrading apparently could reduce that risk.