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Some Filipinos Living in Poverty Doubtful Presidential Election will Mean Better Life - 2004-05-07


Around 40 percent of the people in the Philippines live on just a few dollars a day in wrenching poverty. For many of these people, campaign promises and free handouts from politicians courting votes for Monday's general elections mean little.

At a dump in front of Manila Bay, the stench of garbage piled at least 10 stories high is overwhelming as truck after truck dumps its load from Manila's estimated 12 million inhabitants.

Dina Gonzales, a 33-year-old mother of nine, is bent over with a stick in her hand picking through garbage under the blazing sun. She is looking for scraps to sell to feed her family.

Dina says she has lived her entire life at the dump the Filipinos call "Aroma."

Born across the street in the first garbage dump called "Smokey Mountain," which became a symbol of Philippine poverty, Dina says election time is good because the people who live on the dump get free coffee, noodles, candy, and water from competing candidates.

Although she will vote, she says it does not matter if incumbent president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wins, or movie star Fernando Poe Jr., because she doubts the elections will change her life.

Dina says she wants to vote for the movie star because she thinks he has programs for the poor.

She is emaciated, toothless, and looks at least 20 years older than her age. On a good day, Dina and her husband and children can earn up to four dollars, barely enough to feed the family of 11.

Across the highway from "Aroma" is a government housing project the government built in 1995 after international condemnation forced the closure of the "Smokey Mountain" dump.

Rocos Colintabo was born on "Smokey Mountain" but now lives in Paradise Heights. Here the real battle between two presidential candidates shows itself. Posters cover the outside of the buildings, which house about 2,000 families. Mrs. Arroyo has sent truckloads of water to the residents, while Mr. Poe has sent noodles and coffee.

But Mr. Rocos, a father of four, is not buying any of it. He says it does not matter who wins the elections. ?Many presidents - it's promise, promise - but there is not good work. It's promise, okay, okay, okay, we promise, we promise but? so many of them (the people) are poor, poor people,? Mr. Rocos said.

Mr. Rocos says he has seen presidents come and go, yet "Smokey Mountain" was closed only to be reborn across the street as "Aroma," symbolizing for him the government's ineffectiveness at alleviating poverty.

Another Paradise Heights resident, father of six Jaime de Guzman, says corruption is the root of the country's problems, and that is why he will vote for Christian evangelist turned presidential aspirant Eddie Villanueva.

?My choice now is brother Eddie because the government now has a big problem of corruption and I think the only way to cleanse the government is have a person who has a fear in God?,? Mr. De Guzman said.

Although Mr. De Guzman will vote, he says, like most of his neighbors, that it will do little, if anything, to improve his life.

?The politicians really always using us, especially the poor, they will just keep on using us, that's why we never really felt their assistance or help,? he said.

Back at "Aroma," in a makeshift market place, Arroyo's people zoom by in motorcades, throwing candy to waiting children, who scrambled dangerously close to the cars to catch the treats.

Not to be outdone, Poe's people whiz by shortly after, throwing more sweets from open trucks.

Because the poor make up the majority of the 40 million registered voters, candidates are courting them furiously.

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