"At least 20,000 families have lost everything and no have no prospects anymore". The toll gets worse in Tondo, the shanty town in Manila which went up in flames on Monday night. Father Giovanni visited the shacks: "About 100,000 people were left homeless, and they have been moved to basketball - the Philiippines' national sport - playgrounds".
Blazes are frequent in the capital. Father Giovanni remembers another disaster which happened two years ago in his district of San Pablo: "On September 27, 2001 the fire left 15,000 people homeless and killed three children, a blind woman and an elderly man. The authorities didn't help us, only Manila's Caritas stepped in. But we managed to build only 67 little concrete houses".
Shanty towns are heaps of wooden shacks with no electricity, no sewers, no drinking water. A candle is enough to set fire to them, and sometimes the fires are arson. "In the past the authorities - the religious goes on - tried to do away with the shanty towns. But Manila has a 13 million-population, and 3 million are squatters, as homeless are called here. Somebody even thought about setting fire to shanty towns".
Tondo and San Pablo are in the same district on the outskirts of the capital, called MetroManila. They form a labyrinth of palafittes on the harbour. Thousands flock here from every province, dreaming of finding a house and a job in the capital. "But it hardly ever happens - Father Giovanni explains -. These people sell what they have, some chickens and a hut, they flee overpopulated and very poor islands, and end up camped here. They escape from the province also for another reason: it's an unsafe place, due to the presence of the Communist guerrillas in the north and of the fundamentalist Islamic militants in the south". Conflicts which caused more than 200,000 dead, often with terrorist attacks to civilians.
The emigrants from the floating metropolis, after losing all in a fire, harldly ever manage to find a job capable of feeding their family, and their life becomes an all the more dramatic tragedy. "They can't go back - the missionary adds - it would mean admitting to having failed in front of the original communities. If they did it they would feel humiliated, and would be emarginated". What fate lies for them then? "They often become bat men, that is they go to live underneath bridges. Or they squat areas unsuitable for building, and in few hours they throw up a shack".
Father Giovanni is a missionary of the Canossian order, and in 1989 he arrived in San Pablo, where he deals with distance adoptions, and where he founded a clinic: two doctors, a group of physioterapists, three nurses and some volunteers, all Philippines. In MetroManila very serious disease are widespread: 60 per cent of the sick have tubercolosis, the others suffers from asthma, meningitis, kidney trouble, dysentery. "Today there have been funerals of two little nine-year-old and two-year-old girls, killed by Den Geng, the tiger mosquito.
The situation in the shanty towns gets worse every day. In the last years, San Pablo turned into an immense dump. The rubbish from the whole MetroManila (eight million people) has been ending up here for three years. A so-called smokey mountain was born, a smoking mountain of rubbish where hundreds of children work. They pick up paper, iron and other materials to recycle them, earning less than a euro a day.