The site where Happyland is located today was once a small village by the sea, the houses of fishing families connected by wooden walkways, a place for children to gather mussels, oysters, and starfish from Manila Bay. Then 55 years ago the burgeoning city of Manila started dumping its garbage there, the fishers became dump scavengers, and the bay turned into a poisoned lagoon. By the 1970s, the site became the city’s primary dump site and a magnet for peasants fleeing poverty and war in the countryside. If the new migrants could find work nowhere else in Manila, they could always launch themselves into the mounting pile of garbage to tease out scraps of metal or glass that they could sell for cash. They built their homes—using materials they rescued from the dump—beside the dump, and even on top of it. Occasionally the mountain of trash would collapse on their houses, or the smouldering fire would ignite dozens of shanties at a time. Their lives were so intertwined with the dump that they became indistinguishable from the garbage, disposable people generated by an increasingly consumerist society.

By the early 1980s, what someone had dubbed “Smokey Mountain” had become an international embarrassment for the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. In 1982, Marcos ordered the relocation of the scavengers. Smokey Mountain, he decreed, would become a seaside golf course or a park for the middle class. Bulldozers demolished the houses of the poor as soldiers stood guard. The new housing site—some 25 miles south of Manila—had government-built latrines, yet no water, no electricity, and no employment. Within weeks, the scavenger families began to return to the old dump site, refusing to die quietly of hunger in an out-of-sight neighborhood. As the People’s Power movement gained momentum, eventually overthrowing Marcos, the scavengers, with encouragement from the Catholic Church, organized and pressured the government to let them stay and develop the dump site into a viable community. Their struggle paid off. In 1988, President Corazon Aquino ordered a feasibility study for a low-cost housing project alongside the dump. When President Fidel V. Ramos, during his term in the mid-1990s, shut down the decades-old garbage dumpsite called “Smokey Mountain,” concerns were raised on how to alleviate the lives of hundreds of scavenger-families living inside and around the notorious mountain trash heap.

The plan was to turn the hellish site into a residential paradise for former garbage scavengers. So, while several concrete mid-rise apartment buildings were being built over the old Smokey Mountain — the National Housing Authority built several buildings made of low-cost materials to “temporarily house” the former Smokey Mountain dwellers.

Thus, “Temporary” was born. It has been almost three decades now since the “temporary housing site” was built; the residential buildings are now dilapidated and structurally hazardous, the number of residents has doubled!

A deteriorating highly congested “refugee camp” surrounded by mini garbage dumpsites is now also known as “Happyland” — a name derived from the Visayan dialect’s name for smelly garbage: Hapilan.

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One Response to “Philippines, Manila – Piles of Garbage Named HappyLand” Subscribe

  1. Errol Bennett January 25, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    Amazing images, Ruti. I had no idea. Continue these good shares.

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