The Slum – Aljazeera’s Documentary on the Philippine District of Tondo


As our “hunt for the perfect domicile” continues, I happened to come across The Slum.  And I only mention the perfect house hunt as watching The Slum sort of puts our desire for a bigger and better place in perspective.  A six-part series produced by Al Jazeera, The Slum follows the lives of a few Filipino families that have lived generationally in the slums of Manila.  Centered on the sprawling expanse of Tondo, the series is not only impeccably produced but also goes a long way in showing their courage, fears, strength and resilience if of the Philippine people in the face of near-constant natural and man-made disasters.

The series constantly reminds viewers that the United Nations has noted that should population trends continue, by the year 2050, one in three people will live in one of the world’s ever expanding slums. This predication is shocking, especially after one actually sits through all six parts of the series and starts to truly appreciate the cyclical nature of poverty and the horrific effect it has on one’s health, prospects and – most precious of all – hope.

Tondo in Manila is one of the most densely populated areas in the world – an undeveloped pile of squatter shacks that are home to nearly half a million Filipinos.  Most of them were born there and nearly all will die there.  Sewage sanitation does not exist, plumes of smoke rise constantly from the coal factories, and piles of reeking garbage abound.  And speaking of garbage, a good number of folks living in Tondo actually make a living on the area dumps (Smokey Mountain among them), picking through the discarded detritus and picking out copper wire, recyclables and anything else that will make them a few pesos and the possibility of a hot dinner for their family.

slum 2
remy the midwife

The first episode, Deliverance, introduces the viewer to Remy Permites, a middle aged woman living in Paradise Heights who provides midwife services to the poor in her area.  Having escaped the squatter slums, she is now living in a government project apartment (that doubles as her clinic) with 14 of her relatives – yes, that’s right…14.  Remy is self-taught and only possesses basic medical equipment, but her services are in constant demand by poor neighbors who cannot afford even the roughly 700 pesos needed for a birthing center. Over the rest of Deliverance, we follow her as she prepares official birth records on an old manual typewriter, attends classes on family planning and – most poignantly of all – helps a young woman bury her stillborn baby

Heading a few kilometers south of Paradise Heights, we meet Gener Pagtabuan, a fisherman and father of nine children who is having difficulties catching anything of worth in the polluted harbor of Manila, a stretch of sea that is mostly fished out.  His loquacious wife, Lorna, sells vegetables and fruit from their home to supplement the family income but the profits are slim and they are basically living day to day or –a times – meal to meal. For many, it’s not actually More fun in the Philippines….

Watching the series is tough and there are even disclaimers at the beginning of each episode warning about unsettling images.  And although the series gives some insight into what the poor experience, I don’t think a full understanding of crushing impoverishment can be had without actually living it. Still, though, it does allow for some feel for the experience, but empathy can only go so far.  Moreover, it also goes a long way in showing the natural resilience of the Filipino people.

As the series progresses, I have been finding myself getting a bit more jaded, especially as the series continues and we see the failing of the Philippines government in dealing with a current disaster (Typhoon Haiyan) and ignoring the coming disaster of overpopulation, a crisis that is affecting many poorer areas of the world.  The role of the Catholic Church also places a role in this, with some of the Filipinos reciting the “go forth and multiply” directive from the Bible and acknowledging the Church’s opposition to birth control.

Again, it’s tough to watch – but IMHO it’s something that you have to watch.

All of the episodes can be found on You Tube.  I downloaded the 1080p HD versions from You Tube with 4K Downloader and transferred them to the media player on our TV.

I have included the first video link below.


  1. Ned, these are some of the most powerful videos and real stories available today. I believe the government officials could easily put in some drains to alleviate that filthy, dirty, sewage and garbage infested water, but to what end? The stories are very powerful and riveting and tell so much about what’s really going on in the Philippines. It was so hard to watch these, but at the same time i couldn’t stop watching them either the stories were just incredible and yet unbelievable at the same time. Even in Cebu City I have been to places where they never seen a foreigner before and most of the kids didn’t even have any clothes on. People living on top and below each other in and out of water, walking through holes cut in the cement block walls it was eye opening for me, and doing the laundry in the dirty water as they didn’t even have a running water supply. I really appreciate your insight and very resourceful and accurate information. Stay safe there.

    1. Thanks, Shawn, and yes, it’s an amazing documentary. I have watched it a few times. They did a great job on it, and even though it’s just a video, it gives a certain amount of perspective to the plight of the poor around the world.

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