By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
In the past several weeks thousands of families of informal settlers in the National Capital Region have had their houses or communities demolished or threatened to be demolished by the government and private business interests.
In some instances, the demolitions were attended by violence and physical injuries, such as what happened at the Laperal Compound in Makati City last month, and before that at New Manila and North Triangle in Quezon City, and at San Roque in San Juan. Threats of demolition keep residents on edge at the Dypac Compound in Tondo, Kadiwa in Navotas, and Pangarap Village in Caloocan, to cite a few cases.
Per Metro Manila Development Authority 2010 data, there were 556,526 informal settler families in the NCR. In a technical working group report that he submitted to President Noynoy Aquino last March 15, DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo says the members of these families comprised “almost 25 percent of the 11.5 million total population of the NCR.”
Of the total, 40 percent or 222,744 families lived in Quezon City, while 18.8 percent or 104,643 families were in Manila. Overall, the number of informal settler families increased by 2.14 percent since 2007.
Against the rising numbers, the government’s shelter program in resettlement areas falls short in response, the report acknowledges. It points out:
“Supply of housing units based on the current allocation scheme is not enough even for relocating informal settler families in danger areas that are considered priority (i.e. along waterways as well as those occupying roads, alleys, and sidewalks), which total to 73,720 families. For these alone, the shortage of housing units amounts to 40,958. If we add thereto the remaining informal settler families living in other danger areas, the shortage rises to 69,644.”
The shortage of housing is not the only problem; the poor quality of resettlement areas is another. This forces many of those resettled to return to their former communities and become informal settlers again. The report observes:
“Economic and social displacement in terms of loss of livelihood, uprooting from communities, and other hardship conditions are faced by the beneficiaries at their relocation sites. Mismatch between skills and job opportunities are often confronted when resettled and a sharp decline in incomes occurs. These situations not only lead to hardship for the families but affect the performance of their shelter programs as well, (because) some people are unable to pay their monthly amortization rates…”
A dire situation, indeed. We shall analyze its causes and discuss the recommended solutions in another column. Meantime, let’s briefly look into the peculiar case of the residents of Pangarap Village in Caloocan.
Pangarap Village covers 156 hectares of the 7,000-hectare Tala Estate (named after the state-operated leprosarium in the area), which was declared a government reservation in 1971 under Proclamation 843, issued by then President Marcos. In 1973, through Presidential Decree 293, Marcos designated the 156 hectares as settlement for low-income families and government employees, including members of the Armed Forces and the Presidential Security Group.
Many of the families have been living there since the 1970s. The place is now a thriving community of 40,000.
However, a dispute arose between the government and a private firm, Carmel Development, Inc., owned by the wealthy Araneta clan. CDI claims ownership of the estate through three Torrens titles and contests the presidential edicts.
Ironically, the CDI is now headed by Greggy Araneta, Marcos’ son-in-law, who’s trying hard to undo the probably one good thing his departed father-in-law did.
In 2002, the Solicitor General filed a petition at the Regional Trial Court to nullify the titles held by CDI and uphold PP 843 and PD 293. The RTC ruled in favor of the government. But in the subsequent appeals, both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court favored CDI.
Today the issue is pending at the SC after the government filed a motion for reconsideration.
While the case awaits final judgment, CDI has employed various means to induce or coerce the residents to give up their homes. Among the complaints are:
• CDI has engaged the services of a security agency whose guards, armed with M-16 and M-14 rifles, have been going around the village telling the residents to vacate their homes.
• Last March 15, the guards kept firing their weapons for an hour in broad daylight.
• The guards have allegedly demolished a number of houses in the middle of the night.
• At past midnight on April 28, the guards fired indiscriminately at residents who rushed to a house being demolished, wounding three, including a teenage boy and a barangay tanod.
Last May 10, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares delivered a privilege speech denouncing the violence and harassments by CDI. He urged the House of Representatives to support the Pangarap Village residents. The legislators agreed to send a delegation to assure the people of their support.
That emboldened the residents to fight for their homes. One mother declared: “Ang pangarap naming magkabahay ay natupad noong 1973. Ayaw naming mauwi ito sa bangungot. (Our dream to have a home was realized in 1973. We will not let it turn into a nightmare.)” Reposted by