By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — The struggle against the government urban poor housing program continues. With their homes demolished, urban poor dwellers and their supporters went to “occupy” the National Housing Authorities’s office in Quezon City.
“You demolished our homes. We will occupy your office,” one of the placards in front of the National Housing Authority read.
The urban poor dwellers began their campout in front of the government housing office last November 14 with a protest action in front of the Quezon City Hall. “We will continue our campout until we get a national moratorium on demolitions. Thousands of families are facing threats of demolition nationwide under the Public Private Partnership, where only foreign and big businesses would benefit,” Carlito Badion, vice chair of Kadamay, said.
Badion said, during their protest action, that the National Housing Authority is responsible for the left and right demolitions under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
The urban poor demanded the repeal of the Urban Development Housing Act (UDHA) or the Republic Act No. 7279, which, they said, has legitimized demolitions of urban poor communities.
Urban Development Housing Act is a law passed to supposedly uplift the conditions of the poor in urban and in resettlement areas through the provision of decent housing at an affordable cost, with basic services, and employment opportunities. But in their experience, Kadamay said, the UDHA became the legal basis and provided step-by-step instructions on how to drive away poor families from their homes to serve the interest of big businesses.
The law stipulates that eviction and demolitions shall be discouraged unless communities occupy areas considered as danger zones, if a government infrastructure will be built, or if there is a court decision ordering for the demolition or eviction.
The Urban Development Housing Act also provides prerequisites such as a 30-day notice of demolition, adequate consultation with the families affected, presence of local government officials and proper identification of people involved in the demolition. It also stipulates that the execution of the demolition order would only occur on weekdays and during regular office hours, and would not use heavy equipment unless for permanent structures.
One important prerequisite that the law also stipulates is the provision of a relocation site for the affected families within 45 days. “Provided, further, that should relocation not be possible within the said period, financial assistance in the amount equivalent to the prevailing minimum daily wage multiplied by sixty days shall be extended to the affected families by the local government unit concerned,” the law reads.
Kadamay, however, said that not only do these prerequisites pave the way for demolitions, the government has even failed to follow and provide the people with the prerequisites provided by the law.
Knock out UDHA
Kadamay said that if Manny Pacquiao wants to be a champion of the poor, he must “knock out the real villain,” which is the Urban Development and Housing Act. Badion said that aside from being a champion boxer, Pacquiao is the congressman of the lone district of Sarangani, a province south of the Philippines, and thus, must also address the demolition threats faced by his constituents.
“About 350 families in a fisherfolk community in Sarangani faces demolition as their area would be turned into a private port,” Badion added.
Kadamay-General Santos said that 130 out of the 350 families belong to an indigenous people. “It is a part of the ancestral domain that the indigenous people are claiming. The place is sacred to them,” the group said. While there is a relocation site offered to the affected families, Kadamay General Santos said it is far. They have no livelihood there since most of them are fisherfolk.”
Support, call to Aquino
Steve Ranjo of Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) said most Filipinos are struggling to survive. “How are you going to live? When you build your home, they demolish it. Even if we want to rent a decent home, where are we going to get the money to pay the rent?” he asked.
Ranjo said the demolition of urban poor communities favor big businesses such as the Ayala corporation, in the case of the Quezon City Central Business District and the Araneta family in San Jose del Monte.
He added that Piston, which is one of the founding members of Kadamay, participates in the struggle because most jeepney drivers also live in urban poor communities. “There are reports that fares in public utility vehicles would be increased. Who among jeepney drivers would not appreciate more income? But it does not address the source of poverty,” Ranjo said, “This is not the straight path.”
Joy Lumawud, chair of Kadamay – National Capital Region, said that because of the government’s housing agency, which he calls “National Demolition Authority,” some half a million families would be affected by widespread demolition. The Aquino government, he said, prioritizes land use conversion and mining to the detriment of the lives and livelihood of its poor constituents.
Badion challenged Aquino to sit down with the urban poor so that his government would know how to genuinely address their situation.
“Poverty is widespread in the Philippines. Before the ‘Occupy Protest’ spreading across the United States and in Europe, there is People Power in the country,” Ranjo said, “The government should remember that we already had two people power uprisings in our history so Malacañang should better watch out.” and international human rights bodies.