Badion is also outraged against the government’s wont to call relocatees who return to their former communities as “professional squatters” and consider them virtual criminals.
“The government has no right to call Filipinos squatters in their own country. It has the responsibility to provide its citizens with decent social housing and ensure that they have access to social services. So long as the government fails its duty to implement a genuine housing program, all blame falls at its doorstep,” he said.
He also pointed out that while there are really squatting syndicates, these are groups that have contacts and connections to the housing agencies and the LGUs themselves.
DILG encouraging violent demolitions
Department of Interior and Local Government Jessie Robredo, however, appears to ignore the arguments of the urban poor groups. The official has already exhorted LGU officials all over the country to put up local committees against professional squatters and squatting syndicates. He said that the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) is mandated to empower local officials to address the problem of squatting.
Badion is swift to counter the move.
“The DILG has a study that it released on May 2011 that admits how off-city relocation is not effective in addressing the urban poor housing problem. Sec. Robredo should have taken his cue from this. He should understand what life is like in the relocation areas; if he really knew the conditions there he wouldn’t question the decision of many urban poor to leave and return to their former communities,” he said.
He pointed out out Robredo’s call to LGUs only serves to encourage local authorities to implement campaigns of violent demolitions against urban poor communities such as what happened in San Juan and various areas in Quezon City.
Slow response to housing crisis
Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist and economist Solita Monsod has also made an observation about the housing problems in the country and the Aquino administration’s slow response to solving it.
Citing the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016, Monsod pointed out that the National Housing Authority’s direct housing provision targets for 2011 were 70,000 units. These units were supposed to be divided into three categories: 42,000 for resettlement; 20,000 for slum upgrading; and 8,000 for Local Housing. “The 2011 target, she said, was 50,000 units higher than the actual 2010 performance.
“That’s a pretty big jump, so I went to the NHA website to see what it had done so far along these lines, considering that its 2011 budget of P4.4 billion ($ 102.3 million) is P800 million ($ 18.6 million ) larger than last year’s. Alas, I saw nothing but pictures and press statements,” she said.
Observers have also pointed out the Aquino government’s accomplishment of building 4,000 houses in the first six to seven months of one year cannot be considered as much of an accomplishment. The President included this, however, in his second State of the Nation Address last July 2011.
Last December, a congressman from Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rodolfo Valencia asked Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to release the P2.06 billion ($ 46.5 million) budget for the local housing program. The lawmaker cited RA 7835 or the Comprehensive and Integrated Shelter Financing Act of 1994 which mandates the release of funds to increase and regularize the yearly appropriations of the major components of the national shelter program and ensure the implementation of the government’s program for housing and resettlement.
Valencia said that since the law was enacted 15 years ago, only 31 percent of the total budgetary allocation for the local housing program (LHP) was released and distributed to various congressional districts throughout the country.
He also said that because of the delay in the release of funds, the local housing backlog is at 3.7 million due to the delay in the release of funds. He argued that the government should release the remaining 69 percent of the funds so that congressional districts can provide its constituents with socialized housing.
”The government should implement a continuing program of urban land reform and housing to ensure decent housing and basic services to the underprivileged and homeless citizens in urban centers and resettlement areas,” he said in a report.
The plight of the urban poor
Along with 36 other families who also made their homes along the side of a main road in Tondo, Daday and her family daily run the risk of falling ill from the effects of inhaling carbon monoxide from passing cargo trucks and passenger jeepneys. The entire atmosphere is one of squalor, but Daday maintains a quiet dignity when she speaks and explains about her circumstances.
Daday was 14 years old when she first came to Manila. She finished her second year in high school in Agusan del Sur, but poverty forced her to drop out. Hoping to help her family who worked as farmers and farm hands, she became a stowaway in a passenger ship bound for Manila. With the help of acquaintances, she ended up in Fairview, Quezon City and worked as household help for a family there. She stayed with the family she worked for five years, but she left when the head of the house died.
Now she is 50 years old and makes a living from selling materials she and her husband recovers from the garbage of the residents in the surrounding communities in the Divisoria area.
On a good day, they can earn as much as P200 ($4.65) from selling plastic bottles, scraps of metal, old newspapers to the neighborhood junkshop. It goes without saying, however, that the amount is hardly enough for the needs of a family of five. Daday’s three children are aged five, nine and twelve.
Daday used to sell sampaguita garlands, but since the flowers became classified as an export crop, they have become very expensive and she and her neighbors could no longer afford to baskets of the blossoms which they used to string into necklaces traditionally placed around the necks of religious images.
“Sometimes we get lucky and find old shoes, busted cellphones or lightbulbs in the trash. My husband fixes them or recycles parts and sells everything at the market,” she said.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone would buy worn slippers or darkened lightbulbs, much less cellphones with cracked LCD screens, but Daday said her husband is really good at repairing these treasures recovered from the trash. One time he managed to repair a discarded rice cooker and sold it for P150 ($3.48).
Daday also has another means to generate more income for her family: she looks for copper wires or bits and pieces of it. To extract the copper which sells for P240 ($5.58) a kilo, she burns the plastic insulation. She builds a small bonfire on the concrete pavement and leaves the wires until the plastic has melted away in the heat. When the fire has died out and the copper cools, she extracts the twisted mass of metal and sells it.
It’s a hard existence. There’s no indoor plumbing, no potable water, and no electricity. To get water, she and her family fall in line at the baranggay faucet and pay P5 ($0.116) for every filled plastic pail. To bathe daily is a luxury, and to wash their clothes after at least three day’s wear is also one.
“I never intended to end up living here. No one ever wants to live in a house that cannot rightly be called one,” she said. “If I had the means, I would take my family and leave, but there is nowhere else to go and no means of living to be had.”
Daday is a member of the Anakpawis Partylist group, and the group has been helping her and the rest of her neighbors petition the Manila City Hall for a good relocation site. By “good” she means a place where they can all find paid employment or have a chance of making a living.
“There’s always the threat of demolition here. We’re always afraid of staying too far and too long away from our houses because the baranggay officials want to destroy our houses because we’re supposedly a hindrance to traffic,” she explained.
According to an Anakpawis community organizer Eddie Berba, they have been lobbying with the Manila City Hall and vice-mayor Isko Moreno to help the residents relocate to a safer area before their homes are demolished by the local authorities. So far, however, Moreno has not taken action.
“There are urban poor community residents who really do want to be relocated; but what LGUs do not understand is that the relocation areas are often far from civilization and where people cannot access services or find jobs. This is why most urban poor would rather stay in their cramped communities in the urban centers — at least in the cities they can find ways to earn money and send their children to school. This is always a better option than facing starvation in the relocation sites. LGU officials and the rest of the government should first address this issue, because it’s only the first of many,” he said.
Given that the national government has begun to implement the NSUS, it remains to be seen whether the needs of the country’s urban poor will finally be met. So far, LGUs in the National Capital Region (NCR) have been destroying communities one after the other through violent clearing operations where even children and the elderly are not spared. In the meantime, life for Daday and her family continues, and it’s always a struggle to survive from one day to another.
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