Another unfulfilled promise to the urban poor?
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Residents of Kasiglahan Village stormed the office of New San Jose Builders in Quezon City to protest against the firm’s decision to cut off the community’s electricity supply without advance notice.
“They did not give us any advance notice. We do not have electricity since last Thursday,” Rachelle Tamayo, 33, resident of 1K2 in Kasiglahan Village, told Bulatlat.com.
Tamayo is among the 2,000 families living in three different phases in Kasiglahan Village where electricity supply was cut off by the New San Jose Builders, a private contractor working with the National Housing Authority in building houses in the relocation area.
Kadamay secretary general Carlito Badion said there are residents who could not pay their monthly electricity bills but there are also those who religiously pay their bills.
Housing at relocation site Kasiglahan Village (File Photo, Aug 2012 / bulatlat.com)
Tamayo, for her part, said despite their small income, earning $4.5 to $7.5 a day as a fish vendor, she pays her electricity bill on time– which is more or less P$1.5 a month. “The penalty fee, which amounts to $2, is more expensive than what we consumed,” she said.
According to Badion, representatives from the New San Jose Builders later on told residents they owe Meralco about $12,500, which left residents wondering where their payments to the construction firm went and why they had to suffer in the end.
High electricity rates
Last year, members of Montalban Relocatees’ Alliance held a petition signing against the National Housing Authority and the New San Jose Builders to put a stop to the high electricity rates they are billing relocatees.
Residents said they pay roughly $0.38 for every kilowatt they consume. The water rate is also higher in Kasiglahan relocation area, which is $1 for every cubic meter. The group’s spokesperson Merci Merilles said this is one of NHA’s means to connive with the New San Jose Builders to get money from residents when their duty is to provide services to them.
“We hardly earn enough income to buy food. We could not get by with the increasing prices of everything,” Merilles said in a report.
Since then, residents have been asking the NHA and the New San Jose Builders to provide each home with their own water and electricity meters. As of press time, however, residents are still paying high water and electricity rates to the housing firm.
Tamayo said the New San Jose Builders also has the habit of giving their bill a day before it is due, giving them little time to prepare for it. Now that they do not have power supply, she added, it is her children who are suffering the most.
“(My children) have to use candles whenever they do their assignments at night,” Tamayo said, “The old ones can bear and make do without electricity but the children are the most affected.”
Kadamay-Anakpawis Habagat Chapter received a report that a house from the relocation area burned down. The fire allegedly started from the candle being used since the New San Juan Builders cut off their power supply. An old man reportedly died as a result.
Aside from the danger it poses, Tamayo said, it also causing them much discomfort. “It is hot at the relocation site because all the roads there are cemented,” she said, “There are no trees.”
Tamayo and her family are from Novaliches, Quezon City. Their community was demolished to give way to Bistek Ville, the local government’s low-cost housing program, last June 2012. They were still in the process of adjusting to their new home and environment in Kasiglahan Village, the government’s relocation area, when they were affected by the strong monsoon rains two months later.
“We lost all of our belongings to the heavy rains,” she added.
Badion told Bulatlat.com that the NHA and the San Jose Builders are making money out of what is supposedly a service.
He added that the NHA and the New San Jose Builders also makes it hard for relocatees to apply for their own electricity and water meters. Badion, who is also a relocatee in Kasiglahan Village himself, said during his time, they were not even asked to provide a valid identification card.
“Now they have to go through a long application process. Worse, residents have to give an advance payment,” he said.
Badion said the construction firm and the NHA should have provided all these social services even before residents were transferred to the area, as provided for in the Urban Development and Housing Act.
“This is not humane. They have no livelihood in the relocation site and now they have to go through this?” he added.
Badion also criticized the Aquino government for continuing with its plan to demolish urban poor communities in Metro Manila because they would be brought to a relocation site where social services could hardly be felt.
Various government agencies such as the Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Public Works and Highways and the Metro Manila Development Authority are working hand in hand to demolish homes, which, according to them, are located in critical areas such as along waterways. Families are being offered off-city relocation areas such as in Kasiglahan Village in Rodriguez, Rizal and in other resettlement areas in Bulacan.
No wonder, Badion said in a statement, that these communities not just in Metro Manila but also in the entire country are struggling against public private partnership programs that displace them from their homes.