“Where are the funds for the poor?” – Kadamay
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Residents of urban poor communities trooped to office of the Commission on Audit in Quezon City on Sept. 27, calling for the release of its audit report on President Benigno Aquino III’s Informal Settler Fund.
“Every year, Aquino has been using the plight of the poor to justify the tremendous increase in the national budget, year after year. Yet the condition of the poor has only worsened under his administration, and thousands have suffered from lack of livelihood opportunities and employment in the government’s off-city relocation sites,” Carlito Badion, secretary general of urban poor group Kadamay, said.
On Nov. 23, 2011, P10 billion ($230.8 million) was first placed under the administration of the National Housing Authority. The PNOY Fund, as the National Housing Authority calls it, is supposedly allocated for the relocation of informal settlers residing in so-called danger areas, particularly along waterways.
Kadamay said $230.8 million is allotted for housing of urban poor families every year.
Budge Secretary Florencio Abad quoted presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda as saying that the government will use this year’s $230.8 million to provide P18,000 ($415) to relocatees as subsidy.
In the light of the pork barrel scam, which implicated legislators for reportedly pocketing public funds by funding projects of fake non-government agencies, the urban poor are asking: “Where are the funds for the poor?”
Letter to COA
Leaders of Kadamay were initially barred from entering the premises of the Commission on Audit. Badion said the security personnel told them that an officer would go down near the gate to receive their letter for Commission on Audit chairperson Gracia Pulido-Tan.
“We asserted our right. Otherwise we could have just handed the letter to the first person we saw working for (the Commission on Audit), even a janitor,” Badion told the media.
Urban poor protesters forcibly opened the gates of the Commission on Audit, which resulted in a brief scuffle with security personnel and the police. The urban poor eaders were eventually allowed to deliver their letter.
In their letter, Kadamay said they fear that the annual release of a P10 billion budget for the housing program of informal settlers has suffered the same fate as the pork barrel funds.
“In this light, we are urging your humble office to conduct a thorough investigation on how such fund was used by the Aquino administration. Or if a study has already been done on the said fund, we ask to be furnished a copy of the said report,” the letter, signed by Gloria Arellano, national chairperson of Kadamay, read.
“We feel we have the right to know where every centavo of the Informal Settler fund has been spent by the Aquino administration,” the letter added.
Kadamay also raised the issue of contracts entered into by government housing agencies with private developers such as the New San Jose Builders Inc., which is owned by Jerry Acuzar, brother-in-law of President Aquino’s executive secretary Paquito Ochoa.
The urban poor group said these contracts are “anomalous.”
“In Kasiglahan relocation sites in Rodriguez, Rizal, thousands of newly-constructed housing units are being built by the NSJB but are now declared condemned and inhabitable due to their substandard construction and vulnerability to flooding,” the letter read.
Kadamay, in its statement, said families whose homes were demolished were given false hopes by both the past and present administrations.
“Taxpayers are misled into believing that the urban poor are spoon-fed with taxpayers’ money. But in reality, relocatees were victims of the housing programs of the government, which are being run like a business,” Gloria Arellano, chairperson of Kadamay, said.
The urban poor group has long scored the government for the poor standards of homes being built in relocation areas. These relocation areas, they added, are found in geo-hazard areas, such as Kasiglahan Village, a resettlement area in Rodriguez, Rizal, which was heavily flooded during the monsoon rains on August 2012.
Kadamay said that while the government is using taxpayers’ money to build these houses, families who were relocated are being charged ten times the actual cost of the house.
Urban poor protesters vowed to hold more protest actions until the government looks into their conditions and promotes their welfare.