“In fact, we want the DAP to be abolished including the Informal Settlers Fund, which has served as a milking cow to corrupt officials in the National Housing Authority and other shelter agencies of the Aquino administration, and a source of business capital to low-cost housing firms.” – Montalban Relocatees Alliance
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – President Aquino’s July 14 speech on national TV left residents of a relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal unmoved. No one believed what Aquino said were the supposed benefits of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to the poor.
“We are not even safe here,” Mercy Merilles, a resident of Kasiglahan Village, a government relocation site in Rizal told Bulatlat.com.
“We have programs for the relocation of informal settlers to safer places. In the system the Supreme Court is ordering us to bring back, it might take two more rainy seasons before we are able to relocate our countrymen,” Aquino said.
Aquino added his conscience cannot bear that “our countrymen will be exposed to danger because I let the process of bringing them assistance be prolonged.”
Incredulous at Aquino’s speech, Merilles said relocated families are still vulnerable to disasters. In fact, residents are monitoring the water level of a river near their community as they anticipate the coming of Typhoon Glenda.
Merilles, who is also the spokesperson of the Montalban Relocatees Alliance (MRA), said their community was flooded when the river overflowed due to rains brought by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, and by the two infamous monsoon rains in 2012 and 2013,
Urban poor groups and families whose homes are to be demolished have long assailed the poor conditions at the relocation site, saying that the government has transferred them from “danger zones” to “death zones.”
Relocation sites not for free
Since 2011, the Department of Budget and Management provided P10 billion ($227 million) annually to fund government relocation programs. Merilles said the DBM has so far disbursed P27 billion ($613.6 million) to government agencies in charge of relocation programs.
The said fund, dubbed as the Informal Settlers Fund, never benefitted the poor, Merilles said.
“In fact, we want the DAP to be abolished including the Informal Settlers Fund, which has served as a milking cow to corrupt officials in the National Housing Authority and other shelter agencies of the Aquino administration, and a source of business capital to low-cost housing firms,” she said.
Although the relocation sites were supposedly funded by taxpayers’ money, Merilles said relocatees are made to pay monthly amortization for a unit priced at about half a million pesos ($11 thousand). She said they estimate their housing units to cost only P80,000 ($1,800) each.
“Does our monthly payment go back to the national treasury or to the pockets of low-cost housing capitalists like Gerry Acuzar?” Merilles said, referring to the owner of New San Jose Builders, the contractor of Kasiglahan Village, and brother-in-law of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.
Merilles said relocatees could hardly afford regular meals after losing their livelihood when their houses were demolished. Now they are even threatened with eviction if they fail to pay their monthly amortization.
Urban poor group Kadamay, for its part, said in a statement that they are revolted by Aquino’s justification of DAP and his claims that informal settlers benefitted from it.
“We are challenging the Aquino administration to show to families who lost their homes and are facing dire conditions in relocation sites to show where and how every cent of DAP was spent,” Carlito Badion, national secretary general of Kadamay and lead convenor of Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon, said.
Kadamay said urban poor families will join the protest action in time for Aquino’s State of the Nation Address on July 28.