“Residents have endured the decrepit state of the buildings, which should have been maintained by the NHA but the residents have in fact been doing the needed repairs themselves. Now, they have been told that the housing complex is condemned without conclusive scientific tests to back the local government’s claim.” – Gabriela
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – What the mother gave, the son takes away. This is the ironic situation Agnes Mondejar, 58, a resident of Katuparan Housing Project in Vitas, Tondo, Manila faces along with her neighbors.
Back in 1991, President Corazon Aquino awarded to them housing units in medium-rise buildings. Under her son, President Benigno S. Aquino III, Mondejar fears that they would lose their home.
At least 12 of the 27 medium-rise tenement buildings were declared in “condemnable condition and unfit for further use or occupancy,” which would, yet again, lead to their displacement.
In a series of inspections conducted on Jan. 22 and 27 and on Feb. 1, the tenement buildings were found to be dilapidated and in severe deteriorating condition, according to the Manila Office of the Building Official.
Mondejar found it unfair that they were to be discarded and treated worse than animals,
without any effort on the part of the government to help them. Along with her neighbors and residents from other relocation sites, she joined a protest action outside the National Housing Authority office in Quezon City.
Community leaders, along with Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus, held a dialogue with NHA officials. They were initially barred by security guards from entering the premises.
“Why are you afraid if the people get in? Why, are we going to eat you?” one of the residents shouted.
The Manila Office of the Building Official said in a letter dated Feb. 14 that the structures of the 12 tenement housing, constructed during the late 1980s, “exhibit severe deterioration due to old age.”
The affected tenement buildings are 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.
But apart from the cracks and the dilapidated conditions of the walls and stairs, the letter also noted the poor conditions of the sanitary and plumbing facilities as “old and outmoded.”
Such findings manifest “condemnable features of the structures,” the letter pointed out. The Manila City local government noted that the deterioration is a result of both “old age and maintenance neglect.”
It recommended that residents vacate the said tenement buildings “to prelude any untoward incident that might occur resulting to loss of lives, properties, health and welfare of the numerous occupants therein as well as the general public.”
The Manila Office of the Building Official endorsed the demolition of the said tenement buildings.
Less than a month after the endorsement, Mondejar, along with other residents, received their first notice from Manila Department of Engineering and Public Works. In the said notice dated Apr. 2, residents were told to “vacate” the tenements “as it is beyond any remedial or corrective works.”
However, a rebound hammer test conducted by the Bureau of Research and Standards, showed that the columns and beams of tenements 8, 9, 10, 13, 15 and 18 were said to have high compressive strength.
Rogelio Legaspi, officer-in-charge of the Office of the Building Official of Manila, said in a letter addressed to NHA general manager Chito Cruz dated Sept. 1 that the rebound hammer test is not the only basis in determining the structural integrity of a building.
Legaspi suggested the hiring of a private testing center to conduct a test, because “detailed engineering evaluation is necessary to assess the structural condition of the subject structures based on the latest National Structural Code of the Philippines.”
During the dialogue, community leaders from Vitas, Tondo told NHA officials how, as early as 2008, they have repeatedly asked the government to fund the rehabilitation of the said tenement buildings.
NHA officials assured the residents that the recommendation of the Manila Building Official would not be acted upon with finality as more tests would be conducted to evaluate the condition of the tenement building. They also asked the residents to remove the “extensions,” referring to the homes that were put up on the rooftop, as it affects the soundness of the buildings, which residents said they will comply with.
Among those who joined the dialogue were relocatees from Northville, a government relocation site that has “phases” in the cities of Caloocan, Valenzuela and nearby towns of Bulacan province. They assailed the poor condition and lack of livelihood in their areas.
Residents who spoke during the dialogue said they did not receive a single cent of the supposed P35,000 livelihood assistance that NHA officials promised when they agreed to be relocated.
They also assailed the six percent interest for every delayed monthly amortization.
Later on, they were told that the P35,000 ($803) is not a livelihood assistance but a government subsidy on their housing unit. The cost of a house in the said relocation site, according to engineer Victor Balba of the NHA – National Capital Region, is P175,000 ($4,018) but relocatees would only pay P140,000 ($3,214).
Residents also criticized various policies and practices of NHA personnel, especially how they were threatened whenever they fail to pay on time. One resident said they were told that their home would be padlocked if they do not pay their monthly amortization.
How could we pay on time, residents asked, when they have to “prioritize” what to spend their meager income on. Food and payment of their electricity and water bills usually come first. And their monthly amortization, referred to by NHA officials as “P280 ($7) lang” is not a small amount.
“Let us not put a ‘lang’ (only) on our amortization as it is already big enough for us,” one of the residents said. Later during the dialogue, residents instead referred to the government housing subsidy as “mere P35,000 ($803).”
Balba also denied they promised relocatees a P10,000 ($230) financial assistance. He clarified that only P1,000 ($23) would be handed to residents for their three-day subsidy.
Residents also criticized the NHA policy that those who have arrears in their amortization would not be given a certificate to have their electricity to be reconnected. Balba then agreed that, as a “compromise,” residents would only need to pay at least two months of their unpaid monthly amortization.
“Thousands of residents in these Northrail project areas suffered demolition and their situation went from bad to worse when they were relocated (in Northville). And yet, the project remains only on paper and the funds’ whereabouts are unknown,” Joms Salvador, secretary general of women’s group Gabriela, said.
Nowhere to go
Mondejar said they have nowhere to go if they would be displaced from their homes in the Katuparan tenement. She and her family left their province in Masbate back in 1976 to look for a job in Manila.
She soon found herself residing near the pier area in Manila. They earned from whatever job they could find in the pier. When they were offered a relocation site, Mondejar said she quickly accepted the offer to relocate in the tenement housing in Katuparan, which is also near the pier area, as it is better than being displaced to remote relocation areas such as in Sapang Palay in Bulacan or in Paliparan in Cavite.
Over the years, she earned primarily by vending food in front of their tenement housing building. Until in 2011, Mondejar suffered a stroke. Her son, who works as a delivery boy in Divisoria, earning only $5 a day, supports her.
“I have nowhere else to go,” Mondejar said, “There is no livelihood back in our province. The same goes to other government relocation areas in provinces near Metromanila.”
Mondejar said that with her son’s meager pay, they could not afford to pay the monthly amortization of the housing tenement. Their neighbors, too, she added, especially those who rely on jobs available in the pier, find it difficult to pay for their monthly amortization.
“You may have a job today. But you cannot tell if you will have one tomorrow,” she said.
But despite such condition, Mondejar said she would still prefer to live in the tenement building because she can earn livelihood near the area.
Salvador said residents of Katuparan has already faced and fought several attempts to evict them.
“Residents have endured the decrepit state of the buildings, which should have been maintained by the NHA but the residents have in fact been doing the needed repairs themselves. Now, they have been told that the housing complex is condemned without conclusive scientific tests to back the local government’s claim,” Misty Lorin, deputy secretary general of Gabriela, said.
Salvador said that the prioritization of private business over the welfare of residents should be blamed for the poor government housing projects.
“From the start, the government has treated its housing program as a business venture rather than social service. This can be gleaned from the fact that the NHA works through public-private partnership schemes,” Salvador said, adding that under such scheme, private businesses are in for a win-win situation while “urban poor dwellers are always at the losing end.”
Mondejar said she hopes that the government would find time and resources to finally look into the needs of the people. After all, she added, alleged corruption issues such as the funds involved in the Disbursement Acceleration Program were supposedly done in the name of providing services to the poor.