They held numerous dialogues with the appropriate government agencies to air their problems such as lack of housing, the expensive amortization and the lack of social services.
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By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Some quarters have condemned the synchronized occupation of idle government housing units by thousands of urban poor. No less than President Duterte called it “an anarchy.” But this was belied by the group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), which said the urban poor are at the end of their rope after a series of dialogues and broken promises by government officials.
With the promise of change under Duterte, Carlito Badion, Kadamay secretary general said, last June 30, 2016 at a solidarity dinner in Tondo, Manila, he personally handed President Rodrigo Duterte the urban poor agenda, which includes appeals for jobs, land, solution to the problem of relocation sites, as well as free and mass housing.
They patiently waited for the new government to address their concerns, said Badion. They held dialogues with the appropriate government agencies to air their problems such as lack of housing, the expensive amortization and the lack of social services.
They also held dialogue with Vice President Leni Robredo in August last year, when she visited a relocation site in Bocaue, Bulacan. During the dialogue, the group said Robredo told them that the government can distribute unutilized or idle government housing units.
On Sept. 5 also last year, the group held a dialogue with the National Housing Authority (NHA) attended by Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Director Angelito Aguila and NHA General Manager Marcelino P. Escalada, Jr. in which they discussed the same issues about housing. Kadamay even signed a unity statement with the officials, who gave their commitment to end demolitions and commercialized housing.
This was followed by another dialogue also with the NHA on Oct. 21, 2016, and the NHA agreed to act on their demands.
On Dec. 2, 2016, they also held a dialogue with the HUDCC about the unutilized government housing units. They also attempted to hold a meeting with Duterte in Malacañang Palace on Dec. 6 last year during the Lakbayan ng Maralita to discuss the urban poor agenda, but to no avail.
On Jan. 20, Badion said they once again aired the same sentiments in Malacañang Palace and HUDCC Chair Leoncio Evasco Jr., who said they would discuss the issue “as soon as possible.”
Kadamay refuted allegations that occupants derailed the process for 49,000 applicants of socialized housing, because Kadamay members have occupied only around 5,000 units.
In a statement, Kadamay chairperson Gloria Arellano said the unoccupied PNP housing units alone number 53,000, which can easily cover the said NHA applicants.
“Plus, there are tens of thousands more idle homes in the country. Bulacan can even house at least half the number of these applicants right now! The NHA should be the one answering to the applicants as to why thousands of homes have been allowed to be idle despite people following steps for housing,” Arellano said in a statement.
Socialized housing won’t work
According to think tank Ibon Foundation, the so-called socialized housing program of the government is not at a low cost. A housing unit is now priced at P450,000 ($9,000), from its previous price of P400,000 ($8,000).
“This is to encourage private developers to participate in the production of socialized housing units, as well as reflect higher construction costs,” said Ibon.
The group said that the monthly amortization of P300 ($6) to P500 ($10) is not affordable for its supposed beneficiaries who are informal settlers, many of whom are in abject poverty and have resorted to living in danger-prone areas. It added that in some cases monthly amortization even reach P1,000 ($20).
Kadamay cited a study by the Philippine Institute of Development Studies, which revealed that in 2012, the collection efficiency of amortization in off-city relocation sites is only at 4 percent. That is why Kadamay did not buy NHA’s offer to include the occupants in Bulacan in the socialized housing program.
“Socialized housing as outlined in the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) is inherently flawed,” said Arellano, adding that under this law, beneficiaries are required to pay amortization. Add to that the high cost of water utilities and electricity, which are provided by profit-oriented private corporations and developers, Arellano said.
She said many of the urban poor that were relocated through socialized housing schemes are forced to go back to the cities due to high cost of living and the dismal state of some houses in the relocation site.
Kadamay called for the junking of UDHA as this allows participation of private corporations. “Furthermore the UDHA and NHA give hefty and numerous tax cuts and incentives to corporations who go through this process. In the end, the NHA is able to rake in profits through amortization,” Arellano said.
Despite threats of eviction, the group is firm on the occupation and calls for free and mass housing for the poor.
“Duterte is following Aquino’s anti-poor and neoliberal housing policies that further impoverish the urban poor at every turn. By retaining the UDHA and the NHA’s corrupt practices, problems for the urban poor will keep repeating themselves. The UDHA must be scrapped to make way for free and mass housing for the poor,” said Arellano.