“They will judge us. They’ll say, ‘there goes the Kadamay again! Always rallying!’ We can’t do anything; we need to fight.”
By ADAM ANG
PANDI, Bulacan — It’s 4:30 in the morning and Nanay Leonor Canieza, 48, rose up before her grandchildren to prepare for their day in school. Guided by a flashlight, she went outside to fill containers with water for their bath. In their small kitchen across the bath area, she heated water for coffee. Then, she went outside to buy macaroni soups from the neighborhood for breakfast.
It will be a big day for their household as they are set to vacate the place and transfer to another unoccupied unit. The original settler of the unit has been contacting and asking them to leave for someone from their family will be moving in. But both are yet to be awarded with house titles.
Atlantica project (or Pandi Village 2) in Barangay Mapulang Bato is one of the six mass housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan occupied by around 8,000 urban poor citizens led by Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) in its Occupy Pabahay movement last year March 8.
More than a year after, Nanay Leonor and the rest of 800 families at Atlantica continue to wield the power of collective struggle. Amid many challenges, the urban poor in Pandi do their best to resolve their problems.
The night before, it was dark in the household of Nanay Leonor. Electricity runs from the sole generator that lights about 10 blocks of houses. On the linoleum-covered floor, with coffee and light from the flashlight, Nanay Leonor said that life in the government housing is a mix of happy and sad experiences.
She recounted the moment when they arrived in Atlantica to occupy the idle housing units. All were on the streets outside the units as they still need to clear the houses of grasses and mud. In some areas, they had to finish the construction of the streets with huge open holes. They were cramped as they stayed the night of the Occupy.
Before that event, which caught national attention to the urban poor asserting their right to shelter, Nanay Leonor, together with her four daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren, lived in a poor community at Northville in Balagtas, Bulacan. They used to pay rent of P1,500 per month. “The amount is payable, but for people like us with many expenses, it’s difficult,” she said in Filipino.
Her husband is a regular factory worker for nine years at a Korean company producing plastic pipes and other utilities. They lived off his salary pegged to the regional daily wage of P380. Other than rent, they had to pay electricity and water bills, and food.
“When Kadamay asked us if we want to have our own house, of course, we immediately said yes.” She and her four daughters were oriented with the Occupy Pabahay campaign and the organization. They filled in details on the socio-economic forms to be submitted with other applicants en masse to the National Housing Authority (NHA), the Municipal office and the Office of the President to be given housing units.
“We’re happy now, at least, we do not have to pay much in expenses,” Nanay Leonor said.
The yet-to-be issued entry passes will grant them government access to electricity and water lines. While they still assert to be given those passes, the locals contributed to set up a centralized poso (artesian well) for water. They need to pay only P5-P6 per container, depending on its size. Nanay Leonor’s household has 15 different containers to fill each day, including three huge drums, which cost them around P80.
Generator-powered electricity, which runs only at night costs P25 per unit and an additional P5 charge for television use. Some other blocks have solar panels, which power their houses the whole day. Only a few houses have direct electricity lines, including the Kadamay municipal office, which was requested from the contractor of Atlantica.
The Atlantica project is being rushed by the government contractor targeting to finish this year. There were 24 urban poor households from Manila that the government relocated in the area some time after the Occupy.
Pat Tupas, municipal chairperson of Kadamay Pandi said in an interview at the Kadamay Municipal office in Atlantica, that they already have discussions on common issues and they are one with the fight for social services.
Government awards unoccupied mass housing
President Rodrigo Duterte signed on May 9 last year the Congressional Joint Resolution No. 2 awarding unoccupied housing units intended for uniformed and government personnels to low-income beneficiaries, after Kadamay exposed the idle and rotting government mass housing.
In the 2016 Commission on Audit report on housing, 190,413 housing units were completed from 2011-2016, by which 76,004 were occupied and 114,409 were unoccupied.
On the NHA mass housing project for the police, military and other uniformed personnel in 2017, only 8,837 units were occupied out of the constructed 74,195.
According to the Crispin B. Beltran Resource Center, the reasons for the low-occupancy rate, especially on off-city resettlements, are inaccessible utilities and services, “squatter treatment to men in uniform,” and unaffordable housing cost.
The independent research center said the low-cost housing scheme is “still too much” for the poor. A single 40sqm. unit in Pandi costs around P250,000. The nominal amount to be paid is around P345,000 to P420,000 with six percent compounded interest for 30 years. The Philippine Statistics Authority recorded 1.3 million poor Filipino families who cannot meet basic food needs, more so pay for housing amortization.
For 2018, the national government allocated only P2.2 billion for the housing sector, a P10-billion cut from the last year’s budget. According to the National Economic and Development Authority, there is a 5.5 million backlog in housing projects which needs a P460 billion budgetary allocation annually for six years. This comes with an average cost of P500,000 per household, including socialized housing unit, social preparation and post-resettlement costs.
But the housing budget allot a resettlement program of P577 million only, compared to the budget for housing the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) with P1.6 billion.
Following the passage of Joint Resolution No. 2, Kadamay led thousands of urban poor residents to urge the NHA in its office at Balagtas to release the entry passes and to provide basic social services, such as electricity and water lines.
“Isn’t that if there is a resettlement project, it should be complete? With electricity and water lines?” Tupas said.
After the so-called Homeless March, the group earned the ire of government officials for their assertion of basic right to social services. Even the President exclaimed they “demand too much,” in a speech before the AFP/PNP housing groundbreaking ceremony in Negros Occidental.
“They say that Kadamay members are lazy. Demanding too much from the government. But it is the right of the urban poor,” Nanay Merci, a neighbor of Nanay Leonor said.
The 62-year old who is known for faith healing in the neighborhood also applied for a housing unit in Atlantica. She suffered from stroke twice already. Her husband Mando was a farmer for four decades before retiring due to a respiratory problem. “‘Til death, we will fight to have our unit,” Tatay Mando said in Filipino.
“They will judge us. They’ll say, ‘there goes the Kadamay again! Always rallying!'” Nanay Leonor exclaimed in laughter. ” We can’t do anything; we need to fight.”
Reacting to criticisms, the municipal chair said that the homeless poor are just asserting their right to an affordable housing. “We are willing to pay. At least, we should pay the housing loan at an affordable price,” Tupas said.
While they wait to be granted ownership to their occupied units, the local citizens already set up small businesses like sari-sari stores and food services selling home-cooked dishes. Some invest in motorcycles and do transport services around Mapulang Bato. A talipapa, one of the livelihood projects of the local Kadamay chapter, is set to open this month in Atlantica.