Friday, 10 March 2017

"Least they have their houses." (And a struggle to keep against odds)

"Least they have their houses."
(And a struggle to keep against odds)

Critics may still describe that action as unlawful, subversive, or even terroristic and seditious as thousands of organised urban poor dwellers occupied a housing project all in the name of "decent housing."

Led by the Urban Poor group KADAMAY, these once shanty dwellers, mostly coming from depressed communities in and around Metro Manila, occupied idle units in housing projects in the Municipality of Pandi and San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan province, saying they have nowhere to go.

Prior to the occupation, the Bulacan-based units, built 5-10 years ago, were supposed to be for lower-income policemen and soldiers also being recepients from the National Housing Authority (NHA). However, most of the houses were still left unfinished as plants eventually occupied some of the lots, showing how the project was being neglected, or even abandoned by the authorities during the past administration.

Many of the occupiers expressed relief as well as concern in occupying the lots. One occupier said that there are houses that are still neglected with outgrowths occupying even the interior, as well as problems involving processes that costs thousands of pesos in order to gain decent housing.

So is another occupier, who wanted to have a decent house to live than living in the streets, especially amidst killings that mostly victimising the poor.

There are more statements coming from those concerned occupiers, but for Elizabeth Aguirre, Kadamay president, said that these people occupied the houses because NHA personnel refused to provide them “decent homes.”

“In so many occasions, we held dialogs with them. We wanted homes for our families. We were willing to pay [for government housing which] we could afford, yet, we were always told that there were no vacant houses. But based on our inspection, all these houses were unoccupied,” she said.

However, contrary to the statements of the occupiers and its supporting groups, authorities, although expressed concern about these once-shantydwellers, insist their action as improper and unlawful, knowing that they are occupying an area intended for those who are listed as beneficiaries of that abandoned housing project.

As according to Felicismo Lazarte of the National Housing Authority, that those who occupied the houses were not listed as beneficiaries of the NHA housing projects.

He also said that the beneficiaries were informal settlers who were removed from creeks in Metro Manila.

Elizabeth Joseph, Bulacan-based project manager of the NHA, also expressed the same concern as Lazarte's, as she said that many of the families who also occupied the houses also came from Taguig, Navotas and Malabon cities, that are also not included in the list of beneficiaries within those projects.

Besides from these authorities, there are also those who ridicule, as well as putting these poor masses in bad light all because of their action. One individual said that Pandi was a quiet agricultural town before these people from Metro Manila came and occupy the said lot, as well as ridiculing KADAMAY for making press releases in English, and sarcastically thinking how these urban poor masses afford to go to Bulacan and occupy instead of undergoing processes with the NHA?

Anyway, the statement coming from the NHA is somehow replied by KADAMAY that these masses are willing to have a dialouge and even pay with them over that contested area, while the latter statement, ridiculing as well as describing the action as those of a mad mob rather boils down to a simple idea that is to have a plain but stupid red scare, pointing against these poor masses, its supporting groups, and individuals who sympathise with them.

All because of their direct action.

True indeed to think that these people are supported by groups like KADAMAY in bringing them to a "once quiet town" and occupied a still empty lot grown with foliage, for these people knows that they had enough of homelessness and overdues coming from an entity who supposed to put an end to one of the country's major problems only to impose expensive dues over them.

And in spite of criticism coming from authorities and heckling from its apologists, the said occupation, or rather say "expropriation" is not a mere unruly kind of act, but unveils a still humanitarian crisis thst needs immediate response from the government. Occupiers knows that on the first place, the houses being occupied were unfinished, not being occupied by its supposed tenants 5-10 years ago, or even overpriced and offered to those who have little earning and hence unlikely to pay such expensive houses supposed to be affordable.
But since it comes from the coffers of the people, then why not let the occupiers take over? For sure the people knows that on second thought, these houses paid by the taxes of both haves and have nots were meant to be settled before and not to be left as white elephants collecting foliage and grime! 

And to think that it also shows the sad reality of being neglected by the state amidst its promises to ensure their well being, then what more of treating social service as a profit venture by those corrupt bureaucrats that compels the poor to take matters "in their own hands" just to get a modicum of government attention. True that there are groups who supported the needs of these poor masses like Meloto's Gawad Kalinga or Jimmy Carter's Habitat for Humanity, but in spite of these groups willing to help in resolving the crisis, everyone, who is a taxpayer on the first place knows first that the government's duty is to ensure the welfare of the people including those on the need for decent housing  livelihood, and political participation.

Sounds hardcore isn't it? But that occupation is itself a form of people powerpower as these masses, organised, have the will to insist what is a right against those who failed to provide. 

By any means, in their own hands, just to keep their houses and struggle amidst the odds.

Photos from KADAMAY and Vencer Crisostomo