Monday, 27 March 2017

"Still, taking time struggling for decent housing"

"Still, taking time struggling for decent housing"

(Or all after revoking the eviction order against the urban poor
Over the disputed Pandi housing project)

Amidst criticism pointing against the urban poor "occupying" an abandoned yet still disputed housing project at Bulacan, it seems that the government had no choice but to question the program that involves one of the basic calls of these neglected masses: housing.

As Cabinet Secretary and Housing Czar Leoncio Evasco revoked MalacaƱang’s forced eviction order against Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) members who have occupied thousands of idle government housing units in Bulacan.

Evasco, through an interview over DZMM last saturday, announced that MalacaƱang will not forcibly evict occupants of idle government housing projects in Bulacan, but instead promised to provide housing projects to KADAMAY members.

Sounds promising isn't it? Thinking that as the administration initially calling the occupiers as anarchists if not provoking chaos, of apologists describing them as not undergoing due processes, rather end admitting that there is a problem regarding housing: that no one lives in a housing project that is, costly if not unlikely to be habitable.

But as for KADAMAY and its supporters, the said occupation is just enough, thinking that these houses are long unoccupied, with foliage almost overgrown its walls. 

Is it really for the Police, Military,
Or for the evictee?

According to Katrina Stuart Santiago in her Manila Times article, The long abandoned project was started last 2011 when former President Noynoy Aquino signed Administrative Order No. 9, which directed the National Housing Authority (NHA) to implement and manage a housing program for military and police personnel.

The project, which was called the AFP/PNP Housing Program,nreceived an allotment of P4.2 billion, and its goal was 21,800 housing units to be distributed in 2011 alone, across 12 different locations (Interaksyon, July 14, 2011).

But no press release mentions Pandi. Only last 2016 when a press release from the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council then under Vice President Leni Robredo, lists down the said town as part of 65 sites where houses for the military and police have been built.

However, according to the Housing Board of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, “many soldiers were not satisfied with the design of the houses” while Philippine National Police Senior Superintendent Wilfredo Cayat said that “there was a mismatch in the location of the housing sites and the needs of the police.” The same 2016 press release from HUDCC also states that the “AFP, PNP and NHA” had concerns about the size of the units.

Even militarymen turned lawmakers expressed critcism over that project, for last October 2015, Magdalo party-list lawmaker Gary Alejano talked about how less than 10 percent of government housing for military and police (such as the one in Pandi) were occupied, because these “were poorly designed, built with substandard materials, and lacked utilities and basic services” (, October 2, 2015).
In March 2016, he would also say: “The reason for the very low occupancy rate … is because the units are not livable. It is hellish to live there. The government would only make their lives miserable and our soldiers and policemen would not be able to carry out their jobs if they would worry about the families they leave behind. There is no drainage, no water, no power, not even a playground for children” (The Standard, March 27, 2016).

But in spite of the dissatisfaction coming from the supposed recipients, the previous administration pushed through with the million-peso project.

On the other hand, Pandi used to appear in government press releases last 2013, in relation to the relocation of informal settlers that live in danger zones in Metro Manila. Then HUDCC Chair Vice President Jejomar Binay announced the availability of 4,800 housing units in Trece Martires, Cavite, and San Jose del Monte, Bocaue, Norzagaray and Pandi, Bulacan, to which illegal settlers in danger zones would be relocated.
However, last 2015, on Aquino's last year in office, an urban poor protest told that the Pandi housing project was also where victims of demolitions of informal settlements in Metro Manila were relocated. For around April of that year, 700 members of the urban poor from Navotas who were to be displaced by a road-widening project, talked about how the National Housing Authority and the local government were forcing residents to transfer to Pandi.

This was unacceptable because according to Elgar Cornista, president of the Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Navoteno Federation: “There is no livelihood there. In fact, those who have already agreed to be relocated came back, and just erected shanties again here near the fishport. In the relocation site there is no livelihood, no water, no electricity.” (PinoyWeekly, April 19, 2015)

That same month, 378 Bureau of Fire Protection firemen were awarded houses in Pandi (, April 20, 2015).

It seems that the project is really long stalled yet insisted that the project was for the policeman and the soldier (and for awhile the evictee). However, coming from the statements it showed that the project was overpriced yet the materials used were substandard, of having lack of water nor electricity, as well as far from the needs every supposed resident has to insist.

But knowing that these houses were long stood and enduring its deterioration (thanks to those government officials), and at the same time there are homeless who had enough of unjust "due processes" that requires unjust queues and overpriced amounts to pay, isn't it just to take it over?

After all, according to the constitution,

"The State shall, by law, and for the common good, undertake, in cooperation with the public sector, a continuing program of urban land reform and housing which will make available at affordable cost decent housing and basic services to underprivileged and homeless citizens in urban centers and resettlement areas. It shall also promote adequate employment opportunities to such citizens. In the implementation of such program the State shall respect the rights of small property owners.

Urban or rural poor dwellers shall not be evicted nor their dwellings demolished, except in accordance with law and in a just and humane manner. No resettlement of urban and rural dwellers shall be undertaken without adequate consultation with them and the communities where they are to be relocated."

How a government official
Rather takes the side of the urban poor

In spite of administration wanting to evict the so-called "lawless anarchists", one of them rather took the side of these less fortunate "occupiers". It may sound ironic, but the action taken by that person showed how public service transcends sectors.

As Judy Taguiwalo, secretary of Social Welfare and Development, was questioned by journalists during a press conference last Friday on the issue regarding the agency’s distribution of food packs in Pandi, Bulacan last week and on accusations that the agency is giving special treatment to the “occupiers.”

There were accusations that the Department of Social Welfare and Development, who happened to be an activist, is “tolerating” KADAMAY members who occupied vacant housing units in Bulacan province by providing them assistance like food packs.

However, in spite of accusations, the secretary tried presenting and discussing other DSWD programs as well as stated that all of department's programs are for the poor. She also said that the agency is always ready to give help to those who ask, especially the poor.

Obviously, her actions showed public service as a public trust if not emphasising administration than those of politics her predecessors did. The immediate action such as providing support including those from KADAMAY shows that in the end these people are poor and in need of help, regardless of its politics.

Still, taking time struggling for decent housing

It may sound "Victorious" for KADAMAY in seeing NHA having its withdrawal, however, that withdrawal from that disputed site is not yet final knowing that there are still negotiations ongoing between two groups, especially after reports regarding its supposed recipient's dissatisfaction over the site and the occupier's desire for a decent housing.

And inspite of the just intent of the "Urban Development and Housing Law" there are still loopholes that may use for corruption. There are reports about "providing houses up to ten units to those who are able to pay" only to be rented; there are instances of overpriced housing that somehow contradicts the idea of affordable housing for least paying families.
Strange isn't it? Of what is that law or the agency that abides from it if it end treated as a goddamn enterprise motivated by profit than of service? Not all of these urban poor folks having a high paying job as well as wages or earnings insufficient to meet demands ranging from basic needs to paying rents.

But to call them lumpens or lawless elements seemed to be too much.

Currently, the occupiers continue to reside in those disputed units, struggling to have a decent housing as they're trying to clean every wall from its initial abandonment and making it habitable enough for a home. Supporting groups and individuals continue to provide them any help as possible, and in case of DSWD, it is their duty to serve these folks all according to its law.

And perhaps within these poor folk's eyes they all hope that from the place they have occupied for days means the community they desired according to their aspirations, far from their existence in the shantytowns and in the streets.