MANILA — Mrs. Marilou Japay or “Daday’ lives with her asthmatic husband and three children in a shanty in the South Pier area near Divisoria that has the shape and size of three toilet stalls placed horizontally. The walls are made of rusting roofing material, flattened muddied cardboard boxes and scratched wooden planks. The roof is also made of the same with the addition of torn pieces of old advertising tarpaulin banners and plastic packaging sheets. When it rains, water seeps through the cracks and holes in the makeshift roof, and it was only by some miracle that the last typhoon’s strong winds did not destroy the entire box-like structure.
Daday and her family live an inhumane existence as do most urban poor families. But what is the government doing about it?
Last December, the Benigno Aquino III administration announced the National Slum Upgrading Strategy (NSUS) that will supposedly give guidance to the efforts of national and various local government units in upgrading the various urban poor communities and improving the living conditions of informal settlers.
The NSUS is mainly to be implemented by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), and according to its proponents, it seeks to contribute to the development of sustainable communities particularly in the urban centers by addressing issues of housing, resettlement, infrastructure, social services and job creation for residents in urban communities.
Explaining the thrust of the NSUS, vice-president Jejomar Binay who also chairs the HUDCC said the NSUS will “boost efforts to alleviate the the plight of informal communities,” as well as “improve the livability as well as the global competitiveness of the cities.”
“Slum communities in the Philippines endure poor living conditions such as cramped living spaces, lack of proper housing and insecure tenure, inadequate access to basic services such as water and sanitation, and exposure to health risks,”he said in reports.
WB funding project
The NSUS, while being a Philippine government project , is being funded by the World Bank through a grant by its Cities Alliance. The alliance is a global coalition of cities and their development partners committed to scaling up successful approaches to slum upgrading, city development strategies, and poverty reduction.
Counted among its members are local government units and governments including those of Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ethiopia, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. It is also working with various non-government organizations such as Slum Dwellers International and Habitat for Humanity International. Finally and most noticeably, the alliance counts among its members multilateral finance and economic organizations the European Union, the United Nations Environmental Protection Agency, and UN-HABITAT.
Funding for the project will amount to $455,000 or P20 million.
In a statement to the media, Vice President Binay said the national slum upgrading strategy will help local government units identify policy and program options for local slum upgrading that will be integrated into the local planning process.
“The resulting investments in housing, urban infrastructure, and social services for upgraded communities will redound to creating job opportunities and improved delivery of social services, thus contributing to local economic development,” the official said.
As part of the process of developing the NSUS, it was announced that the project entails a comprehensive assessment and database on the condition, issues, opportunities, and risks confronting urban poor and the so-called “squatter” communities. This assessment will form the basis for interventions related to slum upgrading.
“Community empowerment is at the core of any slum upgrading initiative,” Binay said. According to him, the HUDCC and adjunct agencies will “ensure that informal settlers are empowered by involving their organizations in the preparation of the strategy.
“They will be engaged in the process, as well as be able to collaborate with the concerned LGUs in designing a strategy that responds to their needs and aspirations,” he said.
According to latest data, the Philippines can be counted among the rapidly urbanizing countries in Asia, with 60 percent of its population living in urban areas. If its current urbanization rate continues, the urban population is expected to account for 75 percent of the total national population in 25 years. In the meantime, the rate of urban migration in the country is at a record-level, while urban population growth rate is pegged high at annual three percent, according to the Urban Poor Resource Center in the Philippines (UPRCP). There are some 30 million urban poor in the country.
Based on 2010 data from the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), one-third of the Filipino populace cannot not afford to own their own houses. In Metro-Manila, informal settlers numbers some 3.1 million. Around 23 percent of them “squat” on government-owned land, while another 22 percent have settled on private lands. Another large 15 percent have built dwellings in areas classified as danger zones such as embankments surrounding big canals, under bridges and beside train tracks. The remaining 40 percent live in shelters in infrastructure sites.
A moratorium on demolitions
As the government embarks on its for urbanization drive, urban poor groups and urban poor community residents are battling against the demolition operations of various LGUs. Led by people’s organizations like the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap and the Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon, residents decry how the government is implementing its various “urban beautification,” “city renewal” and commercial expansion campaigns at the expense of the urban poor.
The AKD, for instance, is calling for national moratorium on demolitions, and decried the Aquino administration’s National Drive Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates (NDAPSSS) scheme which supposedly aims to stamp out the problem of squatting in the country.
AKD spokesman Carlito Badion said the NDAPSS primarily comprises violent clearing and demolition operations against the communities of the urban poor.
“This is a national drive against the poor and their humble houses. The government has together a plan to wipe out the communities of the urban poor and build business establishments and zones of commerce in the areas where their houses stood. Nowhere in this scheme that’s being touted to be ‘pro-progress and development’ is the welfare of the poor being considered. The financial interests of foreign business entities and their local partners come first,” he said.
The urban poor leader scoffed at the national government and LGU’s relocation programs, saying that these are hardly tailor-made to provide for the needs of relocatees.
“People are being driven off to off-city relocation sites where it’s very difficult to find means of income or livelihood. Many sites are far from schools, hospitals or even market places. Some of the sites are also flood-prone, and the houses are made of substandard material or of substandard construction. Relocatees are forced to leave or content with almost insurmountable odds at surviving without regular employment,” he said.
Badion is also outraged against the government’s wont to call relocatees who return to their former communities as “professional squatters” and consider them virtual criminals.
“The government has no right to call Filipinos squatters in their own country. It has the responsibility to provide its citizens with decent social housing and ensure that they have access to social services. So long as the government fails its duty to implement a genuine housing program, all blame falls at its doorstep,” he said.
He also pointed out that while there are really squatting syndicates, these are groups that have contacts and connections to the housing agencies and the LGUs themselves.
DILG encouraging violent demolitions
Department of Interior and Local Government Jessie Robredo, however, appears to ignore the arguments of the urban poor groups. The official has already exhorted LGU officials all over the country to put up local committees against professional squatters and squatting syndicates. He said that the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) is mandated to empower local officials to address the problem of squatting.
Badion is swift to counter the move.
“The DILG has a study that it released on May 2011 that admits how off-city relocation is not effective in addressing the urban poor housing problem. Sec. Robredo should have taken his cue from this. He should understand what life is like in the relocation areas; if he really knew the conditions there he wouldn’t question the decision of many urban poor to leave and return to their former communities,” he said.
He pointed out out Robredo’s call to LGUs only serves to encourage local authorities to implement campaigns of violent demolitions against urban poor communities such as what happened in San Juan and various areas in Quezon City.
Slow response to housing crisis
Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist and economist Solita Monsod has also made an observation about the housing problems in the country and the Aquino administration’s slow response to solving it.
Citing the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016, Monsod pointed out that the National Housing Authority’s direct housing provision targets for 2011 were 70,000 units. These units were supposed to be divided into three categories: 42,000 for resettlement; 20,000 for slum upgrading; and 8,000 for Local Housing. “The 2011 target, she said, was 50,000 units higher than the actual 2010 performance.
“That’s a pretty big jump, so I went to the NHA website to see what it had done so far along these lines, considering that its 2011 budget of P4.4 billion ($ 102.3 million) is P800 million ($ 18.6 million ) larger than last year’s. Alas, I saw nothing but pictures and press statements,” she said.
Observers have also pointed out the Aquino government’s accomplishment of building 4,000 houses in the first six to seven months of one year cannot be considered as much of an accomplishment. The President included this, however, in his second State of the Nation Address last July 2011.
Last December, a congressman from Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rodolfo Valencia asked Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to release the P2.06 billion ($ 46.5 million) budget for the local housing program. The lawmaker cited RA 7835 or the Comprehensive and Integrated Shelter Financing Act of 1994 which mandates the release of funds to increase and regularize the yearly appropriations of the major components of the national shelter program and ensure the implementation of the government’s program for housing and resettlement.
Valencia said that since the law was enacted 15 years ago, only 31 percent of the total budgetary allocation for the local housing program (LHP) was released and distributed to various congressional districts throughout the country. (Bulatlat.com)