In a historic event, representatives from various national government agencies concerning housing, local government units and urban poor groups in Metro Manila sat down in an inter-agency dialogue led by the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). The meeting, dubbed as “Convergence,” intended to discuss public lands awarded via presidential proclamation at the Oracle Hotel in Quezon City today.

Representatives of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP), National Housing Authority, Home Guaranty Corporation, Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation, Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund, Philippine Ports Authority and Social Housing Finance Corporation attended the dialogue to share their housing programs for the poor.

Housing committees of the local government units of Pasig, Manila, Quezon City, Malabon, Taguig and Mandaluyong were also present during the dialogue.

On the part of the community organizations, members of Balikwas Kadamay (Pasig City), Ugnayan Malabon (Malabon), Parola People’s Council (Manila), Kalipunan ng Mamamayang Pinagkaisa sa National Bilibid Prisons (Muntinlupa), Kadamay San Roque (Quezon City) and Nagkakaisang Residente ng Maysapang (Taguig City) raised their issues and demands on housing and land proclamation concerns.

Cecil Cari, spokesperson of Kadamay Metro Manila, told government officials, “These poor Filipinos in front of you have been regularly visiting your offices to ask support from your offices. They are asking for the awarding of small parcels of land for their homes but they were ignored. National and local governments were consistent that they have no money to build homes, yet they have huge funds for ASEAN.”

Kadamay Metro Manila, who led various community-based urban poor associations, took advantage of facing officials of key shelter agencies to air out their condemnation to the P15.5B government budget for the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and state visit of US President Donald Trump.

“The government is more than willing to spend billions of taxpayers’ money for ASEAN and Trump, while it continues to neglect the demands of the poor for decent and adequate housing,” said Cari.

Members of the militant urban poor center also shouted slogans during the dialogue, which called to end demolitions and for the government not to make profits out of basic social services for the poor and people.

Manggahan Floodway residents question PCUP

During the afternoon session of the Convergence dialogue, tension heated up as the open forum between urban poor groups and government agencies began.

Balikwas Kadamay, group of residents from East Bank Manggahan Floodway in Barangay Sta. Lucia, Pasig City and were currently holding a ‘Homeless Camp’ in Mendiola, questioned the PCUP’s signing of a pre-demolition conference certificate that was the among the last requirements the local government needed to legally proceed with the demolition of homes.

“We wonder how come PCUP Secretary Terry Ridon signed the Pre-Demolition Conference certificate of compliance that legitimizes the demolition of our community using grounds of census and provision of relocation sites,” decried Rodrigo Villareal, Balikwas Kadamay president.

Villareal said that the requirements based on the Urban Development and Housing Act was not complied, even as the law itself has only served to legitimize demolitions upon completion of requirements.

“With the violent and illegal demolition that happened to more than 1,000 households along Floodway, we will hold PCUP accountable to this,” Villareal stressed.

Villareal alleged that the housing units near their community were substandard. The construction, that started in 2004 was long delayed. Only three of eleven units were completed. But the near-site relocation was not even offered to most of the residents.

“Those housing units in faraway places lack livelihood and basic utilities. Bringing the poor to a place where there is no livelihood is condemning them to death,” said Villareal, in an interview with Manila Today.

Villareal also belied allegations that they were living in a “danger zone.”

“Residents were relocated there by the government after being displaced elsewhere. There was no issue of the place being a danger zone until there were so-called development projects to be built where we live,” Villareal told Manila Today.

Rhinelan Lachica, senior technical officer of the PCUP who attended the dialogue assured members of Balikwas Kadamay that they would review the points raised to them. This response from Lachica drew boos from the urban poor groups.

Meanwhile, HUDCC admitted that they know the actual project that would be built along Floodway, but they refused to give out the information and pointed to the local government of Pasig to dish out the details.

Alex Melendrez, head of the Pasig City Housing Board secretariat was no longer able to answer the inquiry, as he did not attend the afternoon session of the meeting.

Security of housing, tenure for the poor

During the dialogue, NAPC Secretary Liza Maza urged the housing agencies and local government units to expedite the process of granting security of tenure to urban poor communities residing in areas reserved for socialized housing purposes by presidential proclamations.

According to the anti-poverty czar, “The shelter needs of these poor communities should be prioritized over other purposes that the government may have for these lands, especially since the proclamations were issued in the first place in recognition of the communities’ longstanding presence in these areas.”

Maza added, “The housing agencies should review the mass of presidential proclamations and issuances in this regard, working together with local governments and community organizations, and make recommendations to the President to restore the rights of the communities over these lands and expedite the granting of security of tenure.”

“We must also explore other ways by which housing and tenure are made available to the poor, as the prevailing system only marginalizes the lowest-income earners from the government’s housing programs. Otherwise, we will never meet our massive housing needs,” said Maza.

According to NAPC, based from HUDCC, the country’s housing backlog numbered to 2.02 million housing units as of December 2016. Including the backlog, the total housing need of the country is estimated to be at 6.8 million housing units for the period of 2017-2022.

Maza said, “Shelter is one of the 10 basic needs that should be fulfilled for every Filipino in order to overcome poverty, as advocated by our agency in its Kilos SAMBAYANAN campaign.”

“Shelter is to be understood as not only having a roof over one’s head, but marked by adequate standards such as security of tenure and adequate infrastructure for facilities and services,” Maza ended.

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