Desperate for shelter
There’s an impasse in Bulacan, site of the takeover of idle units in five government housing projects. The occupying families, by appearances hard up, desperate for shelter, and losing hope in the National Housing Authority, are not budging despite a government warning that they would be evicted. They are digging in.
Idle units at a sixth housing site have also since been occupied and, per reports, idle units in Barangay Batia in the town of Bocaue intended for the families of soldiers and policemen are being targeted.
It all began on March 8, when hundreds of families led by the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) took over 5,000 idle and unfinished housing units in Villa Elise at Barangay Masuso; Pandi Residence 2 in Barangay Mapulang Lupa; Villa Louise in Barangay Cacarong Matanda; and Padre Pio in Barangay Cacarong Bata (all in the town of Pandi); and San Jose Heights in the City of San Jose del Monte.
The families had long been seeking NHA assistance in finding homes, to no avail. Here is the crux of the matter, as formulated by Kadamay national chair Gloria Arellano: “There is something clearly wrong if there are thousands of … idle houses while the number of homeless continues to increase. … There is no reason the housing units should be left to vegetation, dirt and pests.”
It should be clear that the amenities are not what sparked the takeover. The units are hardly luxury condos: A number are unfinished, with no roofs, no utilities, no toilets even. So what gives? “People are impatient,” Arellano said. “They want their own homes. It has taken so long for the government to address our appeal for housing…. People are aware those houses are empty, so they took them.”
On March 11, NHA Central Luzon manager Rommel Alimboyao said the families needed to leave the occupied units within seven days or face eviction. He also said the families’ housing applications would be addressed. But the families are holding their ground, to the extent that they barred entry to an NHA team. As a result, a planned dialogue was cancelled although the NHA team managed to process 160 housing applications from settlers at Villa Elise.
Kadamay said the dialogue would have allowed the government to select the beneficiaries among the families. “What everyone here wants is free housing, and that is what Kadamay asserts,” Arellano said. “The government has neglected the poor for so long. It is time for the poor to demand housing.”
A shortage in housing is a festering problem among informal settlers in cities. Before he took ill and passed on last year, Denis Murphy of the Urban Poor Associates was tireless in helping find solutions and in writing about the plight of homeless families. In a commentary in Inquirer Opinion in 2015, he wrote of how, at the National Housing Summit, the urban poor made two demands: “One asks that all government housing agencies allow for genuine people’s participation and consultation and use a family’s affordability as the measure of its monthly amortization. The second request/demand is for a new government bureau or agency that will work with the poorer and poorest of the poor. This agency will help the poor people; make their own analysis of their situation (not someone else’s analysis); help them plan good, clear housing solutions; help them acquire land—the land they are on or other in-city land—and financing.”
The standoff in Bulacan signals that the housing problem has come to a head. President Duterte has been quoted as warning the occupiers: “If you want to ignore the law, you cannot do that. I will force the issue with eviction. If you want that, do not put me at a disadvantage… Let’s settle it through a dialogue. Don’t do it that way because that’s anarchy… Do not do that because that would make it appear that the government is inutile.”
Attention is being directed at Liza Maza, a long-time stalwart of the parliament of the streets before she became part of the activist bloc in the House of Representatives and, now, an official of the Duterte administration as lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. Maza is a crucial player in this case. With the shoe now on the other foot, as it were, her moves to prove that the government is not inutile bear watching.