MANILA, Philippines - The relocation of informal settler families from Metro Manila's waterways will start at the San Juan River and Tullahan River and will cover families in San Juan, Quezon City, Caloocan, Malabon and Valenzuela, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said Monday.
Martin Perfecto, DSWD focal person in charge of the relocation project, said the process will start with validation of informal settler families living within the three-meter easement of the waterways.
The program, he added, is a huge undertaking as it seeks to identify and relocate 19,440 families living along eight major waterways.
He also said that the DSWD has the technical capability to implement the registration of the families with biometrics system.
The government will use the biometrics system in registering beneficiaries to prevent professional squatters from repeatedly availing of the P18,000 compensation and permanent housing units in medium-rise buildings to be made available by the National Housing Authority (NHA).
“We have the technology. But we are working as a group with other agencies, and the other agencies also have the technology and they have offered that their technology be used,” Perfecto said.
Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman also said other government agencies involved in the relocation project are mobilizing their resources for the start of the activities this week.
The National Technical Working Group, chaired by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), will map out and implement the program.
Clashes in QC over demolition reports
In Quezon City, tensions rose along Agham Road after over a hundred residents and militants barricaded portions of the road yesterday morning following reports that the local government would demolish houses in the area.
Clashes erupted past 10 a.m. when residents and militants began throwing rocks at police officers who started removing the barricade, which was set up around 6 a.m. and affected traffic in the area where the Office of the Ombudsman, Court of Tax Appeals and Philippine Science High School are located.
Gunshots were also reportedly heard in the area but it was not clear where these came from.
Superintendent Pedro Sanchez, commander of the Quezon City Police District Station 2, said a group of informal settlers started the clash, which injured three of his men.
The police tried to pacify the residents and militants by telling them that there was no scheduled demolition.
Sanchez said he believes someone provoked the residents by spreading false reports about a demolition.
Mayor Herbert Bautista also said he received an intelligence report that a group in the area collected P1,000 from the families in exchange for “protection” from demolition.
Interior Undersecretray Francisco Fernandez said the DILG will look into the intelligence report and if the evidence warrants, charges will be filed against those involved.
Bautista also maintained there was no planned demolition in the area, and Voltaire Alcantara of the city’s Task Force for the Control, Prevention and Removal of Illegal Structures and Squatting confirmed this in a text message to The STAR.
Central Business District in QC
The 29-hectare North Triangle area had previously housed 10,000 squatter families and about 8,000 families were relocated with government help in the past two years, according to Bautista.
The government plans to redevelop it in partnership with a big real estate firm into a P65-billion Central Business District, with the first phase set to be completed in three years.
Leah Valencia, leader of a support group for the squatters, said they were protesting a formal notice to leave the property by June 30.
She said the holdouts complained the relocation site was too far from Manila, where they scraped a living in construction and other low-paying jobs. Most are migrants from the provinces and some have lived in the slum for 30 years, she added.
Bautista said in a television interview that the revenues that the government will gain from the development of the district will benefit Quezon City residents.
“The revenue will be used to construct housing projects for the underprivileged,” Bautista explained. “It will be used for the construction of schools… the construction itself will provide more jobs.”
During his inaugural speech on Sunday, Bautista pledged to push for the development of the area.
He warned people who harbor professional squatters and illegal squatting syndicates that the city government would not hesitate to fully enforce the law against them.
The government is also eyeing the relocation of more than 2,000 squatter families living in Quezon City waterways, while at least 80 informal settlers in Mandaluyong City will be relocated to Cavite.
Malacañang: Gov’t will avoid violence
For its part, Malacañang yesterday vowed to take measures to prevent violence in the relocation of squatters to avoid a repeat of the clashes in Agham Road.
“We have made considerable efforts to engage and explain to the communities why they have to do this and what benefits there will be to them and the public. In this way there is social acceptance,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said in a text message.
“However, we note that there may be some groups who remain resistant and therefore we have to take other measures,” he added without elaborating. – With Janvic Mateo, Reinir Padua, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Aurea Calica, Non Alquitran