MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III on Friday ordered an immediate stop to the relocation of thousands of families living in a shantytown near a major highway in Quezon City.
In a statement, Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa Jr. said Aquino has instructed him to order the National Housing Authority (NHA) "to suspend the relocation of families living in the NHA property in Sitio San Roque II in North Triangle that oppose their transfer to the NHA's proposed relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal."
"The relocation is suspended until the NHA provides a comprehensive plan that will ensure orderliness in the implementation of relocation activities," Ochoa said.
The executive secretary said Aquino is saddened by the events that transpired yesterday, which saw informal settlers rioting against NHA demolition teams. The riots injured 11 people and snarled traffic for hours on the northbound lane of Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) after informal settlers blocked the highway.
The demolition was stopped after a local trial court judge issued a temporary restraining order in favor of the settlers.
"While the President respects the families’ right to oppose their relocation to Rizal, he nonetheless calls on them to exercise their right to protest in a peaceful manner. He has likewise instructed all authorities to exercise maximum tolerance and is confident that the issue will be resolved by the parties involved," Ochoa said.
NHA General Manager Chito Cruz earlier said at least 3,400 of the estimated 9,000 families on Sition San Roque have already transferred to relocation sites in Montalban and Rodriguez, Rizal. He said he is hoping that the remaining 5,000-plus families will follow suit.
Cruz said the NHA is spending more than P200,000 per family for the relocation. Each family can pay for their new homes for only P300 a month for the next 30 years.
He also brushed aside suggestions that the informal settlers should own the land since they have been developing it over the years.
"Not in all instances you can own the land you squat on. These are titled properties owned by the government," he said.