MANILA - An urban poor group's takeover of housing units in Bulacan last month was meant as a "pressure tactic" so Maoist rebels could gain leverage in the ongoing peace talks with the government, a former human rights official said.
Both sides are negotiating an agreement on social and economic reforms to address the root causes of the 49-year-old armed struggle.
This includes mass housing and the free distribution of confiscated land to farmers, based on the 84-page draft submitted by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
"(After) housing occupation, mamaya land occupation na ang mangyayari dyan (land occupation might happen). It's not far-fetched," Loretta Ann Rosales, former Commission on Human Rights chairperson, told ABS-CBN News.
"Kabahagi yan nung (That's part of) pressures that are being given on the ground for the peace process."
Gloria Arellano, who heads the urban poor group Kadamay, insisted the takeover of more 5,000 low-cost housing units intended for policemen and soldiers was not meant as a parallel strategy for the talks.
"Nataon na lang yan," she told ABS-CBN News. "Dumating na lang po talaga sa punto na ang mga maralita ay ang dami nang walang tahanan."
(It's coincidental. It just came to a point that the so many of the poor have nowhere to live.)
Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, rejected insinuations that the NDFP "manipulated the poor for the peace talks."
"Wala naman silang batayan para sabihin yun," he said.
(They have no basis to say that.)
Rosales' group, Akbayan, has ideological differences with Bayan, of which she used to be an official. Bayan is affiliated with Kadamay.
Reyes said the housing problem was connected to the peace negotiations only because it was part of the social and economic reform agenda.
He said the poor were "conscious" that calls for a better mass housing program could also be addressed on the peace table.
Kadamay is demanding free housing for the poor unlike the existing socialized program that still requires low-cost and long-term payments.
"Theoretically dapat lang naman talaga kasi yung mga mahihirap mas mabigyan ng pagkakataon para so that they can own their homes," Rosales said. "But rights also have responsibilities."
(Theoretically, the poor should be given their own homes.)
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier announced that Kadamay members who seized housing units in Bulacan could stay there, a move that alarmed lawmakers who felt it could set a bad precedent.
Arellano said critics should not blame her group but the lack of sufficient houses for the poor.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes earlier warned the housing units seized by Kadamay could serve as a "sanctuary" for communist rebels.
"Pwede syang mamugad dun sa pabahay para makita nya ang totoong nangyayari. Kaso salita sila nang salita. Nandun lang sila sa mga air-condition na room. Hindi sila bumababa mismo kung ano ang nangyayari dyan sa mga maralitang yan," Arellano said.
(He can live in one of the houses so he can see what's happening. He's all talk. He's just in his air-conditioned room. They don't get out to see what's rally happening with the poor.)