Informal settlers assured of homes as govt aims to boost infra

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 20 2017 05:59 PM

MANILA – Once government embarks on its massive infrastructure endeavor, the country’s informal settlers will not be rendered homeless, a government official said Thursday. 
Terry Ridon, chair of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP), also said the government will not demolish informal settlements without providing relocation sites for affected residents. 

His agency has the final say on demolitions, Ridon told a news briefing in Malacañang.

“[U]nder the leadership of the President, he has made it clear that there will be no demolitions without relocation," said Ridon, formerly Representative for the militant Kabataan party-list.

"Even if we speak about big-ticket infrastructure projects, I think part of the spending will most definitely be made towards relocation of many of the affected informal settler families," he said. 

The official made this comment just as the Duterte administration seeks to spend over P8 trillion over the next five years on major infrastructure projects around the country. The ambitious undertaking may likely involve the demolition of houses on construction sites.

Ridon also called on the government to increase its housing budget just as the government vows to decongest Metro Manila by creating other urban hubs outside the capital and building transportation infrastructure.
Ridon said the government has to allocate at least P1 trillion to solve the 5.6-million socialized housing backlog. 

Ideally, he said, the government should be spending P180 billion annually for housing, or roughly one percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Ridon is also pushing for on-site and in-city relocation, saying building settlements in areas outside the capital and other urban centers with scant facilities and basic social services would not work.
“In terms of the decongestion of Metro Manila, that is something that will not most definitely happen in the next two years, I think. Because you really have to build new cities... in the course of the next decade perhaps,” he said.

“Let the other agencies proceed with the decongestion while still responding to the immediate concerns and problems of the urban poor in the cities,” he added.

Ridon, meanwhile, also slammed the Aquino administration for failing to thoroughly study the viability of building housing projects in Bulacan for police officers and soldiers despite the lack of facilities and social services in the area.
The National Housing Authority had bared at a bicameral hearing last Tuesday that 83 percent of housing units for military and police officers- or 55,124 out of 66,184- remain unoccupied.

Ridon said low occupancy rate at the housing project showed that target beneficiaries were not consulted. He said the houses seemed to have been built using substandard materials.

“Inikot namin iyan, talagang bulok ang mga naitayo (We visited the houses and we noticed they were poorly built). We have to be frank with everybody about it. In fact, some form of accountability needs to be undertaken towards everyone that had been involved in building those houses,” said Ridon, who as a militant lawmaker was vocal against the Aquino administration. 

“Dapat may managot, dahil sa loob ng mahabang panahon, zero ang tumira (Someone should be held accountable because for such a long time, no one occupied the houses). I would say it was a project that was meant to fail.”

Idle housing units in Bulacan were recently forcibly occupied by members of urban poor group Kadamay. The militant group said its members resorted to occupying the houses out of sheer desperation.

Ridon said the Kadamay incident was a blessing as it served as a wake-up call for the government.
“Nagpapasalamat ang maraming mga ahensya dahil naganap ito, dahil na-put into the spotlight na talagang may mga bahay na walang tao, samantalang madaming tao na walang bahay. That is the nexus we want to resolve,” he said.

(Many government agencies are thankful this happened, because it showed that many houses had no occupants even as many people have no homes. That is the nexus we want to resolve.)