Recent headlines reported of a mob of angry individuals occupying government property. Reading that should bring back memories of the 2013 Zamboanga Siege orchestrated by the separatist Moro National Liberation Front. However, the takeover of Villa Elise – a state housing settlement in Bulacan – was done by a militant civilian group backed by urban slum dwellers from Metro Manila.
The group in question, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), describes itself as “the largest alliance of urban poor organizations in the Philippines”. According to reports, the mob that took over the housing units numbered to about 5,000 composed of both KADAMAY activists and urban slum dwellers from the different parts of the capital. Their main grievance being their perceived negligence of the application of their members for government housing stock, many applied a long time ago but have not yet been resettled until now.
Elizabeth Aguirre, Kadamay president, said they occupied the houses because NHA personnel refused to provide them with decent housing. She said that: “in so many occasions, we held dialogs with them. We wanted homes for our families. We were willing to pay [for government housing which] we could afford, yet, we were always told that there were no vacant houses. But based on our inspection, all these houses were unoccupied.”
While the houses were indeed unoccupied, the stock were intended for members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP). Colonel Ramil Anoyo, commander of the Army’s 48th Infantry Battalion, led a unit to secure the housing projects. He expressed the dismay of his soldiers who had expected to be rehoused in one of the units, saying that many of whom “felt they were robbed”.
The soldiers can be justified in feeling that way, given that government housing is among the benefits of enlisting in the armed forces. However, the 1987 Constitution also mandates that “the state shall undertake a program of land reform and urban housing that will make available decent housing and basic services at an affordable cost to the underprivileged and homeless in urban centers.” (Article XIII, Sec. 9)
Under the current system, the National Housing Authority (NHA) is in-charge of identifying beneficiaries and to oversee the relocation. Sadly, instead of reaching a humane compromise with the dissenting activists the state housing arm of the government has threatened them with eviction if they refuse to vacate. Rommel Alimboyao, NHA Central Luzon manager, said the families would be given eviction notices next week.
The problem occurred because there was an overabundance of citizens needing state housing that outnumbered existing stock. The NHA is right to say that the activists are begrudging other beneficiaries of the housing, but the KADAMAY militants make a decent point that the process is sluggish and that social conditions are worsening.
The elephant in the room is that the government, not only the incumbent but preceding administrations too, have taken a lax stance on social housing. In developed nations, social housing is a focal point of any election campaign – one would be hard-pressed to name the last presidential or senatorial candidate who gave a firm position on state housing.
There needs to be billions poured into an expanded state program of acquiring land, building more homes and humanely relocating urban slum dwellers into these state homes. The move would not only improve the lives of so many poor Filipinos, but is also a good measure to decongest the capital. It is a move that makes sense, but one that requires finding a right formula to utilize and guts to implement.