By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Progressive groups criticized President Benigno S. Aquino III for appointing his running mate in the last elections and former Transportation Sec. Mar Roxas to the Department of Interior and Local Government chief post.
“While it is true that it is a strategic move for the 2016 presidential elections, we also fear that it would equate to intensified and more violent demolitions of homes of urban poor families,” Carlito Badion, co-convener of Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon, said.
Aquino announced on Aug. 31 that Roxas would replace the late Jesse Robredo as the DILG chief. Robredo died in a plane crash on Aug. 19. His body was recovered two days later.
Shortly before Robredo died, he was tasked to look for a relocation site for roughly 100,000 settlers that would be displaced by Aquino’s plan to demolish their homes. He was reportedly eyeing an in-city relocation site in Pasay City.
“Roxas faces issues related to the forced eviction of urban poor communities and the relocation of these communities. Will Roxas implement a policy of all-out war against the urban poor or will he sit down to look for viable solutions to the long-standing problem of housing, which has given rise to violent demolitions?” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.
Urban poor and the Aranetas
Badion said the Aranetas, a landed and wealthy family to which Roxas belongs to, have their own share in the widespread demolition of urban poor homes in the country. In Pangarap Village, residents and the Araneta family have been fighting over the ownership of the land for several decades now.
Residents, in a previous interview with Bulatlat.com, said the Araneta family has renewed their efforts to displace them because of the government’s project to build a rail system, which would pass along the Pangarap Village. The MRT Line 7 is a $1.12 billion government rail system project from San Jose, Del Monte, Bulacan to MRT Line 3 station in North Edsa, Quezon City.
On July 23, 2010, security guards hired by the Araneta family opened fired at the barricade of protesting residents. Two were killed and many others were wounded.
“Roxas’ appointment as new Interior secretary will surely bring about a harder fight among the ranks of the urban poor, especially here in Pangarap Village. We have been fighting for this land against Roxas’ relative Iggy Araneta,” Ronie Mallari, 52, a resident of Pangarap Village for more than 20 years, said.
He added that, “They now have the police at their disposal, which they can use against us.”
Mallari said the Araneta filed ejectment cases against the leaders of the residents in Pangarap Village. “They are waging a deceptive war against the residents. They would say this and yet act otherwise,” he said.
Mallari added the Araneta family also filed ejectment cases against him and other leaders of the community. He is an officer of the local group Concerned Citizens of Pangarap.
“We are open for negotiations if residents really need to be relocated. But we should be relocated in a humane resettlement area,” Mallari said.
Under Robredo’s lead in the Department of Interior and Local Government, urban poor groups noted “small victories” in favor of the urban poor. Badion of Kadamay doubts if Roxas could do the same, citing the experiences of residents of Pangarap Village.
“Can he oppose his own kin?” Badion said.
In his Facebook account, Roy Velez of Bayan NCR, said Robredo faced progressive groups and partylist groups in a consultation for the welfare of the urban poor. “He did not give it a second thought. He came to the scheduled meeting. This was during the time that there was a series of demolitions in the country.”
Velez added in a separate Facebook post that the next DILG secretary would surely implement Aquino’s plan to “blast the homes” of urban poor families living in the so-called danger zones.
“If you would compare him (Robredo) to others, at least he talked with us when it was about the concerns of the urban poor whose homes were being demolished,” Velez said.
The DILG, under Robredo, issued two moratorium orders on demolition of urban poor communities. First was after the violent demolition of homes in North Triangle, Quezon City in 2010 and next was after the bloody demolition in Silverio Compound that led to the killing of 19-year-old Arnel Leono,r when the police allegedly used live bullets in the dispersal.
Badion said Robredo wanted “local government units in the country to be like Naga City.” In roughly two decades that he served as mayor of Naga City, ABS-CBN news reported, he was able to construct homes for 2,000 families in a span of five years.
“There were demolitions. But he did not bring the families to far-fetched places where there would be no livelihood. He made sure that it would be in-city relocation for the family,” Badion added.
Robredo’s in-city relocation
Badion said Robredo was consistent in his support for in-city relocation for urban poor families, citing the report he prepared as a result of the Technical Working Group that the DILG formed supposedly to come up with a comprehensive plan for urban poor families.
In the report, which Robredo submitted to Aquino, he acknowledged the shortage of housing units available in relocation areas compared to the number of families in danger zones, who need to be relocated.
“The quantity of available housing units is in itself an issue, but this is further compounded by the quality of resettlement areas in terms of access to services and facilities, which, in turn, affect the quality of life settlers will have in the area,” he said in the report.
He said that absence of employment opportunities, inadequate water supply, distance of school and hospitals and defects of the housing structures are among the issues that resettlement areas have.
“Resettlement, mostly off-city, has been the default option but these have proven to be not pro-poor,” he said.
Instead, Robredo recommended on-site or on-city development for the urban poor through medium or high rise housing facilities. “This will not only allow for a larger number of informal settlers to be housed in-city but unlock land values as well, which can spur local economic growth through socially inclusive urban redevelopment sites.”
“Off-city relocation costs typically fail to take into account attendant social and economic costs. If such costs are taken into consideration such as (e.g. infrastructure for hospitals, schools, water systems, etc.); b) social costs to informal settlers (e.g. loss of livelihood, hardship costs, etc.); and d) recurrent costs (e.g. transportation expenses incurred by resettled households in commuting, etc.), among others, then dense on-site redevelopment or in-city relocation is glaringly the best choice,” the report read.
He added that an in-city construction of a medium rise building will cost the government $397.62 million compared to the $261.9 million, which would only cover the costs of acquiring the land.
Challenge to Roxas
These recommendations, Badion said, will remain forever as recommendations if the Aquino government, through its newly-installed Interior secretary Roxas, will not ensure that it would push through.
“What Robredo said in those reports relatively reflects the demands of the urban poor,” Badion said, “We are challenging Roxas to implement the recommendations of Robredo and even make sure that he would go beyond it.”
Mallari, for his part, urged Roxas to make sure that he would not use his position to serve the ruling few, most especially his own family.