“Homelessness amid rotting houses meant for the poor is unjust.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) vows to defend their barricade and occupation of idle government housing sites and units, which began last week, as they appeal to President Duterte to listen to their calls instead of responding with force.
On March 8, urban poor groups mostly led by Kadamay occupied a total of 5,208 idle housing units in five relocation sites in Pandi, Bulacan. Kadamay said the action is a statement against the prolonged, corruption-ridden process of providing housing units, amid the homelessness of millions.
In a rally at Mendiola (Chino Roces Bridge) on March 13, they demanded free, mass housing for all urban poor Filipinos.
The protest coincided with the en banc meeting of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (Napc), which Duterte attended. Also yesterday, at a press conference in Malacañang, Duterte likened the occupation to “anarchy” and said the poor cannot ignore the law.
Citing data from the National Housing Authority (NHA), Kadamay said only 13 percent of around 60,000 housing units for the personnel of Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police have been occupied by beneficiaries, “most likely due to the dismal conditions of the housing projects and the lack of job opportunities in the area.”
Carlito Badion, Kadamay secretary general, said using force would be adding “injustice” to the protesting urban poor who have already been treated like animals in violent demolitions that forced them out of their homes.
“The people who should be punished are government and housing officials whose corruption, negligence and adherence to neoliberal policies have led to massive homelessness and idle housing units,” said Badion.
Through the occupation, the group asserts their right to free, mass housing, which, they said, government has failed to fulfil. He asserted that their occupation of the idle houses is organized and principled.
Badion said the Constitution states that the government shall make available affordable, decent housing to underprivileged and homeless citizens.
‘Government portray homelessness as a crime’
The group said the pronouncement of the NHA and Duterte portrays homelessness as a crime that should be punished when in fact it is the lack of jobs and living wages that made them incapable to afford their own housing.
“Homelessness amid rotting houses meant for the poor is unjust,” said Badion, adding, “the law also states that government housing is for the poor and not for insects, dust and plants.”
Gloria Arellano, chairperson of Kadamay said in an interview with Kodao Productions that the poor were left with no choice but to occupy the idle houses. They had been calling for free and mass housing for so long but their appeal only fell on deaf ears.
Arellano said the poor are practically restricted from availing of the government’s housing program because of the tedious process, and because of their lack of income, which is insufficient even to provide food for the family.
Officials of the NHA gave Kadamay seven days, or up to March 17 to voluntarily leave the occupied areas. While they expressed intention to help, the NHA officials urged the occupiers to follow procedures to avail of government housing.
Kadamay, however, vowed not to leave the idle houses.
In solidarity with the urban poor occupying the idle houses, Kadamay’s umbrella organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said that the occupation is an “unfolding humanitarian crisis that requires immediate government response.”
“Give the poor the necessary services to make the settlement livable. Give the poor their dignity! We specifically call on NHA chair, and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council head Secretary Jun Evasco to hear the protesting urban poor,” said the Bayan statement.
Several progressive groups have also expressed support to the occupying urban poor in Bulacan.
“Shelter is a basic human need and a basic human right. It is such an irony that while there are millions of homeless families, there are also thousands of government housing units standing idly and wasting away,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas who personally went to the occupied area to show support.
In 2016, the GWP filed House Resolution 604 to probe issues surrounding the relocation sites such as the lack of potable water, the use of substandard construction materials, steep and unaffordable amortizations amid the lack of decent employment and livelihood. “The resolution likewise seeks to implement a moratorium on amortization payments until such issues are resolved.”