Urban poor on Robredo death: Why him?By Jeannette I. Andrade
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Why did it have to be him?
This was the pained question posed by slum-dwelling families in Manila who had pinned their hopes for decent housing on Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, after it was confirmed Tuesday that he died in a plane crash on Saturday in the waters off Masbate province.
A meeting on Friday between the advocacy group Urban Poor Associates (UPA) and Cabinet officials that included Robredo practically sealed the deal for the “in-city relocation” of some 5,000 families living along Manila’s canals or esteros, the Inquirer learned.
Also present in that meeting were Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) Chair Joel Rocamora.
During that afternoon meeting held at the DBM office, Robredo pushed for the relocation project, which would involve building new homes along the waterways.
“There was already a plan to push through with the project. We had already obtained the services of architects. He (Robredo) said that he would push for its completion,” UPA field director Alice Murphy told the Inquirer.
She said Robredo had been designated by President Aquino to head the technical working group for the in-city housing project and an interagency body in charge of the relocation.
“He told us that he wanted to see it through and that he would disseminate a memorandum to local government units in the areas to ensure ample support for the project,” Murphy recalled, noting that some local officials had voiced strong opposition to the plan.
The 5,000 families live in shanties along Estero de San Miguel, San Sebastian, and Quiapo, all in Manila. According to the plan, they were to be moved to three-story tenement housing units not far from the creeks, to be built on lots that have a three-meter-wide easement as required by law.
“We were happy with the outcome of that Friday meeting. At last, the project was seeing implementation and everything was getting clearer. We shared the news with the families scheduled for relocation and they were ecstatic,” Murphy said.
But their glee turned quickly into gloom as they heard news of the interior secretary missing in a plane crash.
She said they couldn’t help but speculate and entertain conspiracy theories. “Most of them thought the plane must have been shot down,” Murphy said.
The urban poor being no stranger to “worst case scenarios,” she said, UPA had to dispel these wild suspicions by stressing that Robredo’s chartered plane developed engine problems.
As the search and rescue operation got underway, the families initiated their own prayer vigils and held Masses twice daily, hoping for a miracle, she added.
But when the tragic news came on Tuesday with the recovery of the secretary’s body, their common lament was: “Why him when he’s doing something good?”
The UPA officer said that although they hoped that Soliman and Abad would continue what Robredo started, his death was a great loss to their cause.
“We feel like we would go back to Square One. We still do not know who will replace the secretary and if he would continue his predecessor’s work,” Murphy said.
“He was a very open-minded person. He was open to debate, something we never saw in any other government official,” Murphy said.
Last year, the government announced a five-year, P50-billion project to provide on-site or in-city housing for more than 100,000 families living near estuaries, waterways, rivers and creeks.
President Benigno Aquino III then approved P10 billion for the implementation of the project in 2011 and committed P10 billion a year for it until 2016. The resettlement plan was supposed to involve 20,000 families annually.