DILG to Metro LGUs: Remove squatters or we’ll sue you

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From Gawad Kalasag to Gawad Kalaboso.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has vowed to crack the whip on local chief executives who will fail to comply with its order to relocate informal settlers from “danger zones” as part of the government’s disaster risk-reduction program.

“There will be cases filed against them. Our legal services is very serious on that. In fact, the opposite of Gawad Kalasag would be Gawad Kalaboso,” said Director Edgar Allan Tabell, chief of the department’s telecommunications division.

Gawad Kalasag is the DILG award given to local government units and civil society groups that excel in disaster risk-reduction and -management and humanitarian assistance during calamities.

Tabell, who represents the department in the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) working committee, said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas wants informal settlers in danger zones moved to safer areas between “today and the barangay elections” in October.

Tabell added that it was a “clear and definite timeline” with no extensions as the situation has become more dangerous, making the need for action more urgent.

“You will see political will. It will happen,” he said.

Nonetheless, Tabell admitted that the “bigger problem” for local governments was finding relocation sites, noting that people who were relocated often returned to the danger zones, complaining of the supposed lack of livelihood in their new surroundings.

He said the idea for Gawad Kalaboso to hold local chief executives accountable has not yet been spelled out on paper “but the process is about to be completed in our legal service.”

“We hope that all mayors here in Metro Manila will initiate the relocation of informal settlers along danger zones. And from Metro Manila, this will expand outside and go farther. Hopefully, no mayor will defy [the directive],” Tabell said.

The DILG’s legal services office has been conducting a study on what cases could be filed against “erring, hard-headed or even tolerant local chief executives” who will fail to implement its directive or even prevent the relocation of informal settlers.

However, prosecution would be the last resort the DILG would take against these local chief executives, Tabell said, because the department was in constant dialogue with  mayors.

According to him, the DILG received reports that some local government units harbored informal settlers when Typhoon “Sendong” struck in 2011 and left scores of people dead, particularly in Cagayan de Oro City.

The question, however, was whether local government officials who asked the DILG not to relocate the informal settlers before the recently concluded May midterm elections would be punished as well.

Tabell said that he did not think this would be the case since the deadline given to LGUs was before the barangay elections, not last month’s polls.

For his part, Undersecretary Eduardo del Rosario, NDRRMC executive director, stressed the need for an organized community to let it respond to disasters.

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