Gov’t firm on P18K offer; band-aid, say urban poor

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Malacañang on Monday brushed aside objections to the government’s offer of P18,000 in subsidy to each estero-dwelling family in Metro Manila for renting space somewhere else for up to 12 months, saying President Aquino wanted them to be safe.

Urban poor leaders have objected to the rental subsidy, arguing that the P360-million total cost would be better spent on permanent resettlement.

Secretary Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang would stick to this option in an effort to clear eight major waterways in the metropolis of close to 20,000 families by yearend. He bristled at insinuations that this was a “band-aid solution.”

“You are looking at families living on top of the waterways and alongside waterways. And so, come the rainy season or the typhoon season, there’s the danger of them being washed away. At other times, however, they will also be exposed to dengue, leptospirosis and other diseases,” the presidential spokesman said at a briefing.

These are “danger zones” and there is no question that the informal settlers had to be relocated to safer areas, Lacierda said.

“The President’s primary concern is the safety of these estero families,” he added. “We don’t want the casualties during typhoon season to happen on a yearly basis. We want that eliminated totally and that’s the reason why we’re moving them away from the esteros or what we call the danger zones.”

Lacierda said the subsidy was part of a comprehensive plan to relocate 100,000 families of informal settlers in the metropolis between now and 2016 when Aquino steps down.

“This is not a band-aid solution. A band-aid solution is just giving them assistance and that’s it. We have already programmed structures to be completed for these families,” he said.

Urban Poor Associates, a nongovernment organization, called the subsidy a “band-aid solution” to the housing problem. It proposed that the government relocate the informal settlers once the permanent resettlement site was ready.

Unclogging

The government is offering P18,000 to a family living on or along an estero so they could rent a home elsewhere for six to 12 months. Meantime, the government will unclog the esteros to ease flooding in the metropolis and find a permanent resettlement area for the informal settlers.

Local Government Undersecretary Francisco Fernandez said it was “cheaper” for the government to subsidize the rent of estero-dwelling families than to rescue, evacuate and rehabilitate them before and after a strong typhoon.

“It’s unacceptable. It’s the easiest way to get rid of the informal sector families,” urban poor leader Filomena Cinco said by phone.

‘Waste of money’

Cinco, president of  Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda, which  comprises 164 families living along Estero de San Miguel near Malacañang, said this was a “waste of money.”

“Why not use this money to build a permanent relocation site instead?” Cinco said of the P360-million rental subsidy for the 19,440 families of informal settlers.

Cinco said urban groups objected to this option in a meeting with officials of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in May.

With the subsidy, she pointed out that a family of three could rent a room in a slum community for P1,500 a month for 12 months, but a bigger family of five would have to shell out P3,000 a month for six months.

Dialogue with Roxas

Since the government was dead set at implementing it, Cinco said her group would seek a dialogue with Local Government Secretary Manuel

Roxas II, and if this failed, they would consider mobilizing rallies against it.

“We always get blamed for everything bad that happens in Metro Manila,” she said.

Quoting Undersecretary Fernandez, Lacierda said 500 families of informal settlers had moved out and 1,000 more families in San Juan City were about to leave. A total of 18,500 families have yet to be relocated.

“In principle, [each of the] 20,000 families will get the P18,000 and the team that is in charge of doing this held consultations with the informal settler families and they are happy with the arrangements. They are just finalizing the details,” Lacierda said.

Housing units

Fernandez earlier said the National Housing Authority had built 4,500 off-site housing units and would build 3,500 more this year.

“The target is to relocate all the 19,000 by the end of the year,” Lacierda said. “The projection is that we will be finishing everything by this yearend.”

He said the DILG was identifying the genuine informal settlers, as opposed to “professional squatters,” to ensure that they be assisted in their search for a room to rent.

An official of the social arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said giving P18,000 to each squatter-family needing relocation was not the solution to the country’s housing problem.

Open up lands

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the CBCP National Secretariat for Social Action, said that the government opening up lands in the capital for housing was the solution.

“If you give them money, they will just look for another [temporary] place where they can stay so it’s like moving a problem to another area,” Pabillo said in an interview with reporters.

“It is important that their homes will be in a place where there are jobs. One big solution there is to provide housing for these families in the city, where there are lands that are unused,” the prelate added.

Jobs, livelihood

He said informal settlers tend to go back to Metro Manila despite being provided housing in the provinces mainly because of their jobs and livelihood.

“They are here [in the capital] precisely because of work. They may have a house in the province but it cannot sustain them….Their jobs here do,”  Pabillo noted.

He said the government could not simply say that it had no land to spare for the poor families that have settled along the capital’s estuaries since malls and other commercial establishments were continuously sprouting in the metropolis.

“There are malls being built in the city. Where do they get these lands? There are many government-owned properties in the city but sadly these are being prioritized for business instead of for its people,” he said.

In the same breath, he wondered why the government was blaming only informal settlers for the worsening flooding in the capital when there were also big businesses and establishments clogging up waterways.

Pabillo cited a giant mall chain and a shopping center in Chinatown in Manila to stress his point.

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