Teresita Soreta left her family’s shanty near the San Juan River in Barangay (village) Salapan, San Juan City, before dawn Monday and excitedly went to the village covered court.
Holding a folder, the 54-year-old housewife joined hundreds of her neighbors in submitting documents to personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) who were processing their relocation to a government housing project in Barangay Muzon, San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan province.
Soreta and her family were among the first batch of informal settlers who voluntarily agreed to tear down their dwellings to allow the government to clear the clogged San Juan River, one of the primary waterways in Metro Manila.
“My children and I are very happy because we now have a chance to own a house,” a smiling Soreta told the Inquirer. “After four decades, we will no longer have to fear being washed away by floods during the rainy season.”
Unlike previous demolitions of squatter colonies in the metropolis, the clearing of the San Juan River on Monday pushed through without the usual violence and resistance from affected residents.
Instead of flying rocks and glass bottles thrown by angry residents, smiles and handshakes greeted the police and other government officials who visited the site.
“Why should we fight the government? We understand that our house is located in a danger zone. We’re actually lucky that we were given a safe place to live in,” said Soreta’s neighbor, Leticia Manuel.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said a total of 87 families had already moved in to their new homes in San Jose del Monte Heights as of 6 p.m. Monday.
Besides the keys to their new residence, they also received P18,000 in cash assistance from the DSWD.
Soliman said 606 families of informal settlers from Barangay Salapan had agreed to leave the place and transfer to San Jose del Monte.
8 major waterways
The families were the initial batch of the 19,440 families that the government was targeting to move from eight major waterways crisscrossing the capital of 13 million people by yearend.
Public works officials have identified the San Juan River, Tullahan River, Pasig River, Maricaban Creek, Manggahan Floodway, Estero Tripa de Gallina, Estero de Maypajo and Estero de Sunog Apog as critical areas needing widening.
Rainwater from Sierra Madre normally flows through these waterways before emptying into Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay. Since the waterways are clogged, the rainwater overflows into the streets, leading to flooding.
Some 104,000 families are living in danger zones such as canals, rivers, creeks, railroad tracks and dumps, and 60,000 households have built their homes near waterways. The families living along waterways are to be relocated by the end of President Aquino’s term in 2016.
Aquino has allotted P10 billion a year for the relocation of the estero-dwellers. And this is on top of the P350-billion flood control project that public works officials plan to implement in the metropolis and nearby provinces.
On Aug. 2, the President issued Memorandum Order No. 57 directing Roxas to “immediately spearhead” the transfer of informal-settler families living precariously near estuaries, creeks and rivers in the flood-prone metropolis “to decent housing sites … and pave the way for the clearing of clogged waterways.”
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the President issued the memorandum order to ensure that the relocation was coordinated under one lead agency, the DILG, headed by Roxas.
After leading the flag-raising ceremony at San Juan City Hall, Roxas immediately went to the covered court to oversee the preparations for the relocation of the displaced informal settlers.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, National Housing Authority (NHA) Chief Chito Cruz and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino joined him in a short sendoff program for the relocatees.
Roxas went around and approached over a dozen residents who were waiting for the release of the documents on their relocation from the DSWD and NHA personnel.
“Good luck and thank you for your cooperation. A better life and community await you there,” Roxas said as he shook hands with the displaced residents.
The interior secretary also thanked San Juan City Mayor Guia Gomez for her support for the national government’s efforts to clear the eight primary waterways in the metropolis, which the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said were critical to its flood-control program.
Roxas said the city government’s assistance in explaining the need to remove squatter colonies from the San Juan River helped the national government expedite the relocation of the informal settlers.
As if to show his gratitude, Roxas drove Gomez’s Lexus sedan and brought her to the covered court.
“Let me drive you there … This would not have happened if not for your leadership,” Roxas told the visibly amused mayor.
Gomez said the informal settlers living along the rivers and creeks were forced to evacuate to higher ground every time floodwaters inundated the city.
“During the rainy season, the residents here are anxious because of the floods. For years, they had been battling that fear of getting drowned and stricken with deadly water-borne diseases,” Gomez said.
“But now they will have a better and safer community for them and their family. That’s why I told them to be thankful to the national government, President Aquino and Secretary Roxas for giving them the opportunity to improve their lives,” she said.
Singson said the DPWH would start tearing down all illegal structures along the San Juan River within the week. He said the agency would also bring equipment for the dredging and widening of the waterway.
The MMDA, for its part, would put up a pumping station in the area to increase the volume of water so the river can drain out the excess to Manila Bay.
“The overall flood-control master plan requires an increase in the carrying capacity of the drainage. We can only do this by clearing the clogged waterways. It’s that simple,” Singson told the Inquirer.
San Juan as model
Cruz said the orderly transfer of the informal settlers from Barangay Salapan would be the “model” for the over 19,000 more families of illegal settlers who were set to be relocated to other government housing projects.
“What happened here in San Juan is an example of good synergy and cooperation between the national and city governments,” Roxas said.
Before noon, Roxas took a 25-kilometer drive to San Jose del Monte Heights and led the formal turnover of the housing units to the beneficiaries.
Originally posted: 8:43 pm | Monday, August 5th, 2013