CHR backs Senate bill requiring moratorium on rental payments, evictions during calamities
MANILA, Philippines — While regular households already find it hard to cope with the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic like stay-at-home policies, it is likely worse for people who do not have any shelter as of the moment — seen as the primary defense against the health crisis.
That is why the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) backs the passage of a Senate bill that aims to mandate a moratorium on rental payments and possible eviction during emergency situations and times of calamities.
Under Senate Bill No. 1525 filed by Senator Lito Lapid last May 2020, the moratorium would cover residential units like apartments, houses, dormitories, rooms and bed spaces, and other commercial areas depending on the discretion of the Department of Trade and Industry.
“In the Philippines and around the world, housing has become the frontline defense against the coronavirus. While the major policy of the country encourages people to stay at home, it runs counter to the fact that many households are driven to homelessness and continue to be threatened by evictions,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
“The unprecedented economic impact of the coronavirus has pushed our workers to financial hardships. Tenants struggling to make their rental payments as result of housing markets that are unaffordable, and now job loss and underemployment,” she added.
When he filed the bill last May, Lapid said that the measure is meant to shield poor Filipino families from poverty and the harsh effects of the pandemic, especially since the government advocates staying at home. As it is, having no proper place to stay would only make poor people vulnerable to infections.
Despite the Bayanihan laws — Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act and R.A. No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, referred to as Bayanihan I and II — having provisions against eviction and rental payments, CHR noted that institutionalizing them is a correct step forward.
“Although there is an existing temporary prohibition on rental payments under the Bayanihan I and II Acts, the proposed legislation aims to have a permanent policy on moratorium on residential payments and eviction while there is a state of calamity or emergency,” De Guia said.
“The lack of decent and affordable housing continues to force people to live in makeshift dwellings in informal settlements that are typically unsafe and lacking basic services. This makes them more prone to natural and man-made disasters, leading to widespread displacement,” she added.
Several government officials including no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself have asked landlords not to force people to pay their rents, as they may be living on thin pockets amid the pandemic.
Last July — a month after quarantine restrictions over most parts of the country have eased — polling firm Social Weather Stations (SWS) still tallied record-high 45.5 percent unemployment rate among adult Filipinos.
This figure eased down to 39.5 percent in September and 27.3 percent in November, but these are still high numbers compared to scenarios before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Economists and observers trace the high unemployment rates to the strict lockdown measures from March to May, when only essential business were allowed to operate and people were barred from traveling unless for important reasons.
This in turn forced several industries, especially those linked with tourism, to either suspend operations or close shop totally.
CHR said that the high poverty rates should spur the government to act against the looming housing issue in the country, adding that the gap between those who could afford their own houses and those who are struggling just to make ends meet have been largely exposed by the crisis.
[…] The Commission calls for a more sustainable and permanent action to address the housing issue in the country. The current health crisis highlights the existing gaps in the State’s protection of the right to housing as evident in the rising homelessness and informal settlements in both urban and rural areas, and in the growing impoverished population in the Philippines,” De Guia explained.
“The Commission urges the government to take extraordinary measures to secure the right to housing for all and to protect every Filipino against the pandemic—especially the most vulnerable, marginalised, and disadvantaged,” she added.