The conversation about the occupation of the idle government housing units in Pandi Bulacan has unsurprisingly settled simplistically on the fact that members of the urban poor, all members of Kadamay, took over these houses outside of the process set for them by the public housing system of government.
Yet one wonders how many of those who insist that the urban poor did not follow due process, actually know what that process is. Because even Vice President Leni Robredo, during her short stint as HUDCC Chairperson, admitted that one of the many reasons the poor were unable to avail of government housing, one of the reasons why she was saying the housing sector was in “shambles” and in “crisis,” is because of this long-drawn out process that they are required to go through just to be awarded a house.
This is VP Leni, the one who is purportedly out to protect the previous administration. And yet there she was, admitting to the failure of the same administration in actually delivering what it had promised. No, not just houses, but houses that are actually going to be lived in; not just houses, but livable structures.
Neither of which the Aquino administration could claim to have done through the National Housing Authority (NHA), which was reporting directly to the Office of the President (Inquirer.net, 28 Mar 2016).
In August 2016, VP Leni said: “Kasi parang over the years, naging mindset lang ng ahensiya iyong number of houses built iyong pinaka-accomplishment. Pero sabi ko dapat yata hindi iyon accomplishment. Dapat iyon proyekto lang. pero ang accomplishment, ilang buhay ba ang nabago dahil nagkaroon sila ng bahay?” (Robredo Interview, 30 Aug 2016)
Her missed chance
VP Leni was undoubtedly on her way to at least address the problems with the process – admitting there is something wrong is already so many steps ahead than Daang Matuwid.
But she was also trying to keep from blaming the Aquino administration, despite the fact that the NHA General Manager Chito Cruz himself admitted to the APF/PNP Housing Project structures to have been “unsafe and unfit” for humans (Inquirer.net, 28 Mar 2016).
But maybe the revelations were enough. In an interview in August, after visiting a housing project in Bulacan for AFP-PNP and ISFs, she talked about how across the sites she had visited, there were similar problems such as the lack of basic services (electricity, water), as well as the lack of employment opportunities. She mentions visiting a site with 4,000 housing units, but with only 800 occupied (30 Aug Interview). VP Leni also said in November 2016 that “the conditions of most of the houses in the sites I visited simply weren’t acceptable for the families of our soldiers and police” (HUDCC Press Release, 23 Nov 2016).
In October, she also explained how the poor cannot afford the housing programs of government: “Even if you comply with provisions, it only caters to those who earn enough to pay. We want to change the policy and open these to those who do not have the means to pay” (Manila Times, 28 Oct 2016).
But of course the VP’s bigger picture solution was to push for a Department of Housing (an old Daang Matuwid proposal), and ultimately seek the help of the private sector in exchange for tax breaks – as if they aren’t getting that at this point, as if it is not the privatization of the housing sector that has contributed to this crisis, too.
His big opportunity
The Pandi takeover by the urban poor is the inevitable outcome of the housing crisis that Daang Matuwid created and nurtured for six years. The Pandi takeover also makes absolute sense, when we consider that these houses were ready for the taking, had no interested owners, and were decaying by the day; when we consider that the urban poor and ISFs of Bulacan who have taken over these government housing units, are also undoubtedly qualified beneficiaries.
President Duterte has an opportunity here to take the housing crisis by the horns, and instead of building new homes, ensure the occupation of the ones that have been empty since Daang Matuwid. He has an opportunity to prove that instead of letting the billions in public funds already spent on these houses to go to waste, he will instead spend on ensuring that the LGUs get the support they need to provide these new residents with basic services and needs.
The President has an opportunity to reimagine the process of occupancy of these government housing units that goes beyond awarding to intended beneficiaries on paper, seeing as that has proven to be Daang Matuwid’s failure. There are ISFs across the country in need of homes. And if there’s anything the Pandi occupation proves, it’s that the most effective way of ensuring occupancy of these homes is to allow for those within or in close proximity to the sites to take over.
The President has the opportunity to let the new residents of Pandi stay.
Sure, they didn’t go through the process; but even VP Leni has pointed out how that process is a failure. Sure, these houses have intended beneficiaries; but even they have refused to live in these houses. Sure, this is like manna from heaven for the urban poor, a home to call their own: but in what world is it wrong for government to give homes to its poorest citizens, ones who have suffered, have been neglected, long enough?
The President has a golden opportunity here to do not just what makes sense, but also what is fair and just. Here’s hoping he takes it.
Published in The Manila Times, 26 March 2017.