December 11, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Palace: No demolition of shanties ‘even if we speak of infrastructure projects’

FOLLOWING THE recent occupation by militant group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) of socialized housing units in Pandi, Bulacan, an official on urban-poor concerns in a Malacañang briefing on Thursday called for the abandonment of off-site resettlement of squatters.

Chairperson Terry L. Ridon of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) also affirmed, citing President Rodrigo R. Duterte himself, that there will be no demolition of squatter communities without relocation.

“The Bulacan incident gives us further resolve within the housing agencies to push for on-site and in-city resettlement as the main mode of resettlement of informal settler families affected by public infrastructure projects, court orders or disaster-induced relocation,” Mr. Ridon said in his opening statement on Thursday’s Palace briefing.

“Off-site resettlement should be abandoned as a main mode of resettlement and should only be used as a last resort, particularly in view of the costs of economic dislocation of informal settler families and the costs of creating an entirely off-site new township with full services, utilities and livelihood,” he added.

While he acknowledged that in-city housing would be more expensive than off-site, Mr. Ridon also noted that, because jobs and schools are located in the city, “ultimately, in terms of costs, they would be equal.”

Citing his agency’s mandate as having “the final clearance for all the demolitions particularly for infra projects,” Mr. Ridon assured that the administration’s Build, Build, Build scheme would not infringe on the rights of urban poor informal settlers.

“Under the leadership of the President, he has made it clear that there will be no demolitions without relocation,” Mr. Ridon said. “So even if we speak about big-ticket infrastructure projects, I think part of the spending will most definitely be made towards relocation of many of the affected informal settler families.”

A fellow activist of Kadamay and a party-list congressman before joining the Duterte administration, Mr. Ridon also expressed gratitude on behalf of the government’s housing agencies that the housing situation has been placed on the spotlight: “And sa totoo lang, nagpapasalamat pa nga ho ’yung maraming mga ahensya dahil naganap po ito. Talagang na-put into the spotlight, na talagang meron pong mga bahay na walang tao, samantalang maraming tao na walang bahay.

(And in fact, many agencies are thankful because this happened. Really, it was put into the spotlight, that there are houses without people, while there are many people without houses.)

He played down Mr. Duterte’s initial response to the situation in Pandi threatening the activists, saying “it serves as a warning that I don’t think that the President will look kindly again for another occupation.”

“But (of course) we would also want... to state (that) this is a systemic matter...that we really have to confront as government, so... (really) if you fail to make actual steps towards resolving the housing crisis, I am quite certain something like this will happen again,” Mr. Ridon also said.

To be sure, Mr. Duterte had also said in a recent speech to the Philippine Army: “Let them stay there because they’re poor. I’ll build another housing project for you soonest and I intend to complete it by December.”

Mr. Ridon in his opening remarks said “we support the pronouncement of the President that the new housing program will be granted to uniformed personnel affected by the occupation in Bulacan.”

“Further, we also support the pronouncement of the President allowing members of Kadamay to continue occupying long idle houses in Bulacan.” -- Lucia Edna P. de Guzman