IT was on March 8 when I first heard of how members of urban poor organization Kadamay had taken over units of a government housing project in Pandi, Bulacan. It seemed like the best way for our women (and men of course!) to celebrate International Women’s Day: to take over public housing units already overgrown with weeds and grass, neglected and idle for years, some dilapidated.
Here were people willing to take these structures for what they were, without electricity and water, some without doors and windows, all seemingly unfinished, with windows that make it look like these have a second level, but in fact it’s all just façade. These are one-room houses, approximately 12 feet by 9 feet, many without toilets (just holes in the ground). These are built in an area of Pandi that barely has any trees, and is far from town.
No one cared about these houses before members of the urban poor took these over. And when I say no one cared, I mean even beneficiaries refused to use these houses, given what these are.
Meanwhile, the urban poor are happy enough, just to be able to call these houses their new homes.
PNoy’s housing program
This housing crisis is a vestige of President Noynoy Aquino’s elite politics, the kind that looked at social services and the right to shelter to be a matter of media mileage, but also as a way of ensuring profits for private partners in what is a joint venture of building affordable homes. There is little transparency, and generally the outcome was substandard housing units described as “hellish.”
It was in 2011 when PNoy signed Administrative Order No. 9, which directed the National Housing Authority (NHA) to implement and manage a housing program for military and police personnel. This was called the AFP/PNP Housing Program, which received an allotment of P4.2 billion. The goal was 21,800 housing units to be distributed in 2011 alone, across 12 different locations (Interaksyon, July 14, 2011). No press release mentions Pandi.
But a 2016 HUDCC press release, at that time under Vice President Leni Robredo, lists down Pandi as part of 65 sites where houses for the military and police have been built.
According to the AFP Housing Board, “many soldiers were not satisfied with the design of the houses” and Police Senior Superintendent Wilfredo Cayat said that “there was a mismatch in the location of the housing sites and the needs of the police.” The same press release from the Robredo’s HUDCC states that the “AFP, PNP and NHA” had concerns about the size of the units, but the previous administration pushed through with the project anyway.
That bit about the NHA itself having a problem with these housing units though is absurd, considering that it was the NHA itself that administered the construction of this project. If it had concerns, why did it push through with the project?
The AFP/PNP Housing Project was administered by NHA General Manager Chito M Cruz, a part of PNoy’s “close circle of friends” (May 30, 2010).
In 2016, the HUDCC pegged the budget for the AFP/PNP Housing Project at ₱20.78 billion.
Pandi seems to only appear in government press releases in 2013, in relation to the relocation of informal settler families (ISFs) that live in danger zones in Metro Manila. Then HUDCC Chair Vice President Jojo Binay announced the availability of 4,800 housing units in Trece Martires, Cavite, and San Jose del Monte, Bocaue, Norzagaray and Pandi, Bulacan, to which ISFs in danger zones would be relocated (HUDCC website, August 12. 2013).
But in 2015, on PNoy’s last year in office, an urban poor protest told us that in fact the Pandi housing project was also where victims of demolitions of informal settlements in Metro Manila were relocated. In April of that year, 700 members of the urban poor of Navotas who were to be displaced by a road-widening project, talked about how the NHA and the local government were forcing residents to transfer to Pandi.
This was unacceptable because according to Elgar Cornista, president of the Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Navoteno Federation: “There is no livelihood there. In fact, those who have already agreed to be relocated came back, and just erected shanties again here near the fishport. In the relocation site there is no livelihood, no water, no electricity.” (PinoyWeekly, April 19, 2015)
That same month, 378 Bureau of Fire Protection firemen were awarded houses in Pandi (Inquirer.net, April 20, 2015).
From hellish housing, to homes
In October 2015, Magdalo party-list lawmaker Gary Alejano talked about how less than 10 percent of government housing for military and police (such as the one in Pandi) were occupied, because these “were poorly designed, built with substandard materials, and lacked utilities and basic services” (Inquirer.net, October 2, 2015). In March 2016, he would also say: “The reason for the very low occupancy rate … is because the units are not livable. It is hellish to live there. The government would only make their lives miserable and our soldiers and policemen would not be able to carry out their jobs if they would worry about the families they leave behind. There is no drainage, no water, no power, not even a playground for children” (The Standard, March 27, 2016).
The NHA itself, through Cruz, admitted in March 2016 that these houses were “unsafe and unfit” for humans (Inquirer.net, March 28, 2016).
These same houses are the ones the urban poor of Bulacan have taken over. These same houses, called hellish and substandard, decrepit and neglected, unfit for humans, these are the houses that the urban poor are wholeheartedly willing to commit to.
These are houses we have already spent billions on, houses no one else wants.
Only the heartless would refuse to let them stay.