• Resettlement: Unlocking the economic potential of the poor



    SOME 21.6 percent of the Philippine population is poor or experiencing poverty incidence. But this also means that more than 21 million Filipinos have the potential to work and to contribute to both consumption and tax collection.

    Right now, it is a sad reality that 8.1 percent, or 8 million Filipinos, are living at subsistence levels. But I insist that we should call them human potential, economic potential, even critical contributors to nation-building, than considering them as burdens of society.

    As an architect and urban planner, I want to emphasize the importance of resettlement housing and communities and its significant role in delivering millions of Filipinos out of poverty. It is also a critical driver for economic growth and human development.

    In theory, the idea of a resettlement community is to help families to rise from subsistence level to lower-middle-income status. By providing decent shelter, education, and opportunity to work, the family can aspire for a better financial income. On a macro-economic scale, giving the poor the opportunity to work translates into having more contributors to both local consumption and tax collection.

    However, despite numerous resettlement efforts, many families which have been relocated in these communities continue to be dependent on donations for subsistence living. Some resettlement areas have become dens for crime and drugs.

    These things happen because I believe the design of many resettlement communities are problematic.

    1. People are forcefully moved into areas that are far from where they originally stayed.

    2. The size of shelters is not decent for a family of 4 to 6.

    3. There is no adequate sense of ownership and responsibility of the home.

    4. There is no effort for community building.

    5. The community is not well-planned, lacking availability of jobs, training, school, worship, and health care. Some lack proper street lighting, decent sidewalks, water and power supply.

    Houses to homes
    A home is not simply a house or a shelter. It is a space where children are nurtured by the family to have decent upbringing, and are trained into becoming responsible citizens of the country. A complete home, aside from decent shelter, includes an inner circle of family, friends, schools, church, and health care. It also includes an outer circle composed of work, industry, social services, politics, mass media, and ideology and attitudes of the prevailing culture. Using a more technical term, UrieBronfenbrenner called community development human ecological systems.

    Resettlement communities are no different in developing townships. It should be sustainable, livable, and resilient. It cannot be forever dependent on government funding or donations. A proper community development plan should be in place once families are relocated. A good case study to learn from is Singapore.

    The poverty in Singapore in the early 1960s was severe. Singapore having been cast out of the Federation of Malaya, the Cambridge-educated political leader Lee Kuan Yew had very little resources to work with, no source of water and food, and the geography is generally a swamp. The first duty that he fulfilled was to give everyone a home and have a sense of responsibility and ownership of it. He did not give the homes completely for free. People were made to pay in long-term payment terms of between 30 to 90 years.

    Lee Kuan Yew adopted the concept of vertical communities, and made sure access to basic services were given. In his book Third World to First, he said that one of the prevalent issues that the resettlement housing faced was sanitation. Relocated farmers brought their pigs and poultry inside their apartment units. To confront the problem, he realized that the solution was not simply to ban and confiscate the animals, but to holistically educate the families, most especially about hygiene and proper health care. As it is often said “Character begins at home”.

    Resettlement design
    Another model to study is GawadKalinga’s community development program, which does not simply provide a relocation site or a shelter, but livelihood opportunities as well. Skills training is essential for community building as it gives opportunities for both the mother and father of a family to have decent work. Donations are also not limited to financial matters, but also to helping train the people in farming technology and entrepreneurship.

    In the designs of Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture for socialized housing, we recommend adapting vertical farming or growing vegetables from the rooftop and walls of the resettlement communities. In urban areas, this can significantly help provide food for the community. We recommend that the ground floor should become an open area, adopting a stilt design since flooding is a reality that the Philippines needs to confront. We also recommend ample amount of light, religious centers, community vocational centers and libraries, as well as imposing a strict no-smoking and no-drinking policies for minors. Drugs and crimes penetrate resettlement communities when the people have nothing to do, or are in a hopeless state.

    After Typhoon Yolanda, I have observed from my trips to Tacloban that mausoleums survived the devastation, while the houses of the poor were destroyed. This led me to think that we seem to be capable of creating monuments for the dead, but cannot even provide decent housing for the living, especially the poor.


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    1. Joshua Schneider on

      Could not agree more with your article. This is crucial for the success of the Philippines. There are so many examples out there (World) that it would take weeks to list and explain each strength and weakness. But having travelled the world since the 1960’s there are a few words which come to mind with the successful implantation of resettlement.

      Commitment from the government must be steady and set up for the long term project.

      Use existing models that you can find in areas after WW2, when total destruction made relocation and reconstruction vital.

      Make it count! Create what people want and give them a goal and the means to achieve that goal. Each resettlement should have a core industry that will over time make the community self sufficient. This in turn results in a net gain for the Philippines.

      Sell it…. Sell it and Sell it. The old expression: Build it and they will come, only works if the people involved get the right message.

      Take it out of the politicians hands, give the new settlements the right to govern themselves under existing law. For thousands of years Tribes have worked when given the independence to do what is best for them.

      Oversight… very light touch. Something that falls out of the norm needs firm quick resolvent.

      Most importantly, education for what they will need to know to do their jobs. There are some wonderful teachers in the Philippines, use their skills.

      We can make this work….

    2. Reminding us of the basic methods of urban-planning to attempt to cater for the successful lifestyle improvements of the displaced poor,unemployed,hungry and sick is always timely.
      Hopefully, those in power to act now on solutions to these chronically and inadequately-addressed social situations are jolted back to reality when, and if ,they read these realities ;over and over.
      The nexus,before the needy people are re-located,is to have the total infra-structure required for a successful result there in place, and ready, at the sites-of-settlement; BEFORE the folks are thrown out of their crowded and dangerous “homes.”
      Blind-Freddy knows that having basic accommodation,but NO local and accessable government man-power,roads,public transport,retraining,work,water,sewerage,free medical support,family-planning,markets,social-structures and organisations,or school/hospitals available is a disaster already happening on day one.
      Clearly,no corruption,transparency,billions of peso,planning with forward-thinking,and tremendous resources are required.
      It’s seems impossible on paper,but Lee Kuan Yu managed it with Singapore.
      Let’s keep trying,with millions of positive supporters behind the schemes.

    3. Sir, I agree 110%. Why are these models either Singapore or Gawad Kalinga not being adopted in socialized housing programs in PHL? Also in communities, barangays in provinces and towns; isn’t it in the best interest of PHL to restructure the building housing/home system and modalities. Shifting from unregulated, individualized system of building houses wherein houses in the provinces and far flung areas are build kilometer apart with no basic necessities, not base on safe, strong and long term practices resulting into cyclic rebuilding process and a burden economically. Can PHL through the different government agencies, private entrepreneurs, businesses, NGOs and LGUs join hands in rebuilding and recreating “cluster/block” of houses of 5-7 levels of flat type 2-4 bedrooms, (like the HDBs of Singapore), rent to own payment scheme and with option to give back that right to government if the occupants have the capability to own an individual housing property.