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A problem of homelessness and anarchy in Bulacan

THE national government faces a real problem in Bulacan where some 5,000 homeless people have taken over some 4,000 vacant housing units in several government housing projects in Pandi and San Jose del Monte.

The leaders of the Kalipunang Damayang Mahirap (Kadamay) said they had gone to Malacañang in December, 2016, but “our appeals fell on deaf ears.” They decided, they said, to just occupy the thousands of housing units in Bulacan which, they said, have remained vacant for months.

There is a law, Republic Act 7279, providing for a comprehensive urban development and housing program to “uplift the conditions of the underprivileged and homeless citizens in urban areas and in resettlement areas by making available to them decent housing at affordable cost, basic services, and employment opportunities.”

But the housing shortage in the country is such that the government with its limited resources is hardly making a dent on the problem. The housing backlog was estimated at about 5.5 million at the end of 2016 by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

After natural calamities, such as super-typhoon Yolanda in 2013, homes are built for the thousands of victims. But many months after Yolanda, many people continue to complain in Leyte, Samar, and other areas devastated by the typhoon.

Even without such calamities as Yolanda, millions of Filipinos today have no homes. RA 7279 was enacted by Congress in 1992, with its lofty goal of helping underprivileged and homeless citizens, but funds are supposed to come from the annual budgets of implementing agencies, including local governments. And actual construction has to be contracted out to private developers.

In the case of the 4,000 vacant housing units which the Kadamay people took over in Bulacan, 85 percent were vacant.

They still had no water and no electricity and were thus unoccupied by beneficiaries of the National Housing Authority. But waterless and powerless they may be, they still provided shelter and that was all that mattered to the homeless members of Kadamay.

Pesident Duterte’s immediate reaction to the occupation has been to call it “anarchy” which, he said, he cannot tolerate. “I will force the issue with eviction,” he said. The Kadamay responded they will defend themselves.

Negros Occ. Rep. Alfredo Benitez, chairman of the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development, has filed a resolution calling for an immediate inquiry. It would be a tragedy if the threatened eviction will lead to violence, with the government appearing to be using force against homeless people.

A congressional inquiry should reexamine the government’s program on housing as laid out in the 1992 law. In the 25 years since RA7279 was passed, how much of the housing problem has been solved, how many homes has the government built, is it moving fast enough for the nation’s population growth? Have enough funds been provided?

In the meantime, the problem in Bulacan has to be acted upon. What the homeless folk did, taking over vacant houses in several resettlement sites, was indeed anarchy. But it would be so much better if they and the government could reach some accommodation that would avoid violent confrontation.

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