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Informal settler housing must be close to livelihood – senators

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Informal settler housing must be close to livelihood â senators
Senator JV Ejercito presided over the joint public hearing of the Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement with Government Corporations and Public Enterprises, Local Government, Ways and Means, and Finance on November 28, 2022.
STAR / Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Government housing projects for informal settler families (ISFs) should be vertically built, close to their source of livelihood and accessible to basic services, senators said yesterday.

The senators made the suggestion at the hearing of the Senate committee on urban planning, housing and resettlement on various bills mandating shelter programs for ISFs.

Among the bills taken up were the proposed On-Site, In-City or Near City Resettlement Act; Resettlement, Aid and Rehabilitation for Informal Settlers Act, and the National Housing Authority (NHA) Act.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, who chairs the committee, warned the government’s housing program would fail if ISFs are relocated far from workplaces, sources of income and basic social services.

He said housing projects in the country are caught in a “vicious cycle,” where houses are built out of compliance and not to provide “meaningful” shelter to the homeless.

“Even if the government puts up thousands of housing units daily, if these are far from the sources of livelihood of our ISFs, lacking in basic health and educational facilities, they will just abandon then,” Ejercito said in Filipino during the hearing.

“There is a reason why they remain in Metro Manila – most of them have work here. With the continued urbanization of our country, we must pay attention to the plight of our ISFs,” he said.

To support these programs and address the country’s worsening housing backlogs, he urged his colleagues in Congress to renew the corporate charter of the NHA.

“There is no reason for us not to extend the corporate life of the NHA. We recognize the vital role of the agency in the housing sector as the sole production arm of the government. We must not disarm the NHA with their mandate,” Ejercito said.

Sen. Raffy Tulfo during the hearing lamented the hardships experienced by ISFs due to the lack of public utilities in resettlement areas provided to them by the government.

Tulfo said he received several complaints that basic public utilities such as electricity, water and sewage services are absent at a number of housing and resettlement areas offered by the government which, according to utility companies, was due to the small number of ISFs in the area.

He also said he received reports that many housing units were poorly made, some of which had damaged walls and rooftops, making them barely habitable.

“There should be a clear plan before informal settlers are asked to move in to their new homes. Government should get in touch with utility companies to ensure that these services, including electricity and water, are already available when they move in,” Tulfo said in Filipino.

Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) Undersecretary Avelino Tolentino III said they will review existing resettlement sites and provide the basic infrastructure and immediate needs of occupants.

Meanwhile, Sen. Nancy Binay asked DHSUD for a list or database of beneficiaries of government housing programs which, she says, is one way to prevent or stop professional squatting syndicates.

Binay said that during the time of her father, then vice president Jejomar Binay as chairman of the defunct Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, a database was developed where names of those who benefitted from housing projects were listed.

Tolentino said shelter agencies have alpha lists of beneficiaries but these agencies had a hard time connecting their data with that of the local government units.

He said fully digitalizing the lists will require a lot of work, warm bodies and resources.

INFORMAL SETTLERS

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