‘Land is power’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 31, 2019 - 12:00am

By the latest official estimates, the Philippines is the 13th largest country in the world in terms of population. That is according to our very own Commission on Population. We are in the company of 13 countries that have over 100 million population as of 2018. Based from the latest official figures taken from the 2015 Census of Population (POPCEN), the country’s population was pegged only at 100.9 million.

From PopCom projections, the country’s population would reach almost 108.8 million by middle of this year at a growth rate of around 1.7 percent from new babies born over the past four years. The steady rise of population should not be a cause of concern for as long as there is an equivalent increase in the supply of resources to meet the needs of the people – from food, to housing or shelter, and other basic requirements of decent living.

The challenge to provide “decent shelter,” especially for the greater number of marginalized sector of society, or the very low-income families in the Philippines was in the heart of government-private sector top-level discussions at the opening of the Manila leg of the 7th Asia-Pacific Housing Forum (APHF) last Monday. “Bahay-Buhay, Housing as a Key to Sustainable Growth” is the theme of the three-day Housing Forum, hosted by the Habitat for Humanity Philippines which winds down today at the New World Hotel in Makati City.

In his keynote address at the APHF, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairman Eduardo Del Rosario disclosed the official estimates of 6.57 million households that would need decent shelter by year 2022, which coincides with the end of term of office of President Rodrigo Duterte. “If not addressed, this (housing gap) will balloon to 22.61 million by the year 2040,” Del Rosario warned.

The HUDCC chief, however, reiterated the commitment of the Duterte administration to close the 6.5-million housing gap in the next 20 years that they hope to jumpstart with the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the newly created Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD). President Duterte signed Republic Act (RA) 11201 in February this year that created the DHSUD from the consolidated functions of the HUDCC and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) along with the National Home Mortgage and Finance Corp. (NHMFC); the Home Mutual Development Fund (HMDF) or Pag-IBIG; the National Housing Authority (NHA); and, the Social Housing Finance Corp.

 “We’re now officially and fully operational,” Del Rosario told the Housing Forum. By Jan. 1, 2020, he added, DHSUD would hit the ground running in addressing the country’s housing woes. For now, he said, the DHSUD is already in the process of identifying idle government lands for urban development.

The projected housing gap seen by year 2022, if multiplied by the average size of Filipino households with five members per family would be, in absolute numbers, about 32.85 million Filipinos. They could be considered “homeless,” if we apply in strictest sense of what “decent shelter” requires. From the projection of Habitat for Humanity Philippines, they calculated that the housing backlog will increase to about 6.5 million units based on the country’s present population of 108.5 million.

With the country’s population living below poverty line at 21.6 percent, the projected housing backlog would result to growth of more slum communities all over the Philippines and not only in urban centers at the national capital region, including Metro Manila. According to its own estimates, Habitat placed nearly four million Filipino families who are currently living in unsafe, unsanitary and unsustainable conditions.

Habitat and its partner organizations here and abroad help provide families with improved access to clean water, sustainable energy, healthcare, education and livelihood. They help provide affordable housing units that are sold with no profit received. They only require homeowners must meet three qualifications: willingness to partner, ability to pay, and have a need for decent, affordable, and safe housing. Since Habitat started operations in 1988, it has helped provide more than 140,000 families with decent housing.

I was invited as moderator of the first session of the APHF that explored challenges and possible solutions to the socialized housing against the framework of the proposed National Land Use Policy bill and existing land use plans of local government units and development projects. Issues discussed in that session were the usual conflicts between the use of agricultural lands and socialized housing as well as ways to harmonize it.

Like a zombie that is repeatedly killed, the National Land Use Policy bill always comes back to life. Land is power.

The proposed National Land Use Policy bill has always been a controversial bill filed at each Congress but never got to be passed into law. It has been re-filed again for the nth time. The 18th Congress opened its first regular sessions last week. Will this bill finally hurdle the legislative barriers posed by powerful landowners and their protectors in Congress?

*      *      *

In my column last Monday (The President is on the roll), I mentioned about “much of the sequestered and unresolved P5 billion coco levy funds” are deposited in United Coconut Planters’ Bank (UCPB). We received this brief rejoinder from UCPB corporate communication head, marketing group, Rona Gorayeb-Velasco. She disclosed: “We would like to clarify that as early as the third quarter of 2018, bulk of the coco levy funds totaling P76.3 billion had already been remitted to the Bureau of Treasury. A small percentage is retained in UCPB and the Bank is awaiting instructions on the manner of transferring these remaining funds to the Bureau of Treasury and the Department of Finance.” 

So we now all know where coco levy funds are being kept, hopefully intact, not idle but increasing some more from interest earnings, and most especially, safely tucked out of reach from sticky fingers of the evil twin called graft and corruption.

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