By Atty. Joey D. Lina
President Duterte calls it anarchy. But leaders of those who occupied government housing projects in Bulacan province don’t think so, saying what began March 8 was “organized occupation” of idle units.
Whether or not it is “organized anarchy” as many observers see it, the current standoff appears volatile and headed for a confrontation that some fear might turn violent.
“If you want to ignore the law, you cannot do that. I will force the issue with eviction… I will do what I have to do, even if it pulls me down or pulls me up,” the President warned.
But the hundreds of families led by the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), who illegally occupied about 5,000 idle and unfinished housing units in Pandi and San Jose del Monte in Bulacan, showed no signs they were budging amid the threat of eviction.
“People are impatient. They want their own homes. It has taken so long for the government to address our appeal for housing…. People are aware those houses are empty, so they took them,” Kadamay national chair Gloria Arellano said in explaining the takeover.
“The occupation seeks government recognition of the rights of the poor and the awarding of housing units to the families that joined the protests. The occupation was done in an organized and deliberate manner, far from the picture of anarchy that the President wants to depict,” according to militant group Bayan which supports the takeover it likens to similar ‘occupy movements’ in Brazil, Spain, and other countries in recent years.
While Kadamay’s gripes against government are meritorious, many think that some of the homeless poor appear to be misled by the prevalent misconception that free housing is a matter of right of citizens. Such purported right has no basis under the Constitution. Even the most developed countries in the world do not provide free housing to citizens.
Misconceptions have indeed led to violent clashes in the past between agitated informal settlers and the police when evictions and demolitions were being carried out. Many informal settlers still entertain the notion that they can own the land after squatting on it for years. Such has no basis in law. Were the families in Bulacan also driven by the notion that they would eventually own the idle housing units they illegally occupied?
But government can be faulted for the current impasse due to failure to fully implement the law. RA 7279, or the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA), the so-called “Lina Law” that I crafted way back in 1992, clearly declares it is the policy of the State 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.”
The law also calls on government, local and national, to give “particular attention to the needs and requirements of the underprivileged and homeless citizens and not merely on the basis of market forces.”
UDHA clearly provides the mechanism by which affordable housing could be made available for poor beneficiaries. Unfortunately, no administration has ever taken the initiative or mustered enough political will to implement a legacy program of socialized housing. But there’s still hope that the dreams of millions of homeless Filipinos will be realized under the Duterte administration.
As I wrote in a previous column (MB, May 31, 2016), a massive socialized housing program will be a lasting legacy—a solid, uncontroversial, and highly significant achievement—of President Duterte if he can provide decent and affordable housing for the poorest of the poor.
But he must not waste time. He must immediately direct the country’s 1,494 town mayors, 181 city mayors, 81 governors, and the more than 40,000 barangay chairmen, to fully implement UDHA.
Armed with the law, President Duterte—through the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, the National Housing Authority, and the Presidential Commission on Urban Poor—can order a review of the comprehensive land use plans of the various levels of local government units (LGUs). They must find out whether, as required by RA 7279, the LGUs had conducted an inventory of lands within their respective territories, and had identified sites for socialized housing for those living below the poverty line, the underprivileged and homeless citizens, as referred to in the 1987 Constitution.
As mandated by RA 7279, the DILG and HUDCC can also find out if the poorest of the poor, the intended beneficiaries of socialized housing programs, had been duly identified and registered by the town and city mayors. Finally, the DILG and HUDCC must find out if the LGUs had prepared and implemented their socialized housing programs, and if not, to prepare and implement one.
The DILG must also ensure that professional squatters and members of squatter syndicates are identified and charged before the courts either by town and city mayors, or by barangay chairmen. Local officials who abet or tolerate squatting must also be charged criminally and administratively.
Indeed, everything needed to realize what President Duterte wants for the homeless poor can be found in UDHA. It is just a matter of LGUs and concerned national agencies getting their act together. And political will, particularly with LGUs which are supposed to be in charge of the housing program, is very crucial for success.