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Aquino’s civil society allies bicker over housing plan

by Christine F. Herrera
[ manilastandardtoday.com ] May 23, 2011

CIVIL society groups allied with President Benigno Aquino III are bickering over a House bill to make it official policy to tap non-government organizations to build houses for the poor and to subsidize those by imposing an extra 1-percent real property tax.

The struggle pits Gawad Kalinga, which has built houses for the poor in more than 1,700 communities, against another Aquino ally, Code NGO, which rejects making civil society groups a part of the bureaucracy.

The bill, “Filipino Volunteerism in Nation-Building Act,” adopts the Gawad Kalinga model for providing housing to the poor, but Code-NGO said this would result in the government competing with other civil society groups for donations.

Code-NGO also complained that a provision requiring civil society groups to have built 1,000 communities to qualify unfairly favored Gawad Kalinga.

“If this is a call for volunteerism, why make the requirement as stringent as having built 1,000 poor communities?” said Sixto Donato Macasaet, Code-NGO executive director.

“The Code-NGO believes that the bill will be counter-productive because it will add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.”

Macasaet said the proposed Gawad Kalinga Way would also have “a negative impact on the fiscal status of government” because of the tax incentives and exemptions it would grant to those donating to housing projects for the poor.

Even government agencies are divided on the issue, particularly on the imposition of a new tax that they say runs counter to the President’s “no-new-tax” policy.

The bill, principally authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, establishes a Special Housing Fund to be taken from the proceeds of a real property tax pegged at 1 percent of the assessed value of real property, in addition to the prevailing real property tax levy.

House Deputy Speakers Jesus Crispin Remulla, Maria Isabella Climaco and Raul Daza, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez are among the co-authors.

“The proposed Volunteers in Nation-Building aims to restore the faith of the people in government through volunteerism,” Rodriguez said during a hearing of the House committee on people’s participation, led by Manila Rep. Benjamin Asilo.

Rodriguez said Gawad Kalinga chairman Antonio Meloto guided the authors in crafting the bill.

Meloto said the bill was a “call to patriotism” as it was more focused on nation-building than volunteerism.

But Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino and Act Teacher Rep. Antonio Tinio argued that the Gawad Kalinga model might be “supplanting the role of the government as the primary provider of basic social services.”

Consolacion Agcaoili of the Bureau of Local Government Finance argued against tapping the real property tax as a source of funding because a higher tax might reduce the income of local government units and be an additional burden to taxpayers and a disincentive to private investors.

But Rodriguez said the 1-percent additional tax was “but a small sacrifice” to provide housing for the poor.

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, also a co-author of the bill, said there were about 2,000 Gawad Kalinga houses in Quezon City that had been built through the “monetary assistance of the rich and the labor of the poor.”

“GK is people power in action,” Castelo said.

The panel is set to hear the views of local government units in the next hearing.
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