By Jose Rodel Clapano (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 21, 2013 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - The government has allocated P3.2 billion for the construction of housing units for squatter families living in danger zones in Metro Manila, Vice President Jejomar Binay said yesterday.
Binay, chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), said the National Housing Authority (NHA) has 10 projects underway to construct a total of 6,426 housing units worth P3.2 billion to house informal settler families living in esteros and other danger zones in the metropolis.
Binay said the 10 projects include the Smokey Mountain Development Project; the Tala 2 Medium Rise Building and Camarin housing projects in Caloocan City; Pleasant Hills in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan; Gulayan and Tanglaw in Navotas; the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) depot in Pasig City; the National Government Center housing project in Quezon City; Disiplina Village 2 in Valenzuela City, and the Navotas Housing Project.
Binay said the housing units would be part of the housing relocation program for some 18,000 squatter families living in six priority waterways in Metro Manila identified by the NHA that will be cleared this year.
Binay said over half of the informal settlers identified by NHA are in Quezon City and Manila.
“Based on the data gathered by the NHA from local government units in 2011, 31,275 (informal settlers) comprising 30 percent of families are living in danger zones in Quezon City, while 26,029 families or 25 percent are in Manila,” he said.
The NHA previously identified the Pasig River, stretching from Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasig; the San Juan River, covering Manila, Mandaluyong, San Juan, and Quezon City; Tullahan river spanning Quezon City, Caloocan, Malabon, and Valenzuela; the Manggahan Floodway in Pasig; Maricaban Creek in Pasay, Makati, and Taguig, and the Tripa de Gallina in Makati and Pasay.
“The rest of the affected informal settler families will be relocated in Balagtas, Bocaue and San Jose del Monte, Bulacan and Trece Martires, Cavite,” he added.
The NHA will also relocate around 1,500 families living along Estero de Sunog Apog and Estero de Maypajo in Manila.
He said the project is part of the P50 billion allocated by President Aquino to relocate some 100,000 squatter families living in danger areas.
Binay lamented some local officials allow squatter families to occupy danger zones, and return even after they have been relocated.
“(The squatters) would not return if there is no negligence in the part of local officials, especially the barangay (officials)… they return one at a time. Sometimes they arrive using pushcarts,” he added.
President Aquino said there are efforts to discourage squatting. He said the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been filing cases against squatter families that have been occupying waterways that causes flooding and traffic problems in Metro Manila.
“The DOJ’s filing of cases is ongoing. You cannot alienate, reside in or claim waterways,” he said.
Aquino said the MMDA has already identified and photographed the illegal structures built along waterways though a court process must be followed before they could be evicted or relocated.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson and Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said the cases against local officials would come after the informal settlers are relocated.
Aquino, however, denied knowledge of some local officials’ requests to delay the relocation of informal settlers because of the May elections.
“I was not informed about that portion. I will ask Secretary Singson and the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) also for a more thorough report on this,” Aquino said.
The President said he could not just file cases against local officials without basis.
Aquino said there are laws tasking local government units to conduct an inventory of all of the informal settlers and prevent new ones from coming in.
The President added many of the 20,000 squatter families living along esteros that were identified as priorities to be cleared within the year had agreed to be relocated.
“We did not force them or twisted arms. We coursed it through appeals and we fixed their relocation. There are groups whose relocation site is ready. For other groups, their relocation sites are still being built so we will give the money to pay rent for a (temporary) dwelling while the place where they will be permanently transferred is still being constructed,” Aquino said.
He admitted the filing of charges or imposing sanctions would not be the only way to convince people to leave esteros and other dangerous areas but also moral persuasion.
Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, for his part, said he is willing to discuss the problem with MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino.
“If the talks will be held this week maybe it is still okay. Maybe I could still do something about it. But if not, then I think it will not be proper because my term is up to the end of the month only,” Lim said.
The Quezon City local government, on the other hand, is set to hold a briefing today to discuss efforts to relocate informal settlers living in waterways and other hazard zones in the city.
Tadeo Palma, secretary to Mayor Herbert Bautista and chief of the special task force on socialized housing, said the briefing would focus on the local government’s plans to relocate informal settlers in the city.
President Aquino explained they were not after proving to the public they had done something to ease the flooding and traffic woes, but the clearing of waterways of garbage and other blockages, the plan for informal settlers and at least 80 projects to be undertaken by the DPWH and other agencies will be implemented.
While there were measures that could immediately provide relief to the public, Aquino pointed out some measures would take at least 20 years to be felt.
Aquino said they have other plans to manage the flow of water if the passages were not big enough and would overflow during heavy rains.
He stressed the solutions would not be piecemeal and every municipality, city and province would be studied as a whole to find long-term and permanent solutions.
Aquino said the public might also notice that floodwaters would subside faster now, which would prove the effectiveness of some of the flood-control projects done by the DPWH.
Aquino said the MMDA reported that they would work harder as there were even instances when drainages were deliberately covered with iron sheets or even plastic materials and rocks.
“I’ve tasked the DILG, specifically the PNP (Philippine National Police) under them, to investigate whether this was deliberate or only washed away by water,” Aquino said.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II said the government is determined to clear the eight major waterways leading to Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay to address the problem on flooding, which affected 12 million people in Metro Manila.
Roxas stressed floods affect everyone, even those living in high-rise buildings because they could not go home due to floods and monstrous traffic.
Roxas disclosed the design of the DPWH and MMDA that waterways should be cleared three meters on both sides to allow free flow of water.
At present, eight major waterways from Sierra Madre, to Caloocan, Quezon City to Pasig to Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay are clogged, causing floods.
Roxas said the government would use the three remaining years of the Aquino administration to clear the waterways and relocate squatters.
Roxas added the government has sufficient budget to fund the relocation project and would not need any foreign finding.
Roxas said various government agencies, including the DILG, DPWH, MMDA and the NHA have been working for about six months now to address the problem on relocation.
Binay added he is willing to help Roxas in the President’s P50-billion five-year campaign to relocate all the informal settlers from danger zones in Metro Manila, stressing he and Roxas have only one boss.
Use road tax
Opposition lawmaker Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez suggested that the government use the Motor Vehicle Users’ Charge (MVUC) to finance flood management projects.
He said the MVUC can also be slightly increased and the proceeds used to pay for loans that would be procured from the World Bank or other international financial institutions for major flood control projects.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., however, expressed doubts if the government can substantially address the problem of illegal settlers and flooding in six months.
Marcos said it would take a combination of political will and of actual planning for the government to be able to address the issue of illegal settlers. – Aurea Calica, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Rey Galupo, Janvic Mateo