Priest to gov’t leaders: Address urban poor’s housing problems

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MANILA, July 2, 2013—As tension between government authorities and informal settlers continues to rise, a Catholic priest has lambasted political leaders for failing to address the need of urban poor Filipinos to decent housing.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP-NASSA), said that the need for decent housing is a right of poor individuals that must be addressed by the government.

“The issue here is if the government is able to provide low-cost housing for the urban poor. This issue dwells on rights—rights that the government must address for the benefit of its people,” he said.

Gariguez added that the failure of the government to provide this need is the reason why the perennial problem on land squatting in the metro remains unsolved. With the absence of government assistance, urban poor families resort to building shanties in slum areas to temporarily fend for their housing needs.

“The problem is that the government fails to implement real programs that would benefit the urban poor. They (government officials) are the ones responsible in improving the lives of the people but they fail to meet this basic goal, that is why most of poor Filipinos just resort to building shanties in slum areas,” he said.

“Who would want to live in slum areas? Who would want to live under bridges or on creek sides where danger is always present? Nobody wants to live on those places but informal settlers are forced to do so because they do not have a choice,” he added.

Need for quality jobs 

The priest also chided the “band-aid” solutions adopted by the government in solving the problem on housing, saying that instead of providing the proposed P18,000 housing dole-out to relocate each estero-dwelling family, government officials  must focus on providing employment opportunities in the metro.

The government has recently proposed to give P18,000 to each of the 20,000 estero-dwelling families for them to rent decent homes elsewhere for a year while the authorities are preparing permanent relocation sites for them.

“Now that they are asking informal settlers to leave their homes, where would the government relocate them? Would they be forced to move away from their sources of income? When you give them P18,000 in cash, of course they will accept it. But in the long run, they will continue searching for jobs to get a stable source of income,” Gariguez said, further noting that the dole-out amount of P18,000 is insufficient to compensate for the housing needs of a family for a year.

He added that government efforts to relocate estero-dwelling families would only be futile if there are no jobs to sustain the livelihood of the urban poor.

“If they do not have jobs, they will always go back to the city where opportunity to earn money is definitely more abundant than in rural areas. Even if settling under bridges or on creek sides will be prohibited in the future, they will find other means to be able to live in the city, eventually adding up to the increasing population of the urban poor,” Gariguez said.

“It is not only shelters that they need. They also have to be provided with decent jobs that could sustain their day-to-day living,” he added.

Comprehensive, integrated solution 

Gariguez said that efforts to relocate informal settlers somehow contribute to the further worsening of the latter’s condition as some relocation sites do not have livable facilities and ample sources of water and electricity.

“In the process, people are being demoralized for being thrown to deeper poverty,” he said.

“There are instances wherein relocation sites do not have proper facilities, water, and electricity. Sometimes, they are located in remote areas that access to education and healthcare becomes hard to obtain. Instead of helping them solve the problem and improve the situation, poor Filipinos are just being led to deeper misery,” he added.

Describing approaches done by the government as “myopic” solutions to the problem, he urged government officials to adapt a comprehensive and integrated solution to the issue that will bear long term effects for the benefit of the people.

“When will the government adapt a comprehensive perspective in addressing this dilemma? Public officials always make hasty decisions and resort to and short-term solutions that do not really pose progress in the long run,” he said.

“The problem is not simple. It is complicated and could not be solved by mere ‘band-aid’ solutions. The government has its shortcomings. It should resort to a more comprehensive approach in solving the issue,” he added. (Jennifer M. Orillaza)

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