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New department eyes ₱1-trillion budget, squatter housing focus

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poverty slum area
PHILSTAR

THE LAW creating the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), which President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed on Feb. 14, will be followed by another proposed bill which will seek to address the housing needs of around 2 million informal settler families nationwide, according to Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Chairman Eduardo D. del Rosario.

Mr. Del Rosario told BusinessWorld in a chance interview at the Palace last week that with the creation of the DHSUD, the next area of focus will be “addressing the housing needs” of Filipinos, especially the poor.

“For a start we are planning to come up with a proposed bill which we will call Republic Act on the Development and Production of Housing Units Nationwide to target around 2 million informal settler families nationwide,” he added.

“If that is pursued and become a Republic Act, we are envisioning to have a budget of P50 billion per year for 20 years; because to construct 2 million housing units, we need P1 trillion more or less. In the next four to 20 years, we are targeting that,” Mr. Del Rosario explained.

Asked to comment, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a chance interview at the Palace on Feb. 20 that the proposal could move forward if the funding is there. “Kung meron bang pondo eh bakit naman hindi (If it can be funded then why not?),” he said.

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Lawyer and Ateneo Policy Center research fellow Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said via e-mail on Feb. 25: “I think Filipinos are aware that there have been extensive housing projects before that are now virtual ghost towns. So any bold declaration, specifically one that calls for spending trillions of pesos, will automatically raise alarms in the minds of many Filipinos.”

Mr. Yusingco also said it should be better explained how the funding levels came to be determined. “Was there a study done? Were public consultations conducted? Was a comprehensive survey on housing and home ownership done? I am more interested to know if the projections are supported by comprehensive research and study,” he said. “We have seen how big-ticket projects can be susceptible to graft and corruption, how much more those which are not evidence-based?”

“If there is research and evidence to support the numbers claimed, then government has the responsibility to discuss this with the public. This will definitely increase our confidence in the purported plans for the new department. Remember that with one word, the President can accelerate the implementation of this vision, as he has done with the Build, Build, Build program after growing impatient at the seemingly lack of urgency shown by his underlings,” he added.

Mr. Yusingco said further that helping the public understand why such a target is necessary to eliminate homelessness in the country “will even be a bigger boost for the housing department’s plans.”

“Help us understand what needs to be done to meet this goal and show us how we can contribute to its success. I truly believe more Filipinos now want to be part of the solution than merely waiting for government to do its job,” he explained.

Professor Maria Ela L. Atienza, who chairs the University of the Philippines’ Department of Political Science, said via e-mail that “it is important to consider the causes of having informal settlers.”

“The issue of having informal settlers also cannot be solved simply by just building housing units for the homeless informal settlers but also making sure that the areas where the housing units are built are environmentally safe, culturally appropriate for the settlers, sustainable livelihood opportunities are available, easily accessible and with basic facilities like water and electricity,” she added.

“There should also be community building and basic public services like health centers, day care centers and schools with the necessary staff. If only housing units are built, without the basic infrastructures, services, and livelihood opportunities, beneficiaries will abandon their houses or there will be very few takers. This is usually the case with many resettlement communities far away from places of work and without basic facilities and infrastructures. People refuse to live there.”

Ms. Atienza added that a sufficiently large budget is needed.

“This is similar to popular laws like the Universal Health Care Law… and free tuition for (state) colleges and universities. They are needed and definitely will win popularity points but the practical questions are: (1) Will there be sufficient funding? (2) How will this be implemented?”

“Public housing must be incorporated in the economic and investment planning of the government if the area becomes a genuine priority. Given the current priorities (Build, Build, Build and intelligence spending) of the administration as well as the squabbling between the executive and legislative branches over the national budget, funding this housing program may not be given a clear priority… However, even if there is ample funding for this ambitious plan, this has to be sustained and prioritized not just by the current administration but also succeeding administrations. Accountability mechanisms must also be in place as these projects are prone to corruption and abuse. At the same time, the beneficiaries as stakeholders must also be part of participatory processes that will ensure accountability of all stakeholders but also participatory management,” she said. — Arjay L. Balinbin

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