IF the urban poor activist group Kadamay expects to gain public sympathy with its latest stunt – the attempted takeover of a number of unoccupied government housing units in Rodriguez, Rizal – it made a grave error.
While the issues of poverty, homelessness and government management of social welfare programs demand real solutions, mob behavior and lawlessness are not among them and do not merit sympathy or tolerance.
The group first came to prominence last year when it stormed and occupied yet unused housing in Pandi, Bulacan originally intended for members of the armed forces. The action was eventually successful; after a standoff for some weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte granted the vacant housing units to the group. The grant, however, was made with the warning that another such aggressive action would not be tolerated or rewarded, and that further demand for housing for eligible beneficiaries would have to be handled in an orderly manner through the National Housing Authority (NHA) and other related agencies.
The earlier incident in Bulacan highlighted some legitimate problems with the government’s socialized housing program. The housing units were unoccupied largely because they were, by any reasonable standard, completely inadequate, almost an insult to the servicemen and women for whom they were intended. The rows of houses were remotely located, in an area lacking basic infrastructure, cramped, poorly built, and most lacking connections for water and electricity utilities.
There are, as it turns out, about 55,000 unoccupied housing units out of 72,000 built during the Aquino administration, many with the same problems described above. In response, Congress on May 9 passed Joint Resolution 2, giving the NHA 60 days to produce a plan to utilize the vacant housing for eligible beneficiaries, as described by Republic Act (RA) 7279 or the Urban Housing Development Act of 1992. Under RA 7279, a beneficiary of government socialized housing must be an underprivileged or homeless citizen not owning any real property in the urban or rural areas, and must not be a professional squatter or a member of squatting syndicates.
Kadamay has complained that its applications for housing units for its members have not been given priority by the NHA. The group’s leader, Gloria Arellano, earlier charged that “the NHA has consistently ignored our demands,” implying that this justifies Kadamay’s move to take the law into its own hands.
It does not. While the government has a responsibility to provide for the welfare of its poorest citizens according to the law, and while it is proper to call government to account for inefficiencies in carrying out what the law or its own public promises dictate it should do, neither law nor custom allows any group to make its own determination and claim to entitlement, much less enforce that by threat of violence. The government’s response that the full force of the law should be applied to preventing Kadamay from doing so is entirely appropriate, and in fact, is the only acceptable response.
The irony that the group’s actions in Bulacan and Rizal could define Kadamay as an ineligible “squatting syndicate” under RA 7279 has apparently escaped it. As such, it does not represent the vast majority of potential beneficiaries of socialized housing, and represents the majority of its own members, individuals and families who are otherwise not to be blamed for simply being impoverished and in need of assistance, very poorly. The group should realize that any interaction it has with the government from hereon is a matter of the latter’s forbearance and sense of charity, and not a matter of legal or moral right.
By the same token, the government must act quickly to sort out the mess of the previous administration’s thoroughly dysfunctional housing program, impose administrative and criminal penalties where appropriate if it is found that corruption was responsible for the problem, and make the best use that can be made of the unused housing.
In the wake of the latest aggression by Kadamay, that certainly seems to be the government’s intent. We hope that the NHA and other concerned agencies will follow it up with swift, appropriate action.