Krusada: Julius Babao -Housing

Posted at 01/04/11 4:50 AM

Anchor: Julius Babao

Due to lack of development and the lack of employment, people from the rural areas flock to the metropolis. With no other place to go to in the city, they have no choice but to squat in vacant, but most of the time, private lots.

Mang Pitong's house at Sitio San Roque

These people are commonly called “squatters”. They are not actually homeless, per se, but because they do not own the land they live in, they are still considered to be a part of the equation. A more politically correct term for them would be “informal settlers”.

According to the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), there is a deficiency of 3.7 million houses for the poor. Half a million is needed in Metro Manila.

With a populace of 2.7 million people, Quezon City is the most inhabited area in the whole Metro Manila. Despite the rise in real estate, the number of informal settlers rose to 230,000—the highest number of informal settlers in the Philippines. Most realty developments (if not all) are instigated by private companies and are definitely not catered for the poor.

The Settlers

Evelyn Pacpaco or “Belen” lives with more than 20 other people in a 23 square-meter house located in Tandang Sora,  Quezon City. She lives with nine other siblings, four of which have families too. Only one of the siblings has his own house. Her old mother lives with them as well.

There are four families living under one small roof. The floor serves as their dining table and sleeping area.  There are no other quarters in the house. The adults make room for the children in the afternoons so they could get their afternoon nap. They have shifting hours for sleep.

They do not have their own kitchen. There is no sink; not even a bathroom. Everything else is found outside. The bathroom is shared with everyone else in their area—a little “kubo-kubo” made of scraps of wood.

They are informal settlers and yet, they still have to pay for rent which amounts to a thousand pesos every month. The one who has the money by the end of the month pays for the rent. And then they still have to worry about their water and electricity bills. All in all, the families need to shell out almost five thousand for the household utilities.
“Kung sino po ang nakakaluwag, siya po ang magbabayad ng lahat, minsan po kaniya-kaniya.”, Belen says.

While Belen earns money as a barker, her husband is a newly-employed family driver. Together, they could earn as much as P450-P700 daily. That amount should be enough to suffice their family’s needs. However, Belen only gets to work once a week. She needs to stay at home to take care of the house and the children (including her nieces and nephews) when she is not scheduled to work.

Belen admits that her family is disadvantaged with their current setup. Oftentimes, they have no choice but to share their income to the rest of the household instead of just spending it for their children. Another reason is that they still have to leave the house for privacy as husband and wife.

One of her children also died due to a road accident—because the house is too scanty, everyone goes out in the streets during the day—including the children. Belen says if she did not have to look out for everyone, she might have been able to save her child’s life.

These are the reasons why Belen’s husband is yearning to have their own house.

“Pangarap niya din po iyun na magkaroon kami ng sarili namin, minsan nga sinasabi niya sa amin… Ma, magbukod na tayo, mangupahan tayo. Sabi ko sa kaniya kung mangungupahan tayo buwan-buwan, minsan kasi wala siyang trabaho, bayaran ng tubig, bayaran ng ilaw, bahay...”

Sadly, Belen says that she would regret leaving if they could own the house after 25 years of paying the rent. Even when there is no formal agreement, she would rather stay than risk their chance of owning the house they live in. Nevertheless, they are determined to have their own house.

“Iyung pangarap ko lang po magkaroon kami ng sariling bahay at lupa para kung sakali man na lumaki na iyung mga anak ko hindi ako mangangamba na mangangalat sila... Kumbaga, makakatulog sila ng maayos, hindi sila maaanuhan ng tubig kapag umuulan…”

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Like Belen, Jose de Jesus delos Santos or “Mang Pitong” is a 58-year old informal settler who lives in San Roque, Quezon City. He came from Bicol and worked in a fishport but was not able to become a member so he decided to brave his way to the city.

Mang Pitong keeps track of their earnings after a day's work

He and his family had their own home in the province. But they left for Metro Manila during 1990s hoping to find a better life for them. Unfortunately, that was not the case. He and his wife did not get employed; resorting to buying and selling newspapers and used bottles for a living. With countless other informal settlers, they stay at the North Triangle area, a 30-hectare private lot owned by the National Housing Authority (NHA). Their family has been a part of the informal settlers in Quezon City for more than a decade now.

Sitio San Roque in Barangay Bagong Pag-Asa is planned to be developed into the QC Central Business District (QCCBD). NHA partnered with Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) to pursue this major project. The said baranggay is residence to almost 10,000 families and extends from the stretch of EDSA between Quezon and North Avenue to Agham road.

There was a seven-hour standoff over the last September 2010 demolition. More than 130 homes were taken down and people injured before President Noynoy Aquino ordered a stop to the destruction and a moratorium to any demolition.

Mang Pitong’s house was destroyed that time. He was resettled by NHA in Montalban, Rizal; one hour away from Quezon City. The cost of the house is estimated at P250,000 to P300,000.

Mang Pitong says they can live in the house for free for one year; afterwards, they have to pay P200 per month. However, the house is in poor condition. The resettled residents are deprived of the basic necessities.

“Yung bahay po namin, hindi po siya masyadong maayos ang pagkagawa. Walang mga poste sa kanto… Naglalaglagan yung mga semento galing sa pader. Wala kaming kuryente. Tapos po dito sira ang pinto, tanggal yung mga nilagay nilang bisagra.”

There are no ceilings, no flooring. They have to fix everything by themselves.

Husband and wife received a couple of thousand pesos from the NHA after being resettled. They used it to start a business, selling “tuyo” (dried salted fish) to be able to roll the money. But they were not successful. Evidently, there were no livelihood programs offered at the area—no training for even a small business enterprise. In the end, they lost all the money. This is when they turned their back to their Montalban home and decided to go back to North Triangle.

They now stay at their daughter’s house which was saved from destruction from the previous demolition. They only come home during the weekend, saying they would rather save P100 of transportation fare than come home every day, after a day’s work.

Mang Pitong’s story illustrates the sad plight of informal settlers who, in part because of incompleteness or inadequacies of resettlement areas in terms of social services and livelihood, could not quite get out of the “squatter cycle”, and in effect the vicious social problem exists.

There is a need for social preparation for relocates. Nestor Borromeo, Acting Secretary General of HUDCC says that if rules were to be followed, relocation sites should be within or at least, near the place of the informal settlers (In-city Resettlement). There should also be livelihood programs for the relocates.

Gawad Kalinga

Julius Babao helps out at Gawad Kalinga

Building communities to end poverty: Gawad Kalinga (GK) is a non-profit organization which strives to build holistic and sustainable communities.

Julius Babao and his wife Christine found Gawad Kalinga in 2006. Since then, they have been donating houses to GK. Together with artist friends, they were not only able to build houses, but villages as well.

Julius Babao helps out at Gawad Kalinga

Two villages were built out of their initiative: the ART 40 village in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City and the ART 2 HEART village in Sitio Amparo, also in Caloocan City. Each house only amounts to P85,000; extremely small amount compared to NHA houses. Villages are built by countless volunteers all over the world, as well as the families who are going to live in it.

Julius Babao with Singaporean student volunteers for Gawad Kalinga

Recently, student volunteers from Singapore came to the ART 40 village to help build houses and immerse with the residents as well by living among them. Shawn Lau is one of these nation builders.

“For me helping people, a lot better one can do… the least that [is what] we can do to contribute to society, for the kind of life that we have. By helping Gawad Kalinga, we are reaching out…”

The Beneficiaries

Zenaida Sabido or “Zeny” sells drinks for a living along the National Statistics Office (NSO) in East Avenue Quezon City. In spite of staying out in the sun all day in order to earn a meager amount of money, she says she is still grateful because she has a house that she could come home to every night after a day’s work—a house she could call her own.

“Masaya kasi nakakatulog ka na ng mahimbing dahil nasa safe ka na na lugar.” Zeny is a beneficiary of the ART 40 project back in 2008.

“Sa NIA [where she used to live as an informal settler] sa dingding lang pagitan gamit ninanakaw ng kapitbahay pati plato kaya ayan nakapundar uli ako. Iyung dati iyung bahay na kapag umalis ka nangangamba ka kasi tinutuklap ang dingding.”, Zeny recalls.

Before, even when both husband and wife make money, they are not able to have their own house. They were also informal settlers who pay rent. Nowadays, they could now spend their money on making their home even more beautiful; without worrying that they can be evicted anytime. They say their lives have changed dramatically since then.

“Unang dumating kami nagpakabit kami ng ilaw at tubig pati tiles. Nakabili na ng washing machine, tapos nagpataas din ako [referring to the second floor] para kapag nandito ang anak ko na may apat na anak, doon sila dito naman kami ng asawa ko natutulog sa ibaba. Dito may CR na kami, hindi na kami lumalabas ng bahay hindi katulad noon.”

The only challenge left for Zeny is the distance between her house and NSO. But despite shelling out more than she wants for transportation, she says she would still choose to come home to ART 40.

Gawad Kalinga administrators say that they also plan to establish livelihood programs, a “Kabayan” Center to help their residents sustain their income.

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Teresita Navarro volunteers for Gawad Kalinga

Teresita Navarro is one of the beneficiaries of the ART 2 HEART project. She says she is still unable to believe that they have their own house now—and that her children are no longer in danger from living near a deep lake.

“Napakahirap ng sitwasyon namin pag dumaan yung bagyo, nandun po iyung time na hindi kami makatulog mag-anak kasi binabaha po yung aming lugar, yung higaan talaga po basing-basa, tapos tumutulo pa po iyung bubungan namin.”, Teresita recollects.

Relocating in the Gawad Kalinga village is a blessing for her family. She is at peace even when she leaves for work.

“Masarap po sa pakiramdam, gumaan po  ang loob ko. Tapos inisip ko na hindi na ako kabado, wala ng bagyo…Kahit na wala akong sa bahay kung magtrabaho man ako hindi ako mag-aalala sa mga anak ko.”,

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Zeny and Teresita are examples of informal settlers who were able to have new lives in their new homes. But people like Belen and Mang Pitong are still waiting for help; and it is not enough that only the private sectors are successful in building proper homes for the poor.

Alice Murphy, Project Director of the Urban Poor Associates (UPA) states that there is a backlog in providing housing needs from the lower to the middle class.

“Mahirap para sa kanila [informal settlers] na manirahan sa Maynila dahil kapag may balak gawing project ang gobyerno lalo na ang development ng mga lugar, ang una nilang iniisip alisin ang mga maralita.”

HUDCC admits that previously, the government lacks plans and proper system in terms of housing for the marginalized sector. Borromeo confirms the statement.

“Dati kasi paglipat at saka pa lang paplanuhin yung pagkakakitaan nila. So ngayon we have developed a new policy cut; kasama na po diyan yung selection ng site, pagkakakitaan ng tao at kung anong klaseng imprastruktura ang kailangang gawin.”

“Bago dun may tinatawag na social preparation stage which entails a maximum of six months. This is the new policy that we are trying to adopt which hopefully by next year would be an official government position in so far as resettlement is concerned.”

Julius Babao firmly believes in not only providing houses, but also livelihood for relocates from the informal sector. If not, the vicious cycle of “informal settling” remains. It can be done and was done by different private organizations like Gawad Kalinga. The government should be able to do it as well—more than anyone else. He also strives for volunteerism in the heart of every Filipino.
December 30, 2010