1 year after Ondoy, 1 week after the Edsa clash: APL launches docu film on botched gov’t relocation site

Coinciding with the first anniversary of typhoon Ondoy and a week after the violent clash in Edsa due to the attempt to demolish an urban poor community, the Alliance of Progressive Labor will unveil tomorrow a documentary on a miserable government relocation area.

“The parallelism is not lost here since the docu film will evoke memories of the horrific devastation, chaos and death that Ondoy has unleashed, and at the same time will draw attention to the state’s inept and callous shelter program for the informal settlers, including forced evictions and godforsaken resettlement sites,” Fatima Cabanag, secretary general of the urban poor confederation Kapisanan ng Maralitang Obrero (KAMAO-APL), said.

Sarcastically dubbed “Towerville: Bahay na ba ’to?” the 14-minute film tackles the plight of the thousands of relocated residents in Towerville, which is deceptively called a “subdivision” in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan, but in fact represents another government’s housing project
fiasco.

Located in a 60-hectare mostly hilly land and divided into two barangays, Towerville has been described as one of the “dumping” sites since the late 1990s for Metro Manila’s hundreds of thousands of informal settlers or insensitively called “squatters.”

The first residents learned that their new community was virtually a desolate wilderness – no houses to speak of, no running water, no electricity, save for patches of individual vacant lots.

They had to build their own homes, or a semblance of them, practically from scratch. Although they were earlier provided interest-free loans to put up their houses, the bulk of the money was used to pay for construction materials that were overpriced and of low quality.

The National Housing Authority (NHA) tapped the Goldenville Realty Development Corp. to “develop” the area, including several houses and rudimentary roads. But the residents described the firm’s work as sloppily done as they found that portions of their “houses” and roads were fast deteriorating.

A resident observed that “the quality of the houses is brazenly below standard; in fact, the whole ‘community’ itself is substandard!”

After a decade or so Towerville population is increasing but still does not have its own electricity and running water – these have to be bought from the “outside” for exorbitant prices.

As of July this year, more than 2,300 families have been resettled in Towerville, including the recent ones from those affected in the Southrail project of the Philippine National Railways (PNR), the NLEX (North Luzon Expressway) construction, and the victims of typhoon Ondoy who comprised the biggest arrival numbering to about 859 households.

Last year the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Informal Settlers (MMIAC) reported that 21 percent or 544,609 of the 2.6 million families in the metropolis are living in informal settlements, 19 percent (75,000 families) of them are in dangerous areas like “riverbanks,
esteros, under the bridges, roadways or sidewalks and aqueducts.”

KAMAO-APL said this is a serious dilemma that actually reflects the wide social and economic divide between the minority elite and the majority poor not only in Metro Manila but throughout the country.

KAMAO-APL demanded the rehabilitation of Towerville. “Government should utilize Ondoy funds to fix Towerville and other similar relocation sites and provide livelihoods for its residents,” Cabanag said.

KAMAO-APL also reiterated that there is an urgent need to fully enforce and fund the pro-poor provisions in UDHA (Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7279) to effectively address this worsening social problem, such as those countering forced evictions, distant relocation areas and unsustainable relocation program, dismal socialized housing program of the government, lack of gainful and full employment as well as basic social services, among
others.

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