A slum, as defined by the United Nation agency UN-HABITAT, is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security. According to the United Nations, the percentage of urban dwellers living in slums decreased from a massive 47 percent to 37 percent in the developing world between 1990 and 2005.
Many shanty town dwellers vigorously oppose the description of their communities as ‘slums’ arguing that this results in them being stigmatized and then, often, subject to threats of forcible evictions.
In the wake of last week’s torrential rains and floors in the Metropolitan Manila area, the government announced
plans to clear major waterways and other danger zones. Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer to have said that shanties and other illegal structures along canals, creeks, esteros and other waterways will be dismantled so flood-mitigating systems could be built.
Robredo did not specify how the illegal structures will be dismantled. He did not need to since everybody understood that if shanty dwellers opposed the demolition, then force can be used lawfully.
Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Rogelio Singson is apparently clueless about this tacit language. Singson made it very explicit and talked about “blasting” shanties and other obstructions. For his crude “bedside manners,” Singson was blasted by urban poor groups.
With the backlash, Singson finessed his words time saying that he meant blasting illegal fish pens in the Pampanga river delta.
Be that as it may, blasting is over-kill since most shanties are built of very-light materials’ of throwaways in fact. Blasting could also lead to fatalities if the informal settlers resist the forcible demolition.
Demolition of illegal structures that obstruct the free flow of water is a technically correct solution to the perennial Metro-Manila floods. While necessary, it is not enough however. The 64-million dollar question: where will 100,000 informal settlers (or 100,000 families, Secretary Robredo?) be relocated?
Robredo said the relocation will done over a five-year period with a funding of P10 billion. However, Robredo admitted that the government is having difficulty finding relocation areas since the law on relocations require permanent shelters. These relocation sites must be within city limits so that the relocated informal settlers can still be near their means of livelihood. As we discussed in earlier blog posts, if the relocation sites were too far, the informal settlers will drift back to the city center (See ‘Housing and the urban poor,’ [https://bongmendoza.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/housing-and-the-urban-poor/] and ‘Our irrational urban poor’ [https://bongmendoza.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/our-irrational-urban-poor/].
An additional requirement is the relocation sites to be free of floods. In last week’s floods, almost a thousand families who were earlier relocated from Tondo to Rodriguez, Rizal had to be moved to higher ground. Government officials will decide if the site is still tenable for residential purposes or should be abandoned.
In the Philippines, Republic Act No. 7279 or the Urban Development Housing Act of 1992 (UDHA), provides that certain lands owned by the government may be disposed of or utilized for socialized housing purposes. It was signed into law to address the housing shortage of the country. It addresses the right to housing of the homeless and underprivileged Filipinos. This law seeks to provide social housing to the marginalized sector by addressing their access to land and housing, relocation, demolitions, and promoting private sector participation in housing.
Aside from clearing the waterways, perhaps the DPWH can help build the houses in the relocation sites. In that way, Secretary Singson can make up for his blast of a gaffe.