A self-fulfilling cycle of danger after danger
By its name, Lupang Pangako gives its history away. In 1990, informal settlers from different parts of Metro Manila were relocated to this side of Barangay Payatas in Quezon City and were placed under a Community Mortgage Program that allowed them to gain ownership of the lots during the term of then Quezon City Mayor Brigido Simon, Jr.
Residents have since based their livelihood on surrounding opportunities, primarily anchored on the nearby dumpsite which would be transformed into a controlled disposal facility by the turn of the millennium.
As the Payatas dumpsite continues to undergo expansion and development, nearby communities were rendered unsafe for residential purposes.
A study by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (MGB-DENR) in 2012 identified the area of Phase II, Lupang Pangako as a danger zone, attributed to its low lying area prone to flooding and to risks posed by waste disposal operations of the Payatas Operations Group (POG).
As part of its initiative in disaster risk reduction, the POG has launched a voluntary relocation program hand-in-hand with its private contractor IPM Environmental Services, Inc. through its socio-civic arm, the Payatas Poverty Alleviation Foundation.
In their survey, the foundation identified an estimate of 1,300 families living in vulnerable areas near the dumpsite area. It then offered residents the option of relocating to Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal, a government relocation site earmarked by the National Housing Authority where the IPM as a developer under contract has begun the construction of housing projects.
PPAF’s hand in the resettlement is in the arrangement for the families’ relocation, organizing them into respective home associations to be registered under the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC) so they can avail of a suitable mortgage program.
As of 2013, the foundation has been able to relocate 321 families while continuing the construction of more housing units as needed. There are 962 others which opted for off-site relocations through the foundation’s Balik Probinsya or Lipat Bahay programs.
The site of Rodriguez, Rizal as a relocation site is shared by the relocatees of Payatas with displaced informal settler families from other parts of Metro Manila such as Fairview, Marikina and Balara which are under the NHA’s own relocation program.
But if these residents’ experiences in their first two or so years in the site were to serve as any indication, these would point to a failure of the relocation program to become sustainable not only in terms of the people’s source of livelihood but still in their safety.
The area, while being used as one of government relocation sites allotted for 70,000 informal settler families, has likewise been identified as a geo-hazard zone prone to floods and earthquakes since 2002.
Residents recall how recent typhoons have caused floods submerging whole houses in water. Despite these implications, residents also note of NHA’s general negligence in its failure to address the dangers it has put beneficiaries into. Flood control measures, for example are only upon the discretion of the developer.
The NHA continues to concentrate its housing projects in places like Rizal as part of a five-year plan of providing housing alternatives to 60,000 informal settlers in Metro Manila as provided for by a P50 billion Informal Settler Fund allocation by the Aquino administration. The ISF is disbursed more or less P10 billion at a time on an annual basis to mount housing projects in NHA-identified relocation sites.
Yet outside of the ISF, residents pay a monthly amortization fee of P200 after one year of residency. The fee progressively increases until the house is paid in full, which comes to a total of P175,000.
In this case, it becomes difficult to see how the ISF is beneficial for the urban poor given the redundancy of the fund and the required payments of beneficiaries.
With first-hand experience of the substandard quality of the houses, the Montalban Relocatees’ Alliance demand accountability from the NHA over the use of the ISF. Similarly, urban poor groups Anakpawis, Kadamay and Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon have since called for a state audit of the ISF use but their demands remain unanswered.
It becomes no wonder that there remain residents of Lupang Pangako who refuse to be relocated despite the looming dangers in the area, in which cases they are still under the constant threats of being evicted and their homes demolished by the Quezon City local government in coordination with the Task Force Control and Prevention of all Structures and Squatting (COPRISS).
Demolition orders are even lubricated by local policies that have grown more aggressive in the curtailment of any form of illegal occupation of either private or public land. In December 2013, QC Mayor Herbert Bautista signed the City Ordinance No. 2247 authorizing barangay officials to dismantle illegally constructed structures even in the absence of a court order. Residents are given a notice of the pending demolition and are advised to voluntarily remove their own structure within a 3-day period.
The same emerging trend hounds other Payatas communities, particularly in the plastikan groups in Purok 5 of Barangay Payatas and in residential areas along Payatas Road. Eviction and demolition orders have been making their rounds in the different communities within the area as private entities lay their claims on the land in the name of development projects.