By ROGER M. BALANZA
ON BUILDING A SQUATTER-FREE CITY
All local government units have one common problem: informal settlers. In highly urbanized LGUs like Davao City, the number of informal settlers grows annually due to migration by people seeking better opportunities.
Also spread out around the city are old settlements on private lands working out purchase plans with owners that could not be speedily pursued due to fund lack.
While anti-squatting laws are in place to prevent illegal occupation of private and government lands by informal settlers, the spirit of humanity, sometimes, bind LGU hands from enforcing an iron-fisted policy.
Urban land reform planning however is seen as a long-term solution to urban squatting.
In Davao City, housing planners map out multi-pronged approaches to respond to relocation, funding source and creation of sustainable communities for thousands of informal settlers.
On top of this grand plan to make Davao City squatter-free is the Local Housing Board chaired by the Mayor. Armed with the Davao City Shelter Code, the landmark legislation authored by Councilor Arnolfo Ricardo Cabling, the Local Housing Board identifies on-site and off-site settlements, approves funding for land purchase and guides the implementation of socialized housing projects. The Local Housing Board also interacts with key national government housing agencies to collaborate on implementation of housing projects.
With the Davao City Council providing a guiding hand to support legislation strengthening socialized housing programs, the Davao City government is on the right track towards providing long-term solution to housing for the city’s thousands of homeless urban poor.
The Urban Land Reform Program (ULRP) has been strengthened with the participation of the Socialized Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC), which would absorb about 75 percent of cost of land purchase of local government socialized housing projects.
The SHFC funding initiative under its Localized Community Mortgage Plan (LCMP) would quadruple the capability of the local governments P100 million stand-by housing fund to serve more informal settlers and other qualified sectors.
About 40 hectares of property where there was supposed to rise an export processing zone in the early 90s—for two decades a wide piece of abandoned land—has been turned into a settlement for thousands of homeless urban poor dwellers here.
Failing to take off after initial road works and several buildings and much fanfare, the First Oriental Ventures project on the 70-hectare property in Barangay Ilang, Bunawan District crashed even as it was touted as Davao City’s window to the world export market.
But while the city lost its chance to be in the map of the country’s export processing zones, the First Oriental Ventures’ failure has come as a gift to indigent homeless families looking for a roof over their heads in this city of 1.4 million where acute housing is social problem.
The First Oriental Ventures property had been foreclosed by the banks after the company closed down and abandoned the project.
Today, this piece of grasslands could serve as model for the city’s ULRP.
About twelve homeowners associations under the umbrella of the Kobbler Federation—a non-government organization of urban poor associations—has been born on the site.
The Philippine Deposit Insurance Commission, the Fareast Bank and the Land Bank, which collectively own the property worth about P60 million, through their joint Asset Privatization Committee, has already issued intent to sell the property to the settlers numbering around 3,000 families after negotiation by Councilor Cabling.
The property has now more than 3,000 families settled on the site which could own their lots under the Localized Community Mortgage Program (LCMP). A program of the state-owned Socialized Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC), the program allows for purchase of settlement site with SHFC pitching in 75 percent of the cost and the local government the remaining 25 percent. Beneficiaries pay amortizations on a long-term contract, with the local government handling collection.
There are several dozens more homeowners association existing as informal settlers are negotiations are underway for the city government to provide funding for land purchases.
And as it looks to the future, the Davao City government foresees more migration coming in as the city’s unlimited opportunities as Southern Mindanao’s premier city lure migrants from other provinces and regions. But city planners have no doubt that the city government has already set into place the machinery for long-term solution to urban poor housing in the Shelter Code authored by Councilor Cabling and the political will of local administration to achieve the Dabawenyos vision to make their city squatter-free.
Demolition of shanties of the urban poor was at the core why Mayor Sara Duterte punched a court sheriff who refused to grant her plea to stay the eviction that would have rendered homeless more than 200 families. This piece should thwart any misinformation that there might be something wrong with the city government’s program on urban land reform program. While the city government is serious about eradicating urban squatting, it is doing it with a heart.