THE BALAI VISION
By Atty. Junefe G. Payot
Whenever I attend the inauguration of our new social housing projects in Mindanao, I always find groups of children milling around as if wanting to join the celebration but wary of the adults.
I would go to them and ask in Cebuano, “Asa dinha inyung balay (Which one is your house)?” Smiling, they would all proudly answer”Didto (There)!” and simultaneously point to different directions. It never fails: I would smile back, thinking how bright their future will now be.
Balay comes from balai, The Malay word for house, other variations of which include bahay ( in Tagalog).
Perhaps balai is also the root of balangai or barangay, which was how our acenstors’ communities were called.
Thus, when we say housing is about building communities –not just houses– we are really harking back to the time of the great warrior Lapu-lapu, when our people lived harmoniously as communities and helped one another in times of need, whether it involves raising children or repelling foreign invaders.
The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) then headed by Secretary Eduardo del Rosario appropriated the word Balai for its tagline “BALAI (or Building Adequate, Livable, Affordable and Inclusive) Filipino Communities.”
The new “battle cry” ( to use the term of Sec. Del Rosario) aims to establish a unified vision for shelter agencies under the supervision of HUDCC, now the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) also headed by Sec. del Rosario, to bring about a dependable brand of public service.
The effort was in preparation for the then impending establishment of DHSUD, a move that aimed to
harmonize the function of shelter agencies in order to speed up the delivery of housing solutions.
Balai is a vision. It is our North Star, our guide. It is the benchmark against which shelter agencies shall now measure their continuing relevance. It is no longer acceptable to churn out concrete houses that end up unoccupied, just so agencies can have some numerical accomplishments to show. We want communities to actually occupy the units because they find the housing quality responsive to their needs.
Indeed, the “adequate” part of the Balai vision is, by itself, already packed with standards and principles that should guide us in delivering shelter to Filipino communities.
Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the “right to adequate housing” includes not only security of tenure (legal protection against forced evictions) but also availability of services (drinking water, sanitation, electricity) and affordability (housing cost should not be prohibitive that it compromises a family’s ability to meet other basic needs).
Adequate housing also includes habitability (adequate space, as well as protection against the cold,heat, rain and wind), and good location (ensuring access to employment opportunities, health care and schools). Thus, the Balai concept is consistent with internationally recognized housing principles.
The Social Housing FInance Corporation (SHFC), which is government-operated and controlled, has been able to achieve many of these ideals through our Flexible, Affordable, Inclusive, Responsive (FAIR) approach, which perfectly fits with the Balai vision.
For instance, we ensure affordability through low interest rates and technical subsidies.
The subsidies address the findings of a study of the Phillipine Institute for Development Studies that
expensive transactional cost in housing projects cause the exclusion of the poorest family who cannot afford out-of-pocket expenses such us geodetic engineers’ fees for preparation of surveys and plans.
The Balai and FAIR principles consist of very lofty ideals, and they are worth pursuing, if only to guarantee that our children today are raised in resilient communities and grow up to become a productive citizen of tomorrow.
(Atty. Junefe G. Payot is the Executive Vice President of the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC), the key housing agency implementing the government’s social housing program. SHFC is headed by its President, Atty. Arnolfo Ricardo Cabling)