It is a crisis, and this is not an exaggeration. For the homeless, this is even a battle of life and death. Shelter, being one of the basic necessities of humans, is lacking for thousands of families. We are talking of 20,000 men, women, and children seeking for shelter, and the houses in Pandi, Bulacan, were vacant. There and then, they sought refuge in these unoccupied houses.
It is true. These houses are not Kadamay’s. It is likewise true that they have no right to occupy the houses. However, they should stay.
The right to an adequate shelter is a basic human right and is a government responsibility.
Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the Philippine government is a long-time signatory, provides:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
Article 11.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights gives further emphasis:
“The State Parties to the the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The State Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent.”
Other international conventions, such as UN Declaration on Social Progress and Development (1969) and the UN Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements (1976), have recognized the basic human right of adequate shelter.
It has been held that forced evictions are counter to the basic human right of adequate shelter. Quoting the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), “forced evictions constitute gross violations of a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement.” While it must be noted that not all forced evictions constitute gross violations, in Kadamay’s circumstance, they occupied a vacant, government-owned housing, and to evict them, including thousands of women and children, will be an act of the government turning a blind eye over the destitute future of these people.
The OHCHR further expounded: “Forced evictions intensify inequality, social conflict, segregation and invariably affect the poorest, most socially and economically vulnerable and marginalized sectors of society, especially women, children, minorities and indigenous peoples.” True enough, the poor people of Kadamay needed help, but with evicting them, we are actually aggravating the problem. Their poverty ever worsens. Their opportunity for a better life inside an adequate home slips ever further away.
It is the state’s responsibility to uphold this right.
Art. 2.1 of the ICESCR provides:
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes the steps, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.
While it is true that our human right to adequate housing does not entitle us to just occupy anyone’s houses, it must be recognized that to deprive these thousands of their current housing is a gross violation of this right, especially in the absence of any viable relocation for them, noting that what they have occupied are not occupied private property, but are vacant government housing.
Poverty is largely a fixed circumstance.
We all get inspired by the rags-to-riches story of some people. Escaping from the chains of poverty, they managed to climb up the socioeconomic ladder through hardwork and perseverance and through the convergence of the right circumstances.
However, not all are as lucky. Poverty is largely a fixed circumstance. While this mindset is not encouraged, chances are, when one is born poor, he will have a harder time finding opportunities to earn. First, quality education is unavailable. Second, connections will be limited. Third, mobility is likewise limited. Fourth, a lot of options in life and in career are removed due to financial constraints. One cannot join seminars because of the cost. One cannot participate in contests because of the costs.
Various studies have supported this. A long-term study made in Johns Hopkins University showed that only 4 percent of children from low-income families achieved a college education, compared to 45 percent of children from higher-income families. A Swedish research, on the other hand, has shown positive correlation between the wealth of the parent and the wealth of their offspring well into adulthood.
Yes. It is unfair for many of us employed and working hard if Kadamay would just get in their way, occupy houses, and get houses, while the rest of us would work hard for it. Another way to look at it is that, perhaps, we are fortunate that we do not have to resort to means such as illegal occupation in order for us to obtain houses. We are fortunate that our parents have provided for us; we are fortunate that our current jobs are enough to afford us a decent place to live.
It is important to recognize that our circumstances are different from theirs. Not everything is just a matter of working hard. Sometimes, working hard for them would only land them in low-paying, labor-intensive jobs due to their lack of educational attainment. Their pay would only give them food for their plate, and in frequency that’s less than three times a day.
This does not necessarily deprive the supposed grantees of their houses.
The houses were supposed to be awarded to retired members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and at first glance, we might be appalled by how these members of the Armed Forces, who have rendered their lifetime of service to protect the country, were deprived by these mendicants who did nothing for the country. (Others may go: do they even pay taxes?!)
It is important to note that the grantees have no absolute right over the houses emanating from the government grant, and it is the government’s discretion whether or not to proceed with the grant of those specific houses or not, provided that the members of the Armed Forces with houses albeit not the particular houses in Pandi.
The government should exercise its discretion in favor of Pandi for reasons already cited above. This does not result in the deprivation of the members of the Armed Forces of houses since (1) not all houses were occupied, (2) the fact that these houses were not occupied may show a lack of urgency for these retired members of the Armed Forces to occupy the houses, and therefore, the retired members can wait a little longer, (3) the grant should not be restricted to the houses in question in Pandi, i.e., these retired members of the Armed Forces may be granted other houses by the National Housing Authority.
The houses are vacant, and may remain vacant for extended periods of time.
The Commission on Audit, on 2015, reported that as of 2015, only 4,651 units were occupied of the 57,494 houses built at a cost of P11.3 billion for soldiers, policemen, firemen and jail guards. This clearly presents a problem on the part of NHA on the distribution of housing grants.
As discussed above, this exhibits a lack of urgency for the intended grantees to occupy the houses, whereas, for Kadamay, this is a matter of life and death. To leave it vacant for extended periods of time would only result to wastage of governmental assets and funds, for houses are subject to wear and tear over their limited useful lives.
This will not necessarily set a precedent for future anarchic behavior.
This behavior by the Kadamay may be considered as undesirable, for as much as possible, for an orderly society to prosper, grants are given through processes, and those whose grants are approved may receive from the government accordingly.
However, Kadamay still illegally occupied the vacant houses.
Will this be a precedent for future anarchic behavior? Perhaps. This is a possibility that we cannot ignore. However, this is a possibility which the government can mitigate, if not eliminate.
Kadamay’s frustration sets out from a denial and seeming lengthy inaction over their applications for housing. Have the government acted upon their applications urgently and have the government clearly explained the reasons for the denial of their applications, this could have been avoided.
Kadamay’s occupation also sets from the fact that the houses are vacant. Speedy disposition of housing grants may have avoided this.
In sum, the government could prevent future anarchy if it will be strict and, at the same time, more efficient in administering housing grants and in procuring houses, construction materials, and/or construction services.
With the staggering amount of people at risk, with the basic right to shelter being involved, it is best to sympathize with the plight of Kadamay — a plight which no one wants to be stuck in the first place. Thousands are involved. Thousands are at risk to be evicted back to the streets. Thousands of future are at stake. The long-hated problem of homelessness must come to an end, and the first to step is to help Kadamay. Kadamay is the representation of the Filipino poor. We sympathize with the Kadamay. Damayan ang Kadamay.
[Photos are from the Philippine Daily Inquirer.]