Bill empowering squatters hailed – Manila Standard

A party-list lawmaker on Friday hailed the recent passage of a bill that empowers Informal Settler Families or squatters by giving them a voice in the development of resettlement housing programs intended to benefit them.

Party-list Rep. Naealla Bainto Aguinaldo said House Bill 8248’s imminent enactment would provide significant improvements to the 29 year-old Urban Development and Housing Act.

Aguinaldo, in filing her bill, seeks to amend the UDHA as the measure includes provisions that require the participation of program beneficiaries via the formation of beneficiary associations that the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor and local government units are mandated to work with in the formulation of a “People’s Plan.”

“The goal here is to give the beneficiaries a say in the housing projects intended for their use,” said Aguinaldo, vice chairperson of the House committee on housing and urban development.

“It only makes sense since the beneficiaries will be the ones living in these homes and in these communities, and their input is critical if we want the relocation and resettlement initiatives to succeed.”

The People’s Plan is a plan that will be formulated by the beneficiary-association in coordination with the implementing LGU that conforms to the LGU Comprehensive Land Use Plan and includes community health, sanitation and security plans.

It also includes non-physical development components such as self-help housing cooperative, livelihood, self-help development, capability-building as well as a system of allocation of housing units that will promote and protect the welfare of the elderly, people with disability and children.

Aguinaldo, a lawyer, said empowering beneficiaries and obtaining their views “will give recipients a sense of ownership that, experiences in other housing projects have shown, encourages beneficiaries to collaborate and to work closely with the LGUs and implementing agencies involved in the housing projects.

“When the beneficiaries buy in and all the stakeholders of a housing program are on the same page and paddling in the same direction, the greater the chances that program will meet its objectives––and the greater the possibility the relocated communities will thrive.”

HB 8248, Aguinaldo says, targets the implementation of on-site, in-city, or near-city resettlement programs to ensure ISFs will be able to live near their places of work “as experience has taught policy-makers that providing housing isn’t enough.

“And if employment opportunities are not available in relocation sites that are unreasonably far from their original settlements, then the tendency is for them to leave the resettlement projects and move to where jobs are available.” 

The livelihood concerns of ISFs, adds Aguinaldo, are addressed by provisions of HB 8248 that identify the government agencies tasked to provide skills and livelihood training, the development of livelihood programs and the grant of livelihood loans for the beneficiaries of resettlement programs under the measure.

Aside from their livelihoods, HB 8248 also mandates local government units and government agencies tasked to implement resettlement projects to work together to provide other basic services and facilities to resettlement program beneficiaries.

The lawyer-lawmaker says the measure’s objectives are consistent with definitions stipulated in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights publication, “The Right to Adequate Housing” which states that adequate housing, “must provide more than four walls and a roof.”

It includes the availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure such as safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, energy for cooking, heating, lighting, food storage or refuse disposal. It likewise states that housing is not adequate “if it is cut off from employment opportunities, health-care services, schools, childcare centers and other social facilities.”

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