Among the basic needs of the poor living in urban areas, the one that makes the biggest contribution to enhancing their human dignity is decent housing. If we consider that food, shelter, clothing and education are among the most basic of their needs, it is shelter that is the most visible manifestation of the dignity of a human being. The poor can survive on rice, fish and vegetables and maintain their dignity vis-a-vis the well-to-do.
The Filipino poor is also very resourceful in maintaining a dignified and clean appearance even with the barest of wardrobe, resorting to frequent washing of clothes and maintaining them in good condition. In urban areas, their children usually find little difficulty having access to public schools. But what offends most their human dignity is to be forced to live in hovels and make-shift “barong barongs” in dirty and unhygienic slum areas. Such inhuman living conditions are what lower very much the self-esteem of the poor.
That is why it is very important that there be sustained and vigorous effort of the government (both national and local), the business sector, and civil society to implement the provisions of R.A. No.7279, whose objectives are to uplift conditions of underprivileged and homeless citizens in urban and resettlement areas through decent housing at affordable cost, coupled with basic services and employment opportunities. To achieve this primary objective, every effort should be exerted to ensure the rational use and development of urban lands that will lead to the following:
— Equitable utilization of residential lands in urban areas, focusing on the needs and requirements of underprivileged and homeless citizens and not simply on free market forces;
— Optimization of the use and productivity of land and urban resources;
— Development of urban areas conducive to commercial and industrial activities, which can generate more economic opportunities for the people;
— Reduction in urban dysfunctions, particularly those that adversely affect public health, safety and ecology; and
— Access to land and housing by the underprivileged and homeless citizens.
These were reminders issued by Atty. R. Ojastro III, special assistant then to the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, in a recent workshop on socialized housing sponsored by the Center for Research and Communication for LGU officials, officers of cooperatives, top executives of Pag-Ibig Fund and economists specializing on the economics of housing. The participants were reminded of the harsh reality that the housing backlog in the Philippines faced by informal settlers and homeless families is estimated at close to four million units. Region IV has the largest backlog of about 850,000, followed by the National Capital Region, which has close to 500,000, and Region III, with about 460,000 units. These are the regions that have become highly urbanized and are in great need of innovative approaches to socialized housing.
In the opening remarks I gave during the workshop, I encouraged the participants with the information that more than before, now is the best time to push aggressively projects for socialized housing. The first reason is that the financial system is awash with liquidity, the Philippine savings rate having risen to 30 percebt or more of GDP, compared to the 18 to 20 percent that characterized most of the last 30 years. These savings can be mainly attributed to the remittances from OFWs, whose priority is housing. Even the Pag-Ibig Fund has recognized this by upping the financing limit to P6 million.
Another happy event is that both large- and medium-scale real estate and housing developers like the SMDC, PHINMA Properties, DMCI Homes, Alveo and Avida have revolutionized low-cost and medium-cost housing by focusing on vertical or high-rise construction in sites in the very center of urban concentrations. Even low middle-income households, especially those with OFWs, are learning how to adapt their lifestyles to condominium units in the middle of cities. This can spill over to socialized housing that can be planned in tandem with some of these high-rise housing units.