Homeless occupy housing project in Philippines

Poor people's frustrations over thousands of homes lying idle boil over
Homeless occupy housing project in Philippines

A group of urban poor dwellers put up barricades after occupying a government housing project north of Manila. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

Hundreds of homeless families in the Philippines took over an abandoned government housing project this week to show "indignation" over what they described as "government neglect of the poor."

"This is our chance to have a decent home," said Selma Tumbaga, a 48-year-old resident of Pandi in Bulacan province whose family has been living near a quarry for 30 years.

Women led the "forced occupation" of the idle housing units on March 8, International Women's Day. They barricaded the entrance to the village, some 80 kilometers north of Manila, to prevent authorities from entering.

In one of the houses, Jona Marquez, a 37-year-old mother of seven, was sweeping dust from the floor. "We don't have the means to buy a house," she told ucanews.com.

"The only way we can avail of the project is by forcing ourselves in and occupy this rotting unit," she said.

Gloria Arellano, chairwoman of the urban poor group Kadamay, said the poor cannot afford the high mortgage rates demanded by the government.

"It seems that the government would rather have people homeless," she said.

A housing unit costs up to US$10,000, which is payable over 30 years, while a minimum-wage worker only earns US$7 a day.

Vincent Bandelaria of the National Housing Authority, however, said what the protesters did was "unacceptable."

"They cannot just some here and occupy any empty house. They should follow the process," he told ucanews.com.

In 2016, the Philippine government had 52,341 houses built for members of the country's police force and the military. Only 8,327 of these were occupied.

In Bulacan, at least 20,000 housing units remain unoccupied because they were considered "sub-standard."

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