Manila slum dwellers demand free houses

Thousands throng streets of Philippine capital to protest government's handling of housing policy
Manila slum dwellers demand free houses

Urban poor dwellers and their supporters march in Manila on March 24 to demand free housing from the government. (Photo by Mike Taboy)  

 

Thousands of slum dwellers marched in the streets of Manila on March 24, days after occupying hundreds of empty houses on the outskirts of the Philippine capital.

The protesters demanded free shelter from the government as the country marked the 25th anniversary of a law that is supposed to address housing problems for poor urban settlers.

They also condemned an "eviction notice" served by authorities on those who occupied a government housing project in nearby Bulacan province.

"The poor bravely occupied idle homes for the sake of their families and yet the government only poses more of the same problems that led to this situation," said Gloria Arellano, chairwoman of the urban poor group Kadamay.

Arellano said "maintaining faith in the [housing law] is one such mistake of the administration," adding that the people know the severity of the country's housing crisis.

More than 5,000 urban poor settlers led by Kadamay took over abandoned government housing projects to show "indignation" over what they described as "government neglect of the poor."

Many of the houses were unfinished, some even have no toilets, water or electricity supply.

 

Support from various groups

Various groups, including faith-based organizations, have expressed support for the slum dwellers.

Father Edwin Gariguez, head of the social action secretariat of the Catholic bishops' conference, said affordable housing for the poor in urban centers "is a social justice issue."

The priest said the government should provide decent "in-city housing projects" and create industries that will offer jobs to people.

Nardy Sabino, spokesman of the Promotion of Church People's Response, said the government should "re-assess and review" idle government housing projects.

"The government must re-allocate these units to homeless poor families instead of letting them rot," said Sabino.

The National Union of People's Lawyers said the occupation of the empty houses was "constitutional."

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In a statement, the lawyers' group said the occupation stems from a constitutional provision that people, especially those who need shelter the most, are "entitled to demand and assert such rights."

"The right to adequate housing is universally recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living," said the lawyers.

The government gave the occupiers until March 20 to vacate the houses, but the people stood their ground and vowed to remain.

According to the National Housing Authority, out of 60,738 units built by the government only 8,327 are occupied.

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