Being designated as “housing czar” presents Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco Jr. both the opportunity and the burden of addressing the crying need of millions of homeless Filipinos. There are immediate, as well as long-term, challenges.
For instance, there are the thousands of disaster victims of Supertyphoon Yolanda and the 7.2 killer quake in Bohol who to this day, three years after, still have not been given the housing aid promised by government no matter the billions of pesos imputed in the national budget and millions more from donors.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo lamented that, while the government had already provided 1 million housing units for the Yolanda victims, some 200,000 more, mostly from Leyte (100,000) and Samar (80,000), remain homeless. Akin to Haiti victims, some have become.
An old, odd ruling seems to be the culprit. Disqualified from government housing aid (emergency shelter assistance) are those families earning more than P15,000 and those living within danger zones.
The income of P15,000 for a family of five is too small to construct a new house without financing and, second, it is the government’s duty to relocate those in danger zones to the acres of unused, unproductive government land. This neglect is like being “Yolandad” twice over.
In Bohol the earthquake in 2013 recorded 8,083 totally damaged houses and 34,688 partially damaged ones. Today, after the P2.3-billion Bohol Earthquake Assistance, or BEA, shall have been fully expended, a vast number of the victims do not have homes yet. The BEA was mainly spent for cold, distant infrastructure projects, but what about the throbbing misery of thousands of human beings left without shelter?
Indeed, it is true that in the aftermath of climate change, it is the poor who suffer the most from the environmentally reckless acts of the rich, because the poor are in the least position to help themselves financially after a disaster. Where is our heart as a people? Then, Evasco has to grapple with the issue of 5.7 million low-cost housing backlog in the country. It is said the Philippines has to build 2,600 houses daily to close the housing gap. We are not anywhere near that number and the population is growing.
The government needs to give more tax breaks to those housing developers involved in low-cost housing projects to enthuse them to zero in more on their target market.
Pag-ibig Fund, or the Home Development Mutual Fund, is also in a position to help accelerate this funding mechanism for low-cost housing. After all, it reported P20 billion in net income in 2015 and set to declare P14 billion as dividends to shareholders.
To our mind, Pag-ibig, as a government-owned corporation, is not meant first to be a cash cow for the government to fund the nation’s budget. It was created primarily to help alleviate the plight of the 5.7 million homeless families in our midst.
It can consider, for instance, increasing the threshold limit at the present P17,500-per-month income families as eligible for funding and the borrowing cap of P750,000 in recognition of the rising cost of construction due to inflation.
Moreover, it can lower its 4-percent to 5-percent interest charge (perhaps equal to the savings rate given by banks to depositors), increase the 10-year repayment schedule to 15 years and lessen the stringent requirements for home loan applications. Given Pag-ibig’s financial performance, it can easily access cheaper, longer-term credits in the financial markets to implement this policy change. Why is it not doing it?
Pag-ibig’s societal role is to provide as many low-cost houses to as many Filipinos as it can and not to be the best financially performing government-owned or -controlled corporation (GOCC). We believe its financial footings can allow for these moves.
Finally, there is the issue of 1.5 million illegal settlers all over the country. They are not merely an eyesore whose abode we cover with billboards whenever foreign celebrities visit the Philippines. They are human beings living in inhuman conditions, in a veritable den of poverty, lawlessness and despair. The government has thousands of hectares of land where they may be relocated. And if the government can provide livelihood assistance to homecoming overseas Filipino workers who are better off financially, why cannot it provide the same to the poorest of the poor as the slum dwellers?
The problem is another agency called the National Housing Authority (NHA), which can do land banking and can identify free government lots has plans only for squatters in Metro Manila and its periphery. Statistics show that 90 percent of the relocated illegal settlers are in Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces of Cavite, Bulacan, Rizal and Laguna. Is this Imperial Manila, again?
There are three other agencies under Evasco that can further expand the housing program in the country. There is the National Home Mortgage and Finance Corp. that lends directly to financial institutions, cooperatives and developers for low-cost housing and can securitize (buy the housing-installment receivables from the same) to increase their capacity to relend.
There is the Home Guaranty Corp. that issues partial guarantees to financial institutions that engage in low-cost housing. There is the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, which has the power to allocate land and approve land planning so that it redounds to the greatest benefit of the disadvantaged sector.
Given Evasco’s earlier priestly leanings and a leftist’s bias for the poor and the dispossessed, we hope he will use these arsenals of power and finance to assist those who need help the most.
Bingo Dejaresco, a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner and political strategist. He is a life member of Finex but his views here are his personally and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex.firstname.lastname@example.org.