Tuesday, August 5, 2008

PROPOSED AMENDMENTS of REPUBLIC ACT 7279

After 15 years the Urban Development and Housing Act (RA 7279) has failed to provide for “a comprehensive and continuing urban development and housing program, establish the mechanism for its implementation, and for other purposes.” (From R.A. 7279 Title)

Thousands of families are literally evicted and left in the streets without relocation. Of the 2,781 families evicted this year in Metro Manila, excluding railroad evictions, only 9% received relocation. Relocation sites are usually far distant from places of work, and are poorly prepared. The Proclamation program of the President, while it set aside land for close to 200,000 families has failed to develop the sites and give titles to the families. There are also very few new proclamations. On the 10th anniversary of the laws enactment a panel of government, Church and civil society experts made an evaluation of the law’s implementation over the 10 years. They titled their report “A Good Law, But Terrible Implementation.” That is still an apt description. In an effort to improve implementation the following amendments are suggested.


1. PROVISION WHICH CATEGORICALLY PROVIDES FOR STRICT COMPLIANCE OF REQUIREMENTS SET IN SECTION 28, R.A. 7279 AND RELOCATION IN ALL CASES OF EVICTION.

The most debated, if not abused provision is Section 28, R. A. 7279 wherein it provides instances when eviction and demolition may be allowed:

a. when persons or entities occupy danger zones such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, river banks, shorelines, waterways and other public places such as sidewalks, roads, parks and playgrounds;

b. when government projects with available funding are about to be implemented; and

c. when there is a court order for eviction or demolition.

This does not mean that evictions can be carried out immediately on the grounds that the urban poor are nuisances per se. The words should be qualified with the mandatory requirements provided in the same section, paragraph 2:

“In the execution of eviction or demolition orders involving under privileged and homeless citizens, the following shall be mandatory:

a. Notice upon affected persons and entities at least thirty (30) days prior to the date of eviction;

b. Adequate consultations on the matter of resettlement;

c. Presence of local government officials or their representative during the eviction;

d. Proper identification of the persons taking part in the demolition;

e. Conduct of demolition only during regular office hours from Mondays to Fridays unless the affected consent otherwise;

f. No use of heavy equipment for demolition except for permanent structures and concrete materials; and

g. Adequate relocation with basic services and access to employment sufficient to meet the basic needs of the families. If relocation is not possible within forty-five (45) days upon the serving of the final judgment by the court, the local government unit concerned is instructed to compensate the affected families an amount equivalent to the current minimum wage multiplied by sixty (60) days.”

Thus, evictions done prior to compliance with these requirements are illegal, especially if there is no existing relocation site for the affected urban poor families.

Section 29 thereof mandates the relocation of persons living in the so-called danger areas for two (2) years from the effectivity of the law. It provides that within the two (2) years from the effectivity of this Act, the local government units, in coordination with the National Housing Authority, shall implement the relocation and resettlement of persons living in danger areas such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways, and in other public places such as sidewalks, roads, parks, and playgrounds. The local government units, in coordination with the National Housing Authority, shall provide relocation sites with basic services and facilities and access to employment and livelihood opportunities sufficient to meet the basic needs of the affected families”.

We believe the mandate to relocate the families in the three groups continues beyond two years since the national government and local government units have almost all failed to do the tasks assigned them in Art. IV, that is, inventories of lands and improvements thereon within their respective localities. They were also directed to identify sites for social housing and to further acquire land for social housing.

The Constitution states: “Urban or rural poor dwellers shall not be evicted nor their dwellings demolished, except in accordance with law and in a just and humane manner.” (Art. XIII, Section 10). There is no mention of cut-off dates.

The Philippines has signed international treaties and covenants that require all evicted families should be relocated. For example: “The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR), General Comment No. 7 (UNCESCR Document E/1998/22), Item No. 17 provides, “Evictions should not result in rendering individuals homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State party must take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available”.


PROPOSED AMENDMENT: Add a provision categorically providing that any demolition or eviction cannot be carried out if there is no already-existing concrete and adequate relocation site for the affected families.



2. STATES CATEGORICALLY THERE ARE NO SO CALLED “CUT-OFF DATES”; ALL EVICTED FAMILIES MUST BE INCLUDED IN RELOCATION PROGRAMS.

It is discriminatory to set cut-off dates for the application of R.A. 7279 to exclude those who came in after 1992 considering the growing increase of the urban poor population in urban areas. Moreover, lack of determination and registration of beneficiaries cannot be faulted to the urban poor. Secondly, it is discriminatory to say families who came after a census was made, provided it was not a very recent one, are not entitled to relocation.

As was said above, the law mandates for the registration of beneficiaries within one year from the effectivity of UDHA. Moreover, LGU’s are directed to identify and thereafter make inventories of available sites for socialized housing (Art. 29).

However, this had not been done and complied with. Failing to make the registration of beneficiaries or provide land for socialized housing should never be faulted to the urban poor.

Thus, survey or census to determine qualified beneficiaries should anew be conducted. Whenever census or survey is made, actual relocation should be effected within the year. Otherwise, a new survey or census is to be conducted to determine all qualified beneficiaries within the affected area.

So as not to defeat the purpose of the law, what should be followed is the minimum qualifications set out by UDHA under Section 16 for the beneficiary which are:

a. Must be a Filipino citizen;
b. Must be an underprivileged and homeless citizen;
c. Must not own any real property whether in the urban or rural areas; and
d. Must not be a professional squatter or a member of squatting syndicate.

Thus, as long as they complied with these qualifications, as a matter of right, they should be entitled to the benefits set out by law particularly to relocation. Otherwise, to set cut-off of dates, would be a violation against the equal protection clause.

PROPOSED AMENDMENT: Add a provision categorically eliminating the cut-off period to be eligible as beneficiary under R.A. 7279.


3. SCOPE OF CONSULTATION. THE CONSULTATION PROCESS GIVES BENEFICIARIES THE RIGHT TO DIALOG WITH GOVERNMENT OVER THE TERMS OF RELOCATION AND TO CHOOSE THEIR RELOCATION SITE IF ALTERNATIVES ARE AVAILABLE.


Prior consultation with the affected families as required by R.A. 7279 plays an important role but is almost totally disregarded by the government agencies. Consultation with the affected families before demolitions and evictions are made out to forestall economic dislocation, chaos, confusion and violence and to ensure that their relocation sites are provided with basic services.

As defined in Section 3(d), consultation refers to “the constitutionally mandated process whereby the public on their own or through people’s organizations, is provided an opportunity to be heard and to participate in the decision-making process on matters involving the protection and promotion of its legitimate collective interests, which shall include appropriate documentation and feedback mechanisms”.

The affected families should be heard. So as not to put at naught this constitutional mandate, the people should be given the opportunity to decide on the location of the relocation sites, to make an offer or counter-offer, and to have the same be heeded when reasonable and allowable.

PROPOSED AMENDMENT: Provide categorical provision defining the scope of the required consultation giving right to the affected families to look at the proposed site, propose others and choose the preferred site, among others.


4. DEFINING THE PENALTIES FOR ANY GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL OR AGENCY THAT VIOLATES ANY PROVISION OF R.A. 7279, ESPECIALLY CARRYING OUT EVICTIONS/DEMOLITIONS IN THE ABSENCE OF ACTUAL RELOCATION SITES.

R.A. 7279, although it sets out penalties for professional squatters and a general penalty for anyone who violates provisions of the Act, it lacks a specific provision defining specific penalties for the government officials or agency/ies violating the procedures and requirements before carrying out evictions or demolitions. Carrying out evictions and demolitions in the absence of actual relocation sites for the affected families should be criminalized and the penalty thereon should be defined. In a way, this gives teeth to this Act.

PROPOSED AMENDMENT: Provide specific provision making demolitions or evictions without actual relocation sites and non-compliance with the requirements set out under Section 28 (par.2) as a criminal act and providing penalties thereon at least equal to the penalties assigned to professional squatters.




5. MAKING IN-CITY OR NEAR-CITY RELOCATION MANDATORY.

One of the considerations in providing relocation sites is the livelihood component. Relocation sites should be near employment opportunities. Section 22 provides that, “To the extent feasible, socialized housing and resettlement projects shall be located near areas where employment opportunities are accessible. The government agencies dealing with the development of livelihood programs and grant of livelihood loans shall give priority to the beneficiaries of the Program”.

It is undeniable that relocatees have their source of livelihood in the area where they come from. There are far better chances of finding employment in cities than in distant areas. This is where the importance of near-city or in-city relocation comes in. Distant relocation causes the wage earners either to lose their jobs, since commuting is too expensive, or to live separate from their families. Further in distant relocation sites there are no part-time jobs for mothers and older children as there were in the city. Families relocated to distant sites suffer a decline in income since they now support two households—the wage earner(s) in the city and the mother and children in the relocation site. Also there is the lack of part time work for other family members. In many instances income drops by 25%. This results in poorer diets, health care and school expenses.

PROPOSED AMENDMENT: Provide specific provision making in-city or near-city relocation as mandatory and defining what constitutes in-city or near-city relocation.


6. Land Proclamations. The president has the right to proclaim land for social housing through Executive Orders. It is the easiest way of converting government land to social housing purpose. In the years 2001-2004 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued over 90 proclamations benefiting close to 200,000 families. It was seen as a good program for many reasons: (1) it benefited all residents in the proclaimed area including the poorest; (2) it didn’t cost the poor any money; (3) the proclamations, whatever their limitations, did stop nearly all evictions on proclaimed land; (4) the program was to lead to upgrading and actual subdivision and titling, in which process affordability would be a key factor since the exact work to be done or in any area would be democratically decided up on between government and people on LIAC or PIAC (Local Interagency Committee or Project Interagency Committee); (5) it was a program that could be replicated fairly easily.

However there have been two sets of problems: (1) the upgrading and titling work has not been done in nearly all proclaimed areas; (2) some proclamations have been amended or changed radically, leading people to ask, “What is the value of the proclamations (Baseco, Parola)?” The issuance of proclamations has practically stopped.

We therefore propose:

1. That the proclamation program be continued. President Macapagal-Arroyo at her 2001 State of the Nation Address said she would proclaim land for 150,000 families a year.

2. That time limit of one year be given for the upgrading and titling processes to get underway and one billion pesos be set aside annually for upgrading and titling proclaimed lands.

3. It should be stated land proclamations cannot be changed or annulled except in a legal process which allows the beneficiaries to present their arguments against change or annulment.

The legal value of the proclamations should be spelled out in the law.


7. R.A. 7279 SHOULD ALSO BE MADE APPLICABLE IN DEMOLITIONS OR EVICTIONS INVOLVING PRIVATE PROPERTY.

In cases where urban poor families occupied idle land and later on a private person claims to own the property, still, even if it was found out that indeed the property is private, the procedural guarantees laid down under R.A.7279 should be followed. Demolitions and/or evictions should not be carried out without existing adequate relocation site provided for the affected families.

The Constitution does not qualify the mandate to the government to continuously provide the basic right to shelter to the urban poor whether they are occupying a private or government land.


PROPOSED AMENDMENT: Provide specific provision making the requisites set out in R.A. 7279 mandatorily applicable before demolition or eviction is carried out on private as well as public land.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner