Thousands of evicted families go hungry in resettlement sites

The second part of this report focuses on the problems at the resettlement site: corruption, inefficiency and a failure to inform and consult with affected families. Many of the evicted families now face starvation as they have been relocated to places far from where they work and where there are few jobs available.

The NHA has also been accused of selling overpriced construction materials and of getting into sweetheart contracts with landowners, local governments and site developers.

TOWERVILLE, San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan — Every day, around lunch time, hungry mothers and children hang around Nazaria Castillo’s carinderia in the hope of getting food. Castillo knows they have no money, and so she herds them inside her store and feeds them whatever humble meal she is selling that day.

“Even if I’m short of cash myself and I hardly make any profit, I feed them,” said the 72-year-old grandmother. “My conscience won’t allow me to let them go hungry.”

For sure, the life by the railway tracks that Castillo, her daughters and four grandchildren left behind was miserable and unsafe. Until last year, they all lived in a cramped shanty built precariously alongside the railroad in Malabon. Beginning January, they moved, along with more than 400 other families, to the Towerville resettlement site in the hinterlands of Bulacan.

But for Castillo and her neighbors, life has become even worse. They all transferred here of their own accord, lured by promises of lots where they could build their houses and that they would one day own. They did get their lots, but these were in the middle of a hilly nowhere. Residents have to shell out P35 for a tricycle ride in and out of Towerville and need to have at least P150 for transport fare to and from Manila, where most of them have jobs.

With no money and no income, residents are stuck here, facing the specter of starvation. This was not quite what they had been promised.

The National Housing Authority (NHA) boasts of the achievements of its North Rail relocation program, which is intended to resettle 40,000 railway families to rebuild the 80-kilometer railroad from Manila to Clark. But evicted families and NGOs working with them say that the government resettlement program is beset with corruption and is bogged down by disputes among local officials, residents and the NHA.

The public face of the resettlement project is Vice President Noli de Castro, who also chairs the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). De Castro’s wide popularity has made it possible to evict families with minimal resistance. But it has been unable to stop housing officials and well-placed contractors and developers from milking money from the resettlement projects.

“If only Noli de Castro can hear how the officials boast about moving people here,” said Castillo. “He should know that people have been thrown here without being told how bad the conditions are going to be.”

The Towerville resettlement site in the hinterlands of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

To be sure, the railway squatters knew they would one day be evicted from the tracks, which until recently teemed with shanties where thousands lived despite the hazards. Offered relocation, which they saw as an opportunity for a better life away from the harsh living conditions along the riles, the squatter families welcomed the government’s offer of a life elsewhere.

The families who moved to Towerville were provided by the NHA with an interest-free loan of P50,000 so they could construct their own houses. The amount covers expenses on construction material (P40,000) and labor (P10,000). A P1,000-food subsidy was also provided.

Though generous by the standards of previous assistance packages, the beneficiaries also had to purchase from their loans construction materials that were overpriced and of inferior quality. For instance, they were forced to buy four-inch concrete hollow blocks at P5.80 each, even when these could be purchased at the local hardware for only P4. A bag of cement was pegged at P158 when it should cost only around P140.

Overpriced Housing Construction Materials

February 2005 Prices
September 2005 Prices
Sand cu. m. 538.00 442.25 95.75
Gravel cu. m. 772.00 549.00 223.00
4″ CHB (concrete hollow block) piece 5.50 4.00 1.50
12mm dia Rebar piece 189.00 146.00 43.00
10mm dia Rebar piece 150.00 102.00 48.00
Rafter 2x6x12 Good Lumber piece 527.00 402.00 125.00
Rafter 2x4x14 Good Lumber piece 370.00 313.00 67.00
Purlins 2x3x14 Good Lumber piece 286.00 234.50 51.50
Fascia Board 1x8x14 Good Lumber piece 495.00 440.00 55.00
Ordinary Plywood 1×4″ thick piece 380.00 268.00 112.00
Gauge-26 Corrugated G.I. (length 8) piece 278.00 236.00 42.00
Gauge-26 Corrugated G.I. (length 6) piece 208.00 177.00 31.00
G.I. Ridge Roll piece 139.00 118.00 21.00
G.I. Flushing piece 139.00 118.00 21.00
100mm dia x 3m PVC Pipe piece 775.55 589.00 186.55
Water Closet (bowl type) set 2,760.00 2,500.00 260.00

Because of the overprice, the P40,000 could not pay for a decent house, said Nelina Rendora, a Towerville resident. “We had to use up our savings to complete the houses. And now we don’t even have money for food.”

Still, the Towerville families can count themselves luckier than others. They have each been given 50-square-meter lots for a price of P125,000, payable in 25 years. Those in other relocation sites such as in Bignay in Valenzuela and Lambakin in Marilao are getting 32-square meter lots for P100,000, payable within the same period.

The families are saying that this is better than the cardboard thatches they used to live in, and for this, many are grateful.

To their credit, local government units of the affected areas are beginning to learn that relocation to a remote site does not work since it merely transfers the problem to another place. That is why the Bulacan government has opted to resettle evicted families in or near the same city or town they used to live in.

But disputes still abound. In Marilao, railway dwellers are being forced to move to the nine-hectare Lambakin relocation site even though most of them prefer another site in Bgy. Loma de Gato which already met NHA standards.

Marilao Mayor Epifanio Guillermo, however, prefers they move to Lambakin. NHA’s Laxa is of the same mind, despite the fact that parts of that site are the subject of an unresolved land dispute.

The Marilao LGU and NHA-proposed resettlement site in Bgy. Lambakin.

This has only fanned suspicions that the two are favoring a developer linked to Laxa’s actor cousin, Tony Ferrer (Antonio Laxa in real life), and Azor Sitchon, a losing mayoralty bet in San Simon, Pampanga. Laxa, a real-estate developer himself, was once mayor of Macabebe, Pampanga.

Sitchon has admitted in a newspaper report to acting as a “consultant” to D’ Grand Builders and Contractors Inc. which got the contract to develop the Lambakin site. The real-estate company was registered only in May. One of its incorporators, Teodora Dalisay, and her husband Domingo are known political supporters of Sitchon.

In Canumay, Valenzuela, about 200 families from Malabon have been enduring heat and rain in makeshift tents for the past seven months. They have not been able to build their houses after Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian refused to give a permit to develop the site, on the grounds that it does not conform to the city’s zoning laws.

Aside from contractors with known Pampanga-connections, the NHA has also brought in controversial New San Jose Builders (NSJB) to develop resettlement sites in Bulacan. Goldenville Realty and Development Corporation, said to be similarly owned by Jose Acuzar, chairman of the board of NSJB, has also cornered two other resettlement contracts.

A favored contractor during the presidency of Joseph Estrada, the New San Jose Builders was involved in renovating Estrada’s “Boracay” mansion and was the main developer of the P2.8-billion Erap City, the mass-housing project of the Estrada administration. The developer is known to maintain close relations with every administration with its ability to find people with close connections to the government. Acuzar, construction industry sources say, is close to de Castro.

Firms Awarded Contracts to Develop Bulacan Resettlement Sites

Bgy. Bayugo, Meycauayan 3,341 New San Jose Builders
Bgy. Lambakin, Marilao 1,911 D’ Grand Builders and Contractors Inc.
Bgy. Batia, Bocaue 2,086 New San Jose Builders
Bgy. Santol, Balagtas 1,141 Goldenville Realty and Development Corporation
Bgy. Malis, Guiguinto 1,703 Baque Corporation
Bgy. Bangcal, Malolos City 2,696 Goldenville Realty and Development Corporation
TOTAL 12,878

SOURCE: National Housing Authority

There have also been reported cases of grossly overvalued lands bought by the NHA for the resettlement sites. One such case involves a certain Flordeliza Uy who sold to the NHA a 7.6-hectare lot in Bignay, Valenzuela at P2,000 per square meter, or a staggering P140 million, in an area where the zonal value of property is only P1,100 to P1,500 per square meter. The land title shows that Uy’s company had bought the property from the Bank of the Philippine Islands in August 2004 for only P30 million.

The lot was still mortgaged and titled with the bank when the NHA board of directors approved its purchase upon the recommendation of Froilan Kampitan of the agency’s National Capital Region management office.

Kampitan was reportedly involved in another overpriced land deal with the Achievers Farm comprising several lots in Libtong, Meycauayan, Bulacan. One of the lots was bought by the NHA at P40 million, although it was sold to Achievers Farm recently for only P4 million.

Yet another ambitious resettlement project in Norzagaray, this time jointly entered into by the North Luzon Railways Corp., the provincial government of Bulacan and a private contractor, the Alto Projekt Asia Inc. (APAI), has not been able to deliver 10,000 homelots for North Rail-affected families.

That property was donated by the NLRC to the Bulacan Housing and Agro-Industrial (BUHAI) project. The project, of which P118 million had already been paid by the NLRC, was supposed to develop and subdivide10 hectares of property into 813 lots. But as it appears now, the costly BUHAI project, which has so far only built 57 housing units, will likely not be utilized since an in-city/town relocation was adopted in Bulacan. — with additional reporting by Luz Rimban