Wenceslao: #OccupyPabahay

I WAS one of those caught off-guard when President Rodrigo Duterte, in a recent speech, told the soldier-beneficiaries of a housing project in Bulacan to allow members of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay),who occupied the houses intended for them, to stay. I think even Kadamay must have been surprised by it. I am critical of the president but on that one I was tongue-tied.

I think Kadamay’s campaign is called #OccupyKabahay (I just saw the hashtag in a rappler.com report). A gmanetwork.com post said that Kadamay members have been occupying some 5,000 vacant housing units in seven housing areas in Bulacan since March 8. The National Housing Authority (NHA) apparently wasn’t prepared for the move as shown by its limp reaction. Its warning of eviction didn’t push through.

Duterte himself was ambivalent. A day or two after seemingly showing his concern for the plight of the informal settlers, the president, this time before soldiers of the Western Command in Palawan, accused Kadamay of being used by the Left for anarchical activities. He vowed to limit Kadamay’s #OccupyPabahay to Bulacan and that it won’t be able to occupy more housing units.

Which brings to mind what can be considered a variation of the “occupy” move that happened in Cebu City. Early last year, the administration of then mayor Michael Rama was stumped by reports that a number of informal settlers had occupied the Osmeña Shrine in Barangay Kalunasan and were building houses there. There were claims, which were denied, that former mayor Tomas Osmeña authorized them to do it.

The informal settlers were eventually driven out and the structures they built demolished first by the Rama administration and later by Osmeña when he defeated Rama in the May elections last year. With Osmeña’s vehement denial of being behind the “occupy” move, who instigated it has remained a mystery.

“Occupy” as a form of protest action is not new, though. This has been done by organized peasants in various places of the country to advance the cause for agrarian reform. Some beneficiaries of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, for example, forcibly occupied their farm lots when landlords resisted the distribution to them. Considering the risks involved, I say this is a higher form of protest action.

Admittedly, the act could foster anarchy mainly because it shortcuts governmental process. That is why when the president issued the statement to let the housing unit occupiers in Bulacan be, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco differed with his boss. He said the housing units should be given to the listed beneficiaries or concerned government officials would be legally liable. Evasco, a former priest, is known to be close to the Left.

But actually forcing the government to give the housing units to Kadamay is not the only goal of #OccupyPabahay. With the move, the plight of the informal settlers is being pushed to the limelight and government failings in its housing program exposed. More than that, concerned government officials and agencies are being pushed to straighten up their acts.
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