Pullout of US troops ‘needs study’

VICE President Leni Robredo advised caution on any plan to pull out American troops from Mindanao after President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his desire to see them go.

“This needs to be studied thoroughly, especially now when there is a war going on. The fight against the rebels requires a lot of resources,” she told the media in a gathering Tuesday at Rico’s Lechon in Lapu-Lapu City.

In the same venue, she also gave her views on an alleged plot to unseat Duterte and outlined her plans to speed up the provision of shelter for the poor.

Robredo said every decision has good and bad consequences, so all these have to be weighed, especially since the lives of Philippine soldiers are at stake.

Many soldiers have died in the fight against the terror group Abu Sayyaf.

“I think the President will decide accordingly. I think this is part of his efforts to seek an independent foreign policy,” she said.

On Monday, Duterte said he wanted US forces to leave Mindanao to avoid their becoming targets of the Abu Sayyaf. US forces in Mindanao help Filipino troops with intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla’s take on this was that Duterte had merely expressed concern for the Americans’ safety amid fears of reprisal from the Moros.

This, after Duterte lambasted the United States for the killing of hundreds of Filipino Muslims by US forces in the Battle of Bud Dajo in Sulu over a century ago.

Duterte brought up the massacre at last week’s Association of Southeast Nations Summit in Laos to drive home the point that US President Barack Obama had no right to lecture him on human rights violations in his administration’s bloody war against drug pushers.

At the summit, Duterte said he would not allow the Philippines “to be shouted at and lectured upon by any foreign country or by any president.”

No plot

Robredo also denied claims by Duterte that the Liberal Party (LP) is seeking to impeach him. She is the highest-ranking official of the LP in the present administration.

She said the LP had made an alliance with Duterte’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan party to support the president.

“He deserves our support. Our country can’t afford another upheaval,” the vice president said. “The success of his presidency is the success of our nation. I would discourage any attempt to destroy his administration. I will not support it because it is not good for the country.”

As Robredo expressed her support for Duterte, she said the president had also expressed support for her plans to boost housing as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), which coordinates the activities of the housing agencies.

“There is a backlog of five to six million homes. But we can produce only 200,000 socialized housing a year,” she lamented.

She hopes to eliminate this backlog by 2020. But the challenges are legion.

No budget

“HUDCC is not a department. Its budget is for salaries and operational expenses only, none for housing programs,” she said.

“We are now auditing the housing programs because the shelter agencies have resources,” she said, citing the National Housing Authority and the Pag-ibig Fund.
She also said the shelter agencies’ functions overlapped.

Robredo said the housing budget is usually less than one percent of the national budget only.

Another problem is Hudcc has to go through the Office of the President to get executive orders made in order to get things done because “we don’t have a mandate yet because we are not a department.”

She was optimistic, however, that HUDCC could be converted into a department, citing the support of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and President Duterte.

“President Duterte said whatever is needed to boost housing, he’ll be very supportive.” she said.

Partnership

The housing czar said she was considering public-private partnerships for housing.

“I’ve placed a person just to take care of public-private partnerships. A good model is Quezon City. It partnered with Phinma Properties,” she said.

Under the partnership, landowners donate the land. The front portion is made commercial for the landowners, while the back portion of the land is for socialized housing.

“We will also look at other modalities,” she said. “Gawad Kalinga has usufruct, and it is working.In Valenzuela, public rental is being done, like in Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. In Thailand, it’s mixed public rental and ownership. There’s an income threshold. If you don’t meet the income threshold, then you (qualify) for rental only.”

In Manila, she said, the preference was to build the socialized housing onsite and in-city. Off-site housing had not been successful, with many people who had been given relocation reselling the property given to them so they could return to Manila to find work.

Families also broke up, she said, with the breadwinners going back to Manila to work. Many off-site housing units were unoccupied due to the lack of income opportunities in these sites.

“Our metric (of success) should be changed. It should be how many families we brought out of poverty because we gave them a home, rather than the number of houses built,” she said.

With the cost of land high, Robredo also said, “Mid-rise (development) is the way to go.”

The Land Registration Authority is now doing an inventory of the government land available for housing, so that the government does not have to buy land from the private sector.

Processing

Robredo added that the Social Housing Finance Corp. had lowered the number of documents needed for home processing from 27 documents to nine documents.

“Processing for a house now takes two years. We want to shorten this time not only for the benefit of the informal settlers but also for the investors. It takes a long time for them (investors) to be paid.”

She said urban poor groups had to keep going back to Manila to process their papers, a situation she found unjust.

“They should make one visit only,” she said, after which the passing of the documents should already be done “government to government.”

She said they hope to set up a one-stop shop for the processing of all housing documents by yearend.
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