Los Baños eyes measures on informal settling

A child stands in front of their house found in Maahas, Los Baños relocation site. The relocation site has 76 houses which the Municipal Urban Development and Housing Office built for informal settlers of Barangays Bambang and Lalakay.

by Asle Carey A. Ciscar

The woman wailed when she saw their clothes, utensils and other belongings washed out from their house in Bambang, Los Baños. The sight was painful for Irene Malana, 44, who had their house cleared during the havoc of Habagat or southwest monsoon in August.

Malana said it was past midnight of August 8 when they heard a huge blast due to collapse of terrain and rocks from the mountainside. She said that upon hearing the blast, residents immediately ran to the evacuation center because of fear for massive landslides.

Akala namin hanggang doon nalang ang buhay namin kasi may gumuguho dito, mayroon din dyan, meron pa doon. Kasabay pa nun yung napakalakas na daloy ng tubig na may kasamang mga bato [We thought that our lives would end there because there were landslides everywhere. Synchronous to it was flashflood that carried away rocks], she said.

Malana was one of the 496 informal settlers in Bambang who were displaced from their houses due to massive flooding, rockslides and landslides. Yet despite the risks of informal settling in Bambang, barangay officials said that the number of informal settlers is increasing. From 1,345 families in 2008, they already have recorded 1,800 families in the first quarter of 2012.

Increased informal settlers

Records from Municipal Urban Development and Housing Office (MUDHO) show that the increase is not in Bambang alone, but in the whole Los Baños, Laguna. From 6,366 families in 2011, MUDHO has recorded an increase of 462 families in 2012. Bambang has the highest number of informal settlers among the municipality’s 14 barangays.

According to National Statistics Office (NSO), it has a total population of 109,210 in 2011, about 31% of which are informal settlers or squatters. Los Baños is located just 63 kilometers southeast of Manila, which also has its problems with informal settlers.

According to MUDHO Administrative Assistant Annie Dimaano, the increase was highest since the start of informal settling survey in 2002. She said that even if no relocation of informal settlers from Manila to Los Baños was taken, the increase was still incurred due to increased number of immigrants from different provinces such as Sorsogon, Bicol and Quezon.

Comprehensive inventory

In response to informal settling problems, MUDHO has started in August its first Comprehensive Inventory of Informal Settlers. The inventory involves demographic and economic profiling of informal settlers in the whole municipality, as well as other factors that would help MUDHO in establishing appropriate solutions.

Hindi tapal-tapal na solusyon ang gusto ng present administration, kundi permanent solutions. Kung walang inventory, kung ano lang makita, yun lang ang masosolusyunan [The present administration wants not selective but permanent solutions. If there’s no inventory, only those problems seen can be solved],” said Dimaano.

Dimaano added that the result of the inventory will be the “basis of MUDHO in establishing comprehensive, permanent and rational shelter plan” to address informal settling problems in the municipality.

Relocation

MUDHO has also been relocating residents from Bambang, Lalakay and Tuntungin-Putho to relocation sites in Maahas and Lalakay.

The program called Core Shelter Assistance Project (CSAP) provides “typhoon resistant housing units” for families who were greatly affected by typhoons Milenyo and Reming. Each family-beneficiary will receive P70 000.00 cost of assistance and will build their housing units themselves. It was implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development of Region IV-A under the Administrative Order No. 76, Series 1998.

Dimaano said that through CSAP, they already have relocated a total of 124 families. She said that 100 more houses are being constructed for the CSAP housing project. She added that based from the partial result of the comprehensive inventory in August, they are now making an inventory of collected housing sites where they could establish community settlements that are “far from danger”.

Dimaano also admitted that the ongoing construction of housing sites is not enough to cater the needs of informal settlers in Los Baños. She said one of the major problems they face is to find an idle land where the informal settlers can be relocated.

Meanwhile, Lilibeth Pondivida, a former resident of Bambang, was one of the residents relocated to Maahas relocation site. She was living in upper Dampalit then and experienced numerous rock slides and flashfloods.

Ngayon maayos na tulog namin. Hindi tulad noong nasa taas, inisip mo lagi na baka may babagsak na bato. Kung bumaha man dito, hanggang talampakan lang at hindi pa malakas ang agos,” said Pondivida.

Employment woes

Pondivida, however, said that living is far difficult in relocation site than in upper Dampalit. She said that they could depend their living in resources available in upper Dampalit, such as various crops, drinking water and firewood; while not even a single crop can be planted in the relocation site. She added that people in the relocation site could hardly get stable jobs since most of them have not finished their education.

Kung bumabagyo, mas magandang tumira dito. Pero kung okay naman yung panahon, mas maganda dun kasi mas madali ang buhay sa taas [It’s better to live in relocation site if there are storms. But life is easier in upper Dampalit],” Pondivida said.

Matilde Erasga, livelihood officer of Gender and Development (GAD) Los Baños, said that GAD has been conducting livelihood trainings for women development. Dubbed as “One barangay, One product”, the program mobilizes 30 female residents in each barangay.

As the program title implies, women are trained on how to produce a particular product which they can sell for a living. Erasga added that the program provides capital for the participants so that they can be able to start a small business.

Erasga cleared that the program is not offered for informal settlers alone. But according to her, barangay officials, who determine the program beneficiaries, focus on mobilizing informal settlers because “they need it more than anyone else.”

Everyone’s task

Since the whole municipality is affected by the problems of informal settling, Dr. Esteban Godilano, a member of the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines,  said that everyone should get involved and participate in addressing them, like helping the local government in monitoring areas and prohibiting people who plan to build houses illegally. He said the government, on the other, should secure stable jobs for informal settlers, as well as lead and support everyone’s effort.

“If we would be able to tap issues on informal settling, informal settlers would contribute to the development of the municipality,” said Dr. Godilano.

He said that informal settlers could provide benefits to the municipality as most of them provide blue collar jobs such as construction workers, carpenters and laundresses. He said that, if mobilized, they could also help in cleaning, rehabilitating and restoring the environment.

Ang parte ng problema ay parte din ng solusyon [A part of a problem is a part of solution as well,” he added.

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