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    Architects of Progress

    28 April 2017 Message at the 1st United Architects of the Philippines, Student Auxiliary (UAPSA) Symposium, SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia, Pasay City, 28 April 2017

    Arch. Wilfred Gacutan, Executive Director, Commission on Education; Arch. Guillermo Hisancha, UAP National President; Arch. Renato Heray, UAP Secretary General; Mr. Jet Levi Joson, UAPSA National President; Mr. Airon Samac, National Executive Vice President; architects, students of architecture, members of the academe, students, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen: Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat.

    When I was still a member of Congress – I was telling your National President – that I’ve had the chance to work with the Board several times because we were trying to come up with a legislation, which we were not successful in passing. Sabi ko po sa Secretary-General, sana ngayong 17th Congress, maipasa na rin because it will be very beneficial to the architects present.

    But even as I have worked with UAP before already, up until your invitation for me to speak in this event, I did not know that there was a UAP Auxiliary. And I was telling your officers earlier that it is a good thing that the people before you have thought of organizing this since early on, our students of architecture are already immersed in the realities on the ground.

    Sigurado ako na kapag nag-practice na kayo, makikita niyo na ibang-iba iyong reality sa pinag-aaralan natin madalas dahil maraming problema on the ground na hindi nalalaman until nasasabak sa problema.

    First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone for the invitation to speak before you today. I was asked to speak on the housing situation in our country.

    After my resignation as HUDCC Chair last December, we, at the Office of the Vice President, have continued our work in finding solutions to the shelter needs of our fellowmen. And I hope that by the end of this forum, we can see more clearly how we can fill the gaps of this longstanding problem.

    Second, sinabi ko na ito kanina pero uulitin ko ngayon, I would like to congratulate the UAP and UAPSA —the youth arm of the United Architects of the Philippines—for successfully organizing this symposium. Sabi ng presidente niyo, halos 25 years na ang UAPSA.

    It is in gatherings such as this where ideas and discussions go unrestrained – we hope – leading tostrategies and innovations that build stronger and reliable communities. May this be the first of many more gatherings to come.

    As architects and future architects, your role is crucial in the mission to build more homes. You draft the blueprints and turn visions into tangible realities. You make sure that building costs are followed. Ito iyong pinakamahirap sa lahat. I expect that you, of all people, know the importance of planning and strategizing. Every step should be calculated and analyzed. Every line and every curve is planned and studied before they are implemented.

    I hope that you will agree with me that we need to plan better when it comes to addressing our people’s housing problems. We don’t even have proper baseline numbers for the housing backlog and for occupancy levels, among other things. Noong nag-assume ako ng office as HUDCC Chair, walang malinaw na statistics kung ilan ba talagang bahay ang kailangan. And I think one of the reasons for this is we have been so used to measuring our achievements through the number of houses built—never mind that they don’t have electricity or potable water, and that those who live in them are so far away from where they work.

    If we don’t make a determined push for better planning, housing will truly worsen as one of our country’s silent crises. And even before I resigned from HUDCC, we have identified the following as the urgent issues. If we address them, we might have a fighting chance of reversing this silent crisis.

    First, the housing backlog. Recent figures show that the number of homeless families in the Philippines are at 5.6 million. Napakadami noon. Half of this refers to informal settlers who need houses, while the other half represent the ones who are displaced by disasters. We will need to build more than 2,700 houses a day to address the backlog within the remaining term of the current administration. So, how do we build these homes as fast as we can, without sacrificing quality?

    This leads us to the second issue: the lack of proper facilities and the poor design of the houses. What we envision for our people are not just houses, but happy communities. Fathers and mothers should be near their places of work; homes should have electricity and potable water. Telephone lines and septage tanks are available; children should have space for running and playing; even perhaps a small library for the community; and most importantly, a good school they can go to, among others.

    Third, and perhaps the biggest problem, is how we deal with the rapid urbanization in Metro Manila and other cities. Urbanization brings with it power, as well as pain. As shown in cities around the world, well-designed cities increase productivity and allow people to live happier lives. But a poorly designed city – siguro kagaya ng Manila – coupled with an exploding population, gives rise to shanties that are vulnerable in the face of calamities, lead to poor quality of life, and criminality. Cities like these are a drain on government finances. So we need a more strategic approach towards efficient, safe, and sustainable urban development.

    On relocation, for example. Alam niyo iyong pag-relocate, gusto lang ilabas nang ilabas sa Manila. Naghahanap ng mga murang lupa sa labas ng Manila, doon tinatapon iyong mga informal settlers. But what we are advocating for is either in-city or on-site relocation, because we do not want to take people away from their livelihood here in Metro Manila. Putting them far from their places of work reduces productivity, and will impede their success and their growth.

    This is also the reason why we have a lot of unoccupied houses constructed by the government for informal settlers. Siguro napapanood niyo sa TV lately, ‘di ba iyong mga KADAMAY, in-occupy iyong mga unoccupied houses. And maybe you will ask yourselves: Bakit ang laki-laki ng backlog, pero ang dami namang unoccupied houses? Kasi maraming mga bahay ang ipinapatayo sa labas ng Metro Manila, malayo sa trabaho, malayo sa access to public transportation. Ang iba walang kuryente, walang potable water. So, tinatanggap lang nila iyong mga bahay kapag ina-award na sa kanila, pero hindi naman nila tinitirhan. Paminsan, ginagawang investment. Paminsan, kinukuha lang. Paminsan, binebenta iyong rights. Pero babalik sila sa Metro Manila again as informal settlers. They return to the city where the jobs are. They would rather be informal settlers in Manila, rather than live in their own homes that are far and most of the time, lack the basic necessities of a livable home.

    We are also advocating People’s Plans for informal settlers, where residents themselves can join in conceptualizing their community. Based on our experience in Naga City, we build better communities when housing beneficiaries are partners in development.

    After all, isn’t it true that in the process of building a home, it is really the owner who knows exactly what is best for him and his family, and the expert builder’s job is to carry out his wishes? This way, the houses or communities are tailor-fitted to the resident’s needs, and they understand the kind of financial restraints or funding limitations that are given to them. Including the residents in the planning allows us to build better, livable communities, plus, they are happier when they move in.

    And why am I telling you this? Because when I became HUDCC Chair, iyong mga tao nabigyan na nga ng bahay at lupa, marami pang reklamo. Pero maraming reklamo kasi kahit may bahay at lupa, iyong bahay at lupa hindi naman nasasagot iyong kanilang pangangailangan.

    So, we said that from hereon, let us advocate for People’s Plans wherein we don’t give houses just for the sake of giving. We not just allow, but we require the beneficiaries of the houses to be involved in the planning, every step of the way. That way, walang reklamo pagkatapos at nangyayari iyong kanilang kagustuhan. Para din iyong magiging mga kliyente niyo in the future. Hindi lang kayo nagbi-build for the sake of building. But you build in order to give realities to the dreams of your clients.

    We also need to help local government units evolve into efficient urban managers. LGU officials are closer to the people; they know what is happening on the ground. You can support them as efficient urban managers so that they can build cities that employ innovation and address emerging challenges like climate change and a rapidly growing population.

    Again, why am I telling you this? Kasi the number one complaint of local government officials is tinatapunan kami nang tinatapunan ng relocates pero hindi naman kami nakokonsulta. Kaya kami walang ma-provide na tubig, kaya kami walang ma-provide na services, because we were not consulted at all. So, for us to have better urban managers in our local government units, parang mga tao rin, parang mga beneficiaries din, they have to be involved in every step of the way.

    We were already making progress with these concerns when I was still HUDCC chairperson. In fact, we already have an inventory of all government lands in Metro Manila that can be used for “on-site, in-city” relocation areas for our urban poor dwellers.

    Kasi developers have always been telling us, kaya hindi puwede iyong on-site saka in-city kasi wala nang available na lupa sa Manila. At napakamahal na ng lupa. But when we made an inventory of all government properties in the city, marami doon, hindi ginagamit. At marami nga doon, marami nang squatters. Nagiging very unproductive iyong land. So, iyong sa amin lang, because of the inventory, we can already plan out.

    We can use government property that will not cost the government so much kasi hindi naman magpo-profit iyong government, and we’ll be able to plan accordingly. So, the solution that we sought was to identify all these government properties, look for those which are feasible for housing, gumawa ng mga mid-rise buildings – iyong hindi na kailangan ng elevator para hindi masyadong magastos. Then we could immediately address some of our shelter concerns despite our budgetary concerns.

    We were also aggressively looking at public-private partnerships that would allow the government to build communities at low costs but high quality. Companies like Phinma Properties have proven that these developments can be commercially viable, as shown by their on-site resettlement investments in Quezon City. Hindi ko alam if narinig niyo na iyong mga Bistek Ville sa Quezon City. Pero iyong mga Bistek Villes, some of them were made through the partnership of the Quezon City government with Phinma Properties. Wala masyadong gastos iyong local government kasi it’s a partnership with private corporations na ang gumagastos ay iyong private corporations. So far, it has become very viable.

    In the past, informal settler families would pay anywhere from 1,500 to 3,500 pesos a month as rent, to dwell in a 10-square meter space with no proper sewerage and drainage system. Kasi what we found out was itong mga blighted areas, mga squatter areas, iyong mga nakatira diyan, merong mga dumidilihensiya. Gumagawa ng mga kuwarto-kuwarto, pinapaupahan. Napakamahal. Nagse-shell out sila mga 1,500 until 3,500 pesos. Ang liit-liit ng mga spaces.

    But the example of Phinma’s partnership with the Quezon City government, and Pag-ibig Fund and several partner NGOs, these families today shell out only a little bit more than 2,000 pesos as monthly amortization for a decent 26-square meter home with loft provisions, that have proper sewerage and drainage and security of tenure. Kanila na.

    When I decided to step down from my Cabinet post in December, the Office of the Vice President decided to retain housing as a major advocacy, knowing the magnitude of concerns in the housing sector. It fits very well with our existing ones. Our anti-poverty program called Angat Buhay addresses the biggest problems of the ordinary Filipino: maternal and child healthcare, food security and nutrition, quality secondary education, and women empowerment. The issue of shelter “houses” all of these concerns under one roof, so to speak.

    In all our visits, it is striking how shelter is such a major concern in our country. But we believe, we can’t be simply satisfied by the ability to put a roof over someone’s head. It is more than that. The challenge is not merely to fill the gaps, but to foster prosperity that encompasses all.

    I imagine that you all would take advantage of today’s activities to talk with your colleagues and share your ideas with them. Ako sigurado ako, kahit iyong mga mas matatanda dito, maraming matututunan sa inyong mas bata. Sa opisina po namin, isa ako sa pinakamatanda. The average age in my office is less than 30. In fact, my Chief of Staff is only 34 years old. Karamihan nasa 20s lang. At kaming matatanda – lima lang yata kaming matatanda – marami kaming natututunan sa mga bata.

    Find common grounds and begin projects with these young people. Discuss with one another your thoughts on the latest trends in the field, and enhance each other’s knowledge of design. Those of you who are here today are not only here to share your best practices, innovations, plans, and experiences. All of us here are partners in advancing a common cause.

    Ultimately, the outcomes of this forum should transform lives in a very concrete way. Our progress as a nation can only be attained if we all work together, finding better options to offer our people.

    More than just building homes, let us be architects of progress, fostering sustainable and resilient communities. Remember, behind every project is a face, a story of a Filipino, fighting tooth and nail to be able to provide shelter for his family. Maraming salamat po sa inyo and may you have a productive day ahead. Magandang hapon muli sa inyong lahat.

    Posted in Speeches on Apr 28, 2017