MANILA, Philippines – Some barangay officials do not just collude with squatting syndicates. They even maintain “squatter colonies” for the elections.
Sen JV Ejercito called on the government to hold barangay officials accountable as it relocates informal settlers living near waterways.
In an interview on Wednesday, July 31, the former San Juan mayor commended the Aquino administration’s efforts to move 20,000 families living near waterways in Metro Manila as part of its flood control master plan.
READ: Aquino flood plan: Move 20,000 families this year
“At least the administration has political will, so even if I am with the opposition, we see they are really keen on getting this done. I support that because I was also a former chief executive and, in 2009, I was mayor of San Juan when [Tropical Storm] Ondoy struck Metro Manila. We were all caught off guard at that time,” he said.
Ejercito added, “I would rather see people get mad at the government for relocating them than stay in the danger zone and die when disaster strikes.”
The senator is the chairman of the Senate committee on housing and urban planning. He said he will tap architect Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr as consultant.
Yet Ejercito said, for the relocation plan to be effective, the government must file cases against barangay officials who allow informal settlers to return after they have been relocated.
“A big factor why informal settlers grew over the years is barangay officials sometimes make them a source of votes. It’s not the mayors or governors but the barangay officials because in elections, they fight it out by hundreds of votes so sometimes they maintain ‘colonies.’ So we should hold them liable,” he said.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson earlier admitted that the relocation was delayed because some officials requested not to time it with the barangay elections.
Ejercito said filing cases against erring barangay officials will show that the administration is “dead serious” about addressing floods, and ending the cycle of relocating people only to have them come back.
“When they see establishments being built near waterways, barangay officials should already block them. We can’t always blame mayors because they do not know everything that happens in their jurisdiction, especially for big areas like Quezon City.”
The senator made the statement as heavy rain again caused floods in Metro Manila. It was also the last day of registration for the barangay polls in October.
Ejercito said that San Juan is working on a housing program that other local government units can copy if it becomes successful. His mother, Guia Gomez, is the current mayor of San Juan.
“It’s an ambitious project. We have in-city housing units for the informal settlers. It’s medium-rise housing, 5-story building. San Juan is now expropriating and purchasing land used by factories that are not operational anymore.”
Ejercito said the target is to provide housing to 2,000 to 2,500 informal settler families in San Juan, using 4 to 5 hectares of land.
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week, President Benigno Aquino III said the national government is coordinating with local government units in the relocation of informal settlers.
Aquino said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is already preparing cases against those who built buildings blocking waterways.
“But let’s also ask ourselves: What have we contributed to the problem? If someone is building structures near waterways, tell the government about it. The more we will sink with all the problems if we do nothing about them,” the President said.
‘I’ll be first to applaud if he fixes Customs’
Ejercito said Aquino must use his political will not just in relocating informal settlers but also in reforming the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
The senator said Aquino must ask top Customs officials to resign, and possibly even head the agency himself. He said the President must set a timeline for cleaning up the bureau, with only 3 years left in his administration.
“It’s like when you make the President the flooding czar of Metro Manila. Normally, you’d have the 17 mayors of Metro Manila each doing their own thing. But with the President as head, who wouldn’t follow him?”
Ejercito said Aquino should have accepted the resignation of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon after he slammed the bureau in his SONA. Biazon texted Aquino about resigning but the President replied that he still trusts him.
The senator quipped, “If it were me. I will also text back, ‘Please put your resignation in writing.’”
Asked why he thinks Aquino did not accept Biazon’s resignation, Ejercito said, “Mahirap sigurong pakawalan kapag kakulay.” (It’s hard to let go of a partymate.)
Aquino and Biazon are members of the ruling Liberal Party while Ejercito ran and won under the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
“Mabigat talaga, mahirap ang trabaho. Pero kung magawa ng administrasyong Aquino, even if I belong to the minority, ako ang unang papalakpak sa kanila.”
(The job is really hard but if the administration can do it, even if I belong to the minority, I will be the first to applaud them). – Rappler.com
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