Senators on Wednesday, October 21, said they would push for a higher 2021 budget for the government’s housing agencies, but urged them to prove worthy of it in light of huge backlogs in public housing projects.
The lawmakers noted the “very meager” P3.975 billion allotted for housing agencies in the 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP) – the Executive’s budget proposal.
The amount was only 0.08% of the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for the coming year, and a mere 0.02% of the country’s GDP. With it, the government can only build around 2,000 out of some 1.8 million homes it plans to build for informal settlers by 2022, according to National Housing Authority (NHA) chief Marcelino Escalada Jr.
The government housing sector’s total backlog is 6.5 million units, for which the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) would need P30 billion yearly to complete.
“The total intelligence funds of the whole government under the 2021 budget is over P5 billion. The confidential fund is P4.5 billion. The intelligence and confidential funds therefore amount to at least P9.5 billion in the entire budget. Contrast that with the P4-billion budget in the housing sector,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said at the Senate finance committee’s hearing of the proposed 2021 budget of the DHSUD and its attached agencies.
Drilon and other senators present at the hearing – Risa Hontiveros, Imee Marcos, Nancy Binay, Cynthia Villar, Francis Tolentino, Sherwin Gatchalian, Bong Revilla, Bong Go, and Senate President pro tempore Ralph Recto – were in consensus that the housing agencies needed more funding.
However, the senators also criticized the housing agencies for their backlogs and other apparent inefficiencies.
Drilon chided Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario for having delegated the presentation of the budget of the DHSUD – a new agency established in February 2019 – to a subordinate. Del Rosario apologized for this.
Drilon said that as the head of a new agency, Del Rosario should have shown mastery of his department’s affairs, as well as those of the agencies under its supervision.
No housing funds for disaster victims
Binay asked about the relocation of people affected by the January 2020 eruption of the Taal Volcano. Escalada said no funds were allocated for this in the 2020 budget and proposed 2021 budget, and the NHA instead offered some 10,000 existing housing units in Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna.
Only about 600 families have availed of the government’s offer so far, and more than 2,000 families displaced by Taal are still waiting for relocation within their hometowns, Del Rosario told the Senate panel.
The NHA is supposed to receive P1 billion for its Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP) in 2020, but Escalada said it has yet to be released to the agency. Because of this, the NHA currently has no funds to assist people whose homes are damaged or destroyed during natural disasters, Escalada added.
An official from the Department of Budget and Management told the panel the P1 billion for the EHAP is being readied for release to the NHA.
“Halos wala tayong nabigay na tulong doon sa mga nawalan o nasiraan ng bahay dahil sa pagputok ng Taal Volcano (So we gave almost no assistance to those whose homes were lost or damaged because of Taal Volcano’s eruption). Is this a correct assessment, Secretary?” Binay asked Del Rosario.
“Basically, Ma’am,” Del Rosario replied, but added that existing housing units for the military and police were offered to Taal victims.
Del Rosario affirmed that there was no budget on hand specifically for housing assistance to victims of disasters.
Yolanda housing projects still incomplete
Marcos asked about housing projects for victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which devastated her mother Imelda Marcos’ hometown of Leyte in 2013.
Out of more 220,000 houses to be built, only a little over 130,000 have been completed. Another 50,000 units are currently under construction, Escalada said.
For people displaced from war-ravaged Marawi City, the NHA has built 4,800 housing units, of which more than 2,300 are now occupied, said Escalada. The construction of another 2,000 “permanent shelters” is 20% done, he added.
The NHA plans to finish all Yolanda-related housing projects by 2022 – 9 years since the calamity.
Disappointed at the housing agencies’ performance, the senators gave their endorsement of a higher budget with a caveat.
“Katulad ng ibang mga senador, gustong-gusto ko na dagdagan ang budget po ninyo pero sana, may maipakita naman kayong matitino at magagandang projects,” Marcos told the housing officials. (Like the other senators, I really want to increase your budget but I wish you would have good and nice projects to show for.)
“Fair enough,” quipped Hontiveros, the committee chairperson.
Take funds from other agencies?
But funding is a key factor in the housing agencies’ lackluster performance, the lawmakers acknowledged.
The housing sector’s proposed 2021 budget is just over half of its 2020 budget of P7.83 billion. For 2021, the DHSUD requested a budget of P76.19 billion but only about 5% of it ended up in the NEP.
Tolentino noted that proper housing is an important line of defense against the pandemic. How can people self-isolate if they don’t have homes of their own?
To help augment the housing sector’s budget, he urged Del Rosario to be “proactive” and write letters to 5 other agencies that have budgets for housing even if it is not in their mandate:
- Department of the Interior and Local Government: P112.3 Million representing the Resettlement Governance Assistance Fund
- Department of Agrarian Reform: P1.9 Billion for the Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries’ Development and Sustainability Program
- Department of Transportation: P18.9 Billion for the Right-of-Way Acquisition Program to relocate households affected by infrastructure projects
- Department of Social Welfare and Development: P4.15 billion for its Disaster Response and Management program
- The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council under the Office of Civil Defense, supervised by the Department of National Defense
Tolentino urged Del Rosario to ask the heads of these agencies to allow their proposed housing budgets for 2021 to be transferred to the DHSUD and its attached agencies. Drilon said the Senate itself can do the reallocations, having the constitutional power of the purse.
Recto said the NHA should provide housing only for informal settlers. Socialized housing projects for the “salaried,” including members of the military and police, should be done in tandem with private companies.
“Considering what we are doing today, (the housing program) is totally unsustainable, and we will never be able to solve the problem of housing. I think we should adopt a more privately-led housing system to be able to provide more affordable homes with better quality,” Recto said. – Rappler.com