FILE: A poor residential district and "squatter" colonies are seen near high-rise residential and commercial buildings in Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines July 4, 2013. Image Credit: REUTERS

Manila: A new housing drive is in the works in the Philippines. The bold target: provide adequate housing for the millions of the so-called informal settlers, who provide an essential source of low-cost labour in Metro Manila, and major cities, and a key driver of economic growth.

On Monday, the Board of Directors of the Home Development Mutual Fund (HMDF, also known as Pag-Ibig Fund), approved a Php250-billion ($4.42-billion) spending earmarked for "Pambansang Pabahay para sa Pilipino" (National Housing Program for Filipinos).

It's one of the cornerstone projects pushed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr following his landslide victory in the May elections.

Target 2028: 'Zero informal settlers'
The Pambansang Pabahay Para sa Pilipino Program (5Ps) is a bold scheme with an ambitious target. It seeks to tap funds from the private sector to bankroll the “zero ISFs (informal settler families)” by 2028.

The annual target: 1 million houses to be built per year. Secretary Acuzar, a property developer, seeks to push the project via Local Government Units.

Acuzar declared he wanted to have at least one groundbreaking ceremony every week.

Target: 6 million units in 6 years

It sets the ball rolling to build 6 million housing units aimed to plug a huge housing backlog, especially in the densely populated metropolises. The funding was approved Monday during a meeting chaired by Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) Secretary Jose Rizalino Acuzar.

Acuzar said this help the country hit the target to build 6 million housing units during Marcos Jr's six-year watch. under President Marcos Jr., from 2022 to 2028.

"This is a significant boost to our President's Pambansang Pabahay para sa Pilipino Program — a giant step toward realising every Filipino family's dream of having adequate, safe, and cheap shelters," Acuzar said in a statement on Tuesday (November 29).

"On behalf of those wishing to have their dream homes, my deepest gratitude to the members of the Pag-IBIG Fund Board of Trustees especially to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Marilene Acosta for her all-out support," he added.

6.5 million units 'housing backlog'

With guaranteed money from the Pag-Ibig Fund, Acuzar is confident the programme would deliver on its promise. The Asian country's current housing backlog is estimate at more than 6.5 million units.

Specifcally, Marcos Jr. charged the DHSUD with building one million residences every year for the following six years under the scheme.

Informal settlers
Official statistics put Metro Manila's population at about 12 million.

More than 500,000 people as estimated to live as squatters, or as they call themselves, informal settler families, according to one estimate.

However, slums are now scattered over 526 communities in all 16 cities and 1 municipality of Metro Manila, housing 2.5 million people on vacant private or public lands, usually along rivers, near garbage dumps, along railroad tracks, under bridges and beside industrial establishments.

Memorandum of agreement

In a related event, the Pag-Ibig Fund inked a memorandum of arrangement (MOA) with Bacolod City Mayor Albee Benitez on Monday for the construction of 10,000 dwelling units for informal settler families (ISFs).

2020 war on drugs
Policemen patrol around a slum area during a police operation as part of the continuing 'War on Drugs' campaign of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila, Philippines. Image Credit: AP

The historic agreement is the first to be inked under the programme, and marks the beginning of the government's strategy to solve the country's housing requirements.

Idle government lands for housing
On November 7, 2022, local media reported that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. was set to issue a new Executive Order (EO) to implement a government mandate to reserve its idle lands for housing projects.

A government land is deemed “idle” if it has been unutilised for at least 10 years and suitable for urban development.

Over 16,000 hectares of idle lands — the equivalent of 22,407 football fields — are expected to be covered by the inventory, according to government data.

Among the agencies tasked to conduct the assessment are the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Land Registration Authority (LRA).

New housing drive

According to Acuzar, the agreement unleashes the full potential of the new housing initiative, particularly the financial framework and active engagement of government financial institutions (GFIs) and the private sector.

The MOA charges DHSUD with facilitating the housing project's implementation in partnership with local government units (LGU) and other relevant agencies by acting as that of the "overall enabler, initiator, and coordinator".

According to the agreement, Bacolod City will begin fulfilling the requirements for a development loan from the Pag-IBIG Fund to fund land development and house building.

Acosta, the Pag-Ibig CEO, has agreed to offer DHSUD and the local administration with all financial and technical help required for the project.

The new housing initiative should, in principle, help minimum-wage workers who make up a sizeable portion of the informal settler population in the Philippines and who are entitled to decent housing.

Many of the government’s housing projects show high-rise residential buildings. In one project in Marikina, for example, each building was envisioned to have 21 floors, where a total of 10,000 families would be accommodated.

These housing units will have to be paid by their eventual owners. The Marikina project is aimed minimum-wage earners and government employees. It is understood that the government funding will partly pay for interest subsidies for the beneficiaries. It's unclear, however, how it would benefit the most helpless and impoverished among the urban poor.

"We totally support DHSUD's initiative to expedite, coordinate, and bring together all sectors' concerns in order to expedite the execution of housing projects in the regions," Acosta stated.

Pag-Ibig Fund, as the first GFI to allocate funds for the new housing initiative, would issue individual home loans to pre-qualified and selected LGU beneficiaries.