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VP Noli affirms RP government's commitment to fight urban poverty

20 June 2006

(Vancouver, Canada) While there has been progress in improving the lives of the Filipino urban poor, “there is much more to be done to address urban poverty in the Philippines,” Vice President Noli ‘Kabayan’ de Castro said in a dialogue today, which is part of the third session of the World Urban Forum (WUF3) organized by U.N. Habitat in Vancouver, Canada.

The dialogue, dubbed  “Achieving the MDGs: Slum Upgrading and Affordable Housing” opened with a clip from the 1990 documentary film “On Borrowed Land” which examines the urban crisis in Manila arising from the post-EDSA flood of rural migrants and the emergence of sprawling squatter communities along Manila Bay.

Asked whether the conditions of the urban poor have changed in sixteen years, De Castro said that results have been “mixed.”

“Perhaps the most dramatic symbol is our successful transformation of the erstwhile icon of urban poverty in the PhilippinesSmokey Mountain—into a commercial and residential center,” he said.

However, De Castro pointed out that “there are many more pockets of urban blight and poverty that government has yet to address.”

He also revealed that while poverty incidence has gone down from 44.2% in 1985 to 30.4% in 2003, the absolute number of poor families continues to rise due to population growth, migration to urban centers, and limited resources to provide for the needs of the poor.

On the so-called “voluntary-evictions” undertaken by the government last year, De Castro clarified that demolition and evictions are avoided or deferred “as long as the continued stay of the informal settlers in their present sites do not pose a danger to others or to themselves.”

He said that whenever feasible, the government regularizes the tenure of informal settlers through presidential proclamations disposing public land as socialized housing sites.

He explained that the “voluntary eviction” was part of the “beneficiary-led and localized” resettlement program for informal settlers affected by the clearing operations for the North-South Rail Linkage project.

The resettlement program has so far led to the peaceful relocation of all the families from Phase 1 of the North Rail alignment.

Echoing his remark during the opening of WUF3, De Castro said that the government remains “committed to wage a relentless battle against poverty in our cities and urban areas.”

In a meeting with U.N. Habitat Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka following the dialogue, the Vice President reiterated the Philippines’ full support in pursuing the goals of the habitat agenda “both at the national and international levels.”

He assured Tibaijuka that the Philippine government continues to champion the principles of the twin campaigns on secure tenure and good urban governance supported by the U.N. Habitat.

Among the flagship programs under the twin campaigns are the Community Mortgage Program and the Resettlement Program, particularly for some 80,000 families along the mainline railway system.

De Castro expressed hope that U.N. Habitat will be able to mobilize financing for important programs such as the Slum Upgrading Facility, which is “essential for the full implementation of the Habitat agenda and the Millennium Development Goals.”

He also relayed to Tibaijuka the Philippine government’s proposal for Manila to be the host of the fifth session of the World Urban Forum.

The World Urban Forum is a biennial gathering attended by a wide range of partners, from non-government organizations, community-based organizations, urban professionals and academics, to governments, local authorities and national and international associations of local governments.

WUF3, with the theme “Our Future: Sustainable Cities – Turning Ideas into Action” attracted some 15,000 registered participants from different countries.

Ref no. VPMEDIA 06-070

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