2020 has been dubbed as a “banner year” for the “Build Build Build (BBB)” program, the primary economic policy of Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. BBB is an aggressive series of infrastructure projects aiming to radically reshape the urban landscape.

The program would bring unparalleled economic growth, massive job creation, and a leap into modernity. China has funded US$14 billion into the project, nearly half of the overall investment. Philippine Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said the public will feel the “full effect”within the following months, meaning massive construction works are about to be set in motion. The Malacañang (Presidential Palace) has also announced that out of the 100 flagship projects, around 38 will be completed before Duterte’s term expires in 2022.

Big campaign promises came with even bigger costs; millions of Filipinos would become homeless at the expense of these gargantuan structures.

Neglected relocation

Over 500,000 Filipino families will be displaced by just 15 of these projects in three years, according to the Joly Homes foundation, a community organizing NGO. The mammoth figure begs the question of how the government will handle the relocation of those affected.

For the Kaliwa Dam project (also China-funded) in the north of the country, Duterte recently ordered the relocation and recompensation of all dislodged locals. The same approach is expected for future eviction cases.

“With the government’s poor record in building adequate housing for those displaced, it is practically impossible that they can keep up with the number of urban poor Filipinos who will lose their homes,” said Bea Arellano, the chairperson of Kadamay (“National Alliance of Filipino Urban Poor”).

Members of Kadamay staged a picket-protest on the first workday of the new year in front of the Malacanang, declaring the regime as "still anti-poor in 2020."

Since Duterte came into power, the housing budget has decreased by 76 percent in just four years. Housing resources are grossly inadequate to deal with the homelessness issue in the country, said Congresswoman Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women's Party and the Congressional Committee for Housing and Urban Development.

"The budget for the housing department and attached agencies for 2020 is way too far from what is required to address the 6.5 million housing backlog in the country," Brosas told The News Lens.


© Michael Beltran

Filipino Rep. Arlene Brosas

As a benchmark in the last five years, construction of the 205,128 housing units for the resettlement sites of Typhoon Haiyan victims was reported in December 2018 to only be occupied by 23 percent of the targeted victims. Typhoon Haiyan was the single deadliest natural disaster to ever hit the country, and shelter for its victims has been pegged as a top priority. But the Duterte government has failed to guarantee shelter for the millions whose communities will be torn down.

A newly established housing department will act as an umbrella agency over the state’s shelter functions. The Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) promises a wider array of provisions that cater to foreign interests and quicker eviction processes, seemingly tailored for the infrastructure projects underway.

The DHSUD law states that "functions to promote partnerships with the private sector through joint venture agreements, memorandum of understanding with local and foreign businesses." In all previous iterations of the law, the word foreign was left out. Only under Duterte has an agency been tasked specifically with facilitating capital interests from abroad. The DHSUD will be able to speed up demolition permits by removing the consultation procedure with local governments, Kadamay suggested.

Insidious investment partner

Ibon Foundation, a Philippines-based think tank, has long been questioning debt-funding from China as it bears onerous and unequal provisions unfavorable to the Philippines.

The promise of domestic employment through the BBB is already looking shaky. Ibon's Executive Director Sonny Africa pointed out that the Kaliwa Dam project, for example, obliges the Philippines to use Chinese contractors and workers. Moreover, defaulting on a payment that is 30 days overdue will allow China to apply the principal cost with interest immediately payable, cutting a sizeable part of the Philippines' state funds.

The Kaliwa Dam is designed to curb the water shortages in Metro Manila by adding to the overall water supply for the city. The endeavor is part of BBB's New Centennial Water Source Project, and it is expected to displace around 20,000 farmers and indigenous people, according to the Sandugo Alliance.

Brosas cited a study by researchers from the Water for The People Network which states that Metro Manila's existing two big water concessionaires generate a suitable supply. The lawmaker emphasized that the much hyped construction of Kaliwa Dam will only lead to higher water rates, which will funnel into the financing of to be collected by current water concessionaires from their consumers to finance the multi-billion Chinese loan. At the same time, it leads to the mass dislocation of indigenous communities.

"Proponents of the Kaliwa Dam, including Chinese business interests are instigating a fake water crisis to rationalize the project," she said. “For poor families, displacement has often resulted in the loss of their livelihood, community support systems, and other socio-economic disruptions. The social costs of the BBB program can never be balanced out by the supposed gains.”

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TNL Editor: Jeremy Van der Haegen (@thenewslensintl)

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