Administration officials should take time to visit Manila’s Baywalk one late evening. Along the sea wall and in every available space on the sidewalk, people sleep under sheets of foil or cardboard. During rainy days, the street people take shelter in a nearby public toilet.
Across the boulevard, near bushes and trees, families sleep in similar shelters, huddled beside dirty pots and pans, bags of clothing and scrawny pet dogs. Similar sights can be found under most of the bridges in Metro Manila.
There must be hundreds of thousands of such dirt-poor Filipinos all over the country, with millions more living in jerrybuilt shelters that are easily blown away by typhoons. If someone gave them a shelter with four concrete walls and solid roofing, no matter how small, it would be like hitting the jackpot.
But precisely because there are so many of them, and the government has limited resources for socialized housing, rules are laid out for beneficiaries of shelter programs. Ignoring such rules by simply taking over government housing projects invites anarchy, and gives unfair advantage to those with the means to use force in acquiring taxpayer-funded housing.
This is what the group Kadamay, or Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap, whose members claim to belong to the urban poor, has done in housing projects in Pandi and San Jose del Monte in Bulacan that were built for government personnel. Several police beneficiaries reportedly found the houses too small and refused to move in. The house grabbers have since proudly displayed red flags, reminding the government that there is more than just the issue of poverty behind the illegal occupation. And tough-talking President Duterte easily bowed in surrender to the anarchy.
No one will argue with the need to provide the poor with decent shelter. Like the campaign against the drug menace, however, the end does not justify any means. It’s not true that Kadamay members’ only “sin” is to be poor; illegal occupation of public property is a felony.
President Duterte himself has often said, in connection with his brutal war on drugs, that being poor is no excuse to break the law. This should also apply to the illegal occupation of property. He cannot make exemptions for his left-leaning brethren.
There’s a long line of the impoverished who are waiting for tax-funded housing. Kadamay members, some of whom may not even meet the poverty level criterion for beneficiaries, must not be allowed to jump the line. There cannot be different types of justice in this country: one for the rich, another for the poor, and still another for the organized poor with the right ideological connections.