By the end of 2011, Vice President Jejomar C. Binay had achieved several milestones in implementing reforms in the housing sector. He has built on the accomplishments of the housing sector in 2010 and concretized the plans of the key shelter agencies into viable, realistic projects. The Vice President has also continued the government’s priority of protecting the rights and welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers here and abroad.

Housing Czar

2011 was the year of the “Pabahay Caravan”, where the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), which the Vice President chairs, along with the attached Key Shelter Agencies, went around the country to localize the delivery of housing services. Binay believed that a strong partnership between the national and local governments was essential in the delivery of housing services and with his guidance, HUDCC launched the “Pabahay Caravan” Program to ensure closer coordination between the national government and the Local Government Units (LGUs) to build their capacities to carry out local housing programs.

Believing in equal housing opportunities for all, the Vice President vigorously pushed for housing projects for marginalized sectors of society. It was under Binay’s chairmanship that Pag-IBIG opened its doors to non-formal workers, including domestic helpers. The Vice President said it is now mandatory for employers to register their house helpers as Pag-IBIG members and pay their counterpart contributions.

Under the law, domestic workers earning P1,500 and below shall contribute 1% of their salary, while those earning P1,500 and above shall contribute 2% of their salary, while their employers are required to contribute 2% as counterpart.

“Pag-IBIG savings allow our domestic workers to double and even triple their money through their employer’s share and the annual Pag-IBIG dividends. Their savings, together with its interest earnings, can be withdrawn in full after membership maturity,” Binay said.

Upon completion of 24 monthly contributions, domestic workers can secure from Pag-IBIG a whole range of benefits such as the multi-purpose loans for immediate needs, loans during times of calamities, and housing loans for house and lot or lot purchase, as well as home improvement,” he added.

In August, he launched the first housing project for indigenous peoples, with the housing sector allocating P14 million for the construction of housing units for 3,000 families belonging to the Aeta community. The beneficiaries belong to the Tribung Ayta ng Nabuklod (TAN) association from the municipality of Floridablanca, Pampanga.

In December, Binay unveiled Pag-IBIG’s innovative “rent-to-own program” for public utility drivers and operators, which was part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Pag-IBIG Fund and seven transport groups. The program, the first of its kind, is expected to benefit more than 200,000 drivers and operators. Side by side with this program was the signing of the MoU between the Fund and the Department of Education for a Home-Matching and End-User Housing Loan program for teachers with no homes of their own.

Binay also led the implementation of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s Administrative Order (AO) No. 9, for the construction of houses for 21,800 soldiers and police officers in 2011. Initially, 8,000 units were constructed in Bulacan for military and police personnel in Northern Luzon, 8,000 in Cavite and Laguna for Southern Luzon, and another 5,000 units Rizal, totaling P4 billion.

In the span of just two and a half months after Phase One of the AFP/PNP Housing Program was launched in April, the National Housing Authority had already awarded 5,000 units to qualified beneficiaries.

Phase Two of the AFP/PNP Housing program, this time for Visayas and Mindanao military and police personnel, will be implemented in 2012. The housing boards have already proposed Cebu, Bacolod, Davao and Zamboanga as possible housing sites, and the Vice President is now in the process of studying the viability of the proposed areas for the housing program.

Under Binay, HUDCC now holds regular quarterly meetings to discuss policies and enhance coordination not only among government agencies, but also with Congress and the private sector. This has resulted in a unified position on housing policies and directions for the next six years.

Resettlement and Climate Change Policies

The Vice President was especially conscious of the effects of climate change and urbanization. He ordered the key shelter agencies to integrate climate change adaptation capabilities in the national resettlement framework and policies for informal settlers. The Vice President said that this initiative involved the localization of housing policies, guidelines on site planning, and house construction, with specific attention paid to local climate change scenarios, urban development and housing trends, and the capacity of the poor to cope with disasters and extreme events.

In May, the Cities Alliance, a global coalition of cities and their development partners, committed to scaling up approaches to poverty reduction, approved HUDCC’s proposal to develop the National Slum Upgrading Strategy or NSUS. Both the national and local governments will now undertake the relevant policies and programs for slum upgrading, under the guidelines provided by that strategy, and supported by Cities Alliance.

“We will ensure that informal settlers are empowered by involving their organizations in the preparation of the strategy. They will be engaged in the process, as well as be able to collaborate with the concerned LGUs in designing a strategy that actually responds to their needs and aspiration.” Binay said

The strategy is also envisioned to provide support for a national government resettlement policy and updating the national urban development and housing framework, and would enable local government units to integrate policy and program options into their Comprehensive Land Use, Comprehensive Development, and Local Shelter Plans.

Binay pushed for the development of alternative housing technologies, schemes and approaches to ensure decent and affordable homes, using environmental management and disaster risk mitigation standards in the construction of housing units. In September, he attended the 3rd Asia-Pacific Housing Forum in Bangkok, Thailand, and advocated the use of green technology, including the use of indigenous and recyclable materials as environmentally-friendly alternatives to reduce construction costs. The Vice President said that through a green technology program, climate risk reduction would be integrated into the policies of LGUs, and families would be empowered to participate in efforts to create climate-resilient cities.

“Ultimately, we shall create climate-resilient communities not only by capacitating people with adequate knowledge, but above all by empowering them to fend for themselves against life’s challenges,” said the Vice President.

“This begins by making sure that every family lives in a decent and affordable home, and by making sure that such family continues to be able to support the minimum standards of living for all its members,” he added.

The Globe Asiatique Case

The Vice President continuously monitored the development of the Globe Asiatique (GA) case, first uncovered in 2010, and actively pursued the filing of cases against the persons involved in the scam.

In August, the justice department approved the filing of a syndicated estafa case against Lee, his son Dexter and Globe Asiatique officers Christina Sagun and Cristina Salagan, and Pag-ibig Fund lawyer Alex Alvarez.

A month after, Binay held a dialog with GA “double sale” victims and personally updated them on the status of the case. He also instructed Pag-IBIG to file an administrative case against Pasig Regional Trial Court Judge Rolando Mislang before the Supreme Court after the judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) over the syndicated estafa case against Lee.

“Pag-IBIG is funded by contributions from its eight million members. As caretakers of the Fund, we are mandated to protect the integrity of the Fund at all times. In the case against GA, we cannot take the path of least resistance and enter into a compromise when the evidence is clear and unequivocal. That would be tantamount to abandoning our duty to protect the Fund,” Binay said.

Aside from the Xevera housing anomaly, another double sale case against Globe Asiatique was also forwarded to Pag-Ibig for appropriate action. Homeowners at Sta. Barbara Village in San Mateo, Rizal claimed that they were receiving billing statements from Globe Asiatique under different names. Some also complained of being issued fake copies of land titles. Binay ordered Pag-IBIG to study these cases and said that Pag-IBIG would provide legal assistance to the victims regardless of whether or not the agency was involved in the case.

The QC Land Grabbing Case

In September, Vice President Binay directed HUDCC to assist homeowners and school officials in Quezon City affected by the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) to transfer ownership of a 23.7-hectare property to Wilfredo Torres, a known land grabber.

The Vice President referred the case to the National Drive Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates (NDAPSS), an inter-agency committee which he chairs, in order to inform the public against the modus operandi of Torres and assist in the cases.

“The NDAPSSS is continuously conducting an information drive all over the country through case conferences, community dialogues and seminars, regarding the illegal activities of professional squatters and squatting syndicates, so that they may be prevented and stopped. It regularly updates its list of reported professional squatters and squatting syndicates and their activities,” Binay said.

He also immediately held a dialog with the homeowners at the Coconut Palace where he assured the aggrieved homeowners that the law was on their side and that the government will support them in their fight against Torres.

Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns and Anti-Trafficking Czar

In 2011, the Vice President became even more involved with the affairs of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). He took to his role as Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns, chairman emeritus of the Inter-Agency Taskforce Against Trafficking (IACAT) and chairman of the Presidential Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (PTFAIR) with gusto, and made it his personal advocacy to safeguard Filipinos against unscrupulous individuals.

In his first year as IACAT chairman emeritus, the Philippines was upgraded to Tier 2 Status in the 2011 Global Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report of the U.S. State Department, an improvement from the Tier 2 Watchlist status of the country during the past two years. The latest TIP report recognized the efforts made by the Philippine government in the conviction of 25 trafficking offenders since the release of the last TIP report, including the conviction of the first labor trafficking offender in February; the efforts of the Department of Justice and Supreme Court in expediting the disposition of backlogged cases; and the increase in training and public awareness efforts on trafficking, including for judicial officials, diplomats, civil society groups, and OFWs.

“As Chairman Emeritus of the IACAT, I am pleased that our efforts to curb trafficking in persons in the Philippines have been recognized by the U.S. State Department as shown by the upgrade of our country’s standing in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report,” the Vice President said.

“Our removal from the Tier 2 Watchlist is the result of an effective coordination of all member agencies of the IACAT and I congratulate the members of the council for all their efforts,” he added.

As PTFAIR chairman, Binay was clear in his direction to streamline anti-trafficking processes and procedures to eliminate the risk of Filipinos falling prey to human trafficking syndicates and other unscrupulous individuals.

To bolster anti-trafficking efforts, Binay directed the IACAT and PTFAIR to create their respective Operations Centers. As of November, the IACAT had posted 27 convictions in trafficking-related cases since January, while the immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and other airports have disallowed more than 53,000 undocumented OFWs who were disguised as tourists from leaving the country.

The IACAT also drafted new offloading policies which have contributed to a decline in the incidents of human trafficking and illegal recruitment. Mindful of checks and balances, Binay said the national government would also be implementing strict measures to curb abuses of the offloading policy at the international airports, balance the drive versus trafficking with right to travel, and promote transparency in the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

“I believe there is a need for BI to have proper guidelines in the offloading of passengers. The basis for preventing a Filipino from leaving the country should be clearly spelled out to minimize the exercise of discretion on the part of immigration personnel,” Binay had said.

Meanwhile, with the explosion of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and Africa in the first quarter of 2011, Binay was hands-on in the efforts of the national government to bring home OFWs affected by the uprisings and ensure their security.

During his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in March, the Vice President was able to obtain the consent of Saudi authorities to facilitate the repatriation of overstaying OFWs at the resource centers in Riyadh and Jeddah, the Hajj Terminal and private homes in the kingdom. As of September, 901 overstaying OFWs in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have returned home as a result of Binay’s visit to these countries.

The Vice President also made it his priority to repatriate the four Filipina maids of the relatives of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In March, Jennifer Rivera approached the Vice President and sought his help to bring home her sister, Diana Jill. Rivera and another OFW, Mary Ann Ducos-Almario, returned safely to the Philippines in September. Binay is still actively pursuing the repatriation of the two remaining OFWs.

The Vice President was also instrumental in securing a temporary stay of execution for three Filipinos sentenced to death for drug trafficking in China in March. In early December, he also took great effort in appealing to the Chinese government to commute the death penalty of a Filipino sentenced also for drug trafficking. The Vice President personally delivered to the Chinese embassy the formal appeal of President Aquino to President Hu Jintao to spare the life of the Filipino offender.

In the aftermath of the executions, Binay vowed to intensify efforts to put an end to drug trafficking and to take all necessary action to stop the said menace from destroying more lives and families.

Social Programs

For 2011, Binay allocated P150 million for the construction and repair of a total of 300 senior citizens centers all over the country. The Office of the Vice President (OVP) has also earmarked P10 million to provide educational assistance to a total of 1,090 students – 10 scholars for each of the 109 state colleges and universities in the country – under “2011 Vice President Grant-in-Aid Program.”

As a reserve Marines colonel and co-chairman of the Alay sa Kawal (ASK) Foundation, Binay made sure that the dependents of soldiers wounded or killed in action are well cared for. Established in 1986, ASK is the oldest non-governmental organization devoted to the welfare of enlisted personnel in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In May, he awarded P30,000 each to 53 dependents of 49 soldiers who were killed and four who were seriously wounded in action at Camp Panacan in Davao City. In September, the Vice President again awarded cash assistance amounting to P30,000 to widows of 49 soldiers killed in action in Mindanao. In November, he gave P30,000 each to 15 families of soldiers who were killed in an ambush in Al-Barka, Basilan.

“Umasa kayo na kami sa Alay sa Kawal Foundation ay patuloy na kikilos upang masigurado ang kapakanan ng ating mga sundalo at ng kanilang mga pamilya,” he said.

The Vice President also took a very active role in the disaster mitigation efforts of his office. The OVP distributed 6,000 bags of relief goods to the towns in Bulacan affected by floods brought about by typhoon Quiel in October. Binay also immediately visited calamity-stricken areas in Bulacan in the aftermath of Quiel and personally handed out relief goods to flood victims.

Upon the instruction of the Vice President, Pag-IBIG also declared a three-month moratorium on housing loan payments for its member-borrowers who were affected by the destruction caused by typhoons Pedring and Quiel.

In early December, after tropical storm Sendong battered Cagayan de Oro (CDO) and Iligan in Mindanao, the Vice President immediately flew to CDO to check on flood victims, give out 2,880 bags of relief goods and condole with the relatives of those who perished in the floods. He also ordered the OVP to distribute 5,000 bags of relief goods to victims in Iligan City; 5,000 to Dumaguete City; and another 10,000 bags to CDO. He instructed the Pag-IBIG fund to expedite the processing of calamity loans for victims in CDO and Iligan.

Just before Christmas, Binay flew to Negros Oriental to check on those affected by Sendong in the Visayas. The Vice President visited the cities of Dumaguete and Tanjay, as well as the towns of Amlan, Sibulan and Valencia. He said he wanted to ensure that those affected by floods would celebrate Christmas with dignity.

“We want our kababayans to at least still celebrate the holidays knowing that they have the basic necessities that they need to survive,” he said.

The OVP donated a total of 10,500 bags of relief goods and 800 blankets to the affected areas of Negros Oriental. Binay also gave financial assistance to families in Valencia and Dumaguete.

All of the Vice President’s programs and policies remain grounded in the vision of improving the quality of life of all Filipinos, especially the poor and the marginalized. It is his firm belief that access to decent living is the right of every Filipino.