This writer started to cover development issues in Bacolod City in the mid 1990s during which Evelio Leonardia became the second elected mayor under the Fifth Republic in 1995.
It was then known as the squatter problem, essentially Bacoleños who have no homes of their own who live on the lands of other people, along embankments, on waterways, even under bridges.
I remember these “squatter” houses along Hilado Street near BS Aquino Drive where assassins of the New People’s Army reportedly used to disappear into after a “punitive action” to “carry out revolutionary justice.”
I learned later as an activist that this was a fact.
There, too, was the community – a collection of sub villages named after planets, Mars, Pluto, Saturn, Venus – in Singcang Airport village that was destroyed to give way to the Gaisano City Mall.
They were already called then as the “urban poor.”
That community, led then by Cesar Gamboa, was relocated almost entirely to what is now Kaisahan Village in Sum-ag village.
The name “Kaisahan Village” was inspired by the fact that Gamboa and the Singcang urban poor were members of Kaisahan, then the dominant urban poor federation in Bacolod led then by Jessie Deduyco.
I learned later as an activist that while the Kaisahan Village experience was hailed by some as successful, some “higher organs” considered it “ekonomismo.”
I will not belabor the convoluted point of these “higher organs” for it might besmirch the reputation of a good man.
The only relocation site then was Handumanan Village in what is now known as Barangay Handumanan, one of the largest political subdivisions in the city.
Then, communities organized by the Left bewailed their relocation to Handumanan saying they will die for lack of livelihood.
I knew later as an activist staying for days in several coastal communities about to be demolished that even in their natural habitat most of them still lack the initiative to do productive endeavors, always telling me “kapigado gid kaayo (we are so poor).”
I was confused even as an activist that these people can still have the money for vices, like smoking and alcohol.
I, then the zealous activist, can still cook some convuluted argument justifying their actions by blaming it on the system and the decadent culture.
Before the turn of the century, they were already called informal settlers, a jargon used mainly among the politically correct crowd.
By that time, the city had another relocation area, the Vista Alegre-Granada site, which used to be called ViAGra.
The Leonardia government eventually expanded the relocation sites. There are now two sites in Vista Alegre village – one on the Abada-Escay property or Progreso Village I, and the other on the Arao property or Progreso Village II.
These are obviously off-site relocation housing projects.
Allies of Mayor-Elect Benitez have already outlined in limited detail what he plans to do with his mass housing program. Among them is Councilor-Elect Vladimir Gonzalez, a private real estate developer who is the presumptive housing czar as soon as the new administration sits down in City Hall.
In our next part, we shall discuss what needs to be asked about the current informal settlers data, what questions need to be answered first before the Benitez government proceeds with its project.