It is to be expected that ambitious government programs, like the mass housing project of Bacolod City Mayor-Elect Albee Benitez, will be met with criticisms, suspicions of private gain or skepticisms at the very least.
But are these fair comments or informed opinions?
In the age of social media or ironically the Information Age, anyone who has a Facebook page can claim that his or her analysis or opinion is right.
This writer will not dwell on that.
Rather, we will look at the surrounding issues from social and State policy perspectives and explore questions that might be relevant based on the unique features of the Benitez housing program.
Based on the explanations so far of his ally, Councilor-Elect Vladimir Gonzalez, and his spokesman, lawyer Lyzander “Bong” Dilag, the project appears historic and ambitious in three aspects: development style, cost, and financing.
From a policy perspective, it will be the first time that the local government of Bacolod has expressed an on-site development approach to mass housing.
That policy, however, has yet to be announced and formalized by Benitez himself as soon as he gets all the powers, rights, and responsibilities as city mayor when he assumes office on high noon of 30 June 2022.
On-site development is hoped to address the age-old concerns of the urban poor – now called informal settlers then called squatters (terms evolving from a battle for political correctness that has not resulted in any way to actual benefits for them or solved the homelessness problem).
This approach can ease the social stresses brought by the ejections and demolitions of urban poor communities (“ejeksyon, demolisyon, pamatukan!” the activists used to chant) that actually breed added problems like unemployment and the taking away of means to earn (like subsistence fisherfolk losing their jobs when transferred to off-site relocation areas).
Gonzalez even pointed out that their plans involve building townships or self-contained communities within which are places of work, markets, and schools.
This is significant in the sense that building townships, depending on its actual concept by Benitez, can lead to easing stresses on traffic, garbage collection, even political administration.
This writer has yet to see, however, the formalization of that concept by Benitez himself.
The project cost itself is huge and historic. Gonzalez estimates it to run between P2 to P3 billion over the next three years of the Benitez administration.
The financing scheme is also a first, a bond float, essentially similar to a private firm’s Initial Public Offering.
In simple terms, a bond issuance allows a local government unit, a municipal corporation by nature, to raise money by involving the public at large.
This also means that the LGU will sell bonds (basically a debt) to finance its housing project.
As a debt, bonds will earn interest and the principal will mature at a certain time, all of which will be paid by the government.
In the next part, we shall discuss questions related to the project.
This writer shall start with questions related to baseline data, the process in getting the bond float, including the soundness of the city’s finances that will be a crucial factor for banks to certify the city as financially healthy for it.
(To be continued)