Gatchalian: Expanded Bataan freeport zone won’t leave 'bona fide residents' homeless

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian assured concerned communities that the newly-ratified bill that seeks to expand the Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) will not leave them homeless.

Gatchalian, who sponsored the bill, made the statement after FAB residents expressed concern over the implementation of the measure once President Rodrigo Duterte signs the newly-ratified bill into law.

Gatchalian  told Rappler on Thursday, June 7, that there are safeguards in Senate Bill No. 2133 or an "An Act Further Strengthening the Powers and Functions of the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan," that protect workers and their families from unlawful eviction.

This includes separating the roles of the Authority of the FAB (AFAB) chairman and administrator to provide some sort of check and balance, the senator said.

However, moving families out of some structures may be needed, since some establishments were build during the Marcos era. Under the bill, AFAB has the power to conduct summary demolition. 

"The power to evict is limited to condemned buildings. But if it's dilapidated and dangerous now, then they (AFAB) can evict," Gatchalian said in a mix of Filipino and English. 

"[But] we will make sure that the intention of the law is not to evict any bona fide resident who are living in suitable or safe homes. The intention for the law is to make sure that the residents will be relocated to safe homes," he added.

The senator clarified that the AFAB should still follow the rules of the National Building Code of the Philippines, Civil Code of the Philippines, and the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992, if they should evict any residents. 

Under these laws, residents would have to be given proper compensation as well as temporary or permanent housing prior to eviction.

Under SB 2133, the National Housing Authority is also mandated to "undertake vertical and horizontal housing development for the marginalized informal settlers and low income earners within the FAB."

"If may existing residential area na doon, hindi na nila puwede tanggalin iyan unless the houses are condemned. Hindi nila pwedeng magtanggal ng existing residents doon if kung nandoon na sila. They (AFAB) have to work around their land use," Gatchalian said.

(If there is an existing residential area there, it cannot be removed unless the houses are condemned. The existing residents cannot be removed if they are already living there. They have to work around their land use.) 

Source of concern

FAB residents earlier raised their concern that they may be kicked out of their homes once the bill is signed into law as the proposed measure expands the areas covered by the FAB and strengthens the functions of its officials.

Ernie del Rosario, president of the Bataan Economic Zone Neighborhood Association, told Rappler on Monday, June 3, that this could give the AFAB the power to evict as much as 10,000 families and demolish their houses and dormitories. 

Del Rosario, who also serves as kagawad at Barangay Malaya in FAB, said they have lived and worked in the economic zone for 40 years, and were now retirees.

Christian Ocampo, Barangay Malaya's secretary and Alab Katipunan chairman for Bataan, said that this also affects some 40,000 workers living in the freeport who do not have a proper place to stay. The FAB only has a few hundred housing units. 

Demands

Both Del Rosario and Ocampo said that they were not included in the consultations when the bill was being drafted. 

Gatchalian confirmed that only AFAB officials, Mariveles Mayor Ace Jello Concepcion, and Bataan 2nd District Representative Jose Enrique Garcia III were present during the hearings. 

The residents were supposedly consulted through the AFAB.

FAB residents who said they were not consulted have released a list of demands, among them, asking the lawmakers to keep the Presidential Decree No. 66, which created the Bataan Export Processing Zone Authority.

Ocampo said that repealing the presidential decree would remove the residents' legal basis to seek low cost and socialized housing. He added that they want the removal of the provision allowing AFAB to conduct summary demolition.

 

For retirees like Del Rosario, all they want was an assurance that would still have a place to live inside the FAB, especially considering the role they played in the development of the economic zone.

"Ang request lang naman namin is for the national government to retain us. [Iba] sa amin ay matanda na. We're senior citizens. Nakapalaki ng share namin dito sa development ng economic zone," del Rosario added.. 

(Our only request is for the national government to retain us. Some of us are already old. We're senior citizens. We had a big part in the development of the economic zone) 

He said they have asked local officials to "declare an indefinite moratorium" on evictions in the whole of Mariveles while the city government still has no shelter program for affected FAB residents. – Rappler.com