To some, they belong to the lowest rung of society, occupying private places they do not own and turning it into a hotbed of criminality.
But informal settlers are human being too and they deserve dignity like anyone else.
In Valenzuela City, some 600 slum dwellers have moved to a safer haven provided by the city government, without sacrificing economic dislocation.
Dubbed as in-city relocation, the informal settlers, who were victims of flooding during Typhoon Ondoy, now lives on a condo-type building which they will rent for a measly P300 a month.
The project, located in a two-hectare city government property, was an innovative approach to the squatting problem that has plagued many cities and other urban areas.
Instead of relocating the informal settlers somewhere else, which usually results to economic dislocation, the Valenzuela city government provided them a place within the city.
“These people have families, have children to feed and support. They can be assets to society if only they are given a break,” Valenzuela Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian said some relocation schemes fail because it removes those who were transferred from their jobs and sources of income.
“The result: they go back to the city because their jobs are here,” he said.
Led by Vice President Jejomar Binay, the city government recently inaugurated 12 more buildings in the aptly dubbed Disiplina Village, representing the new enclave for the informal settlers.
The initial beneficiaries were families who were living at the banks of Tulyahan river. At the height Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, their homes were washed away.
In 2011, the initial three clusters 16-unit housing were completed, with 16 beneficiary families.
With the completion of 12 additional buildings, total beneficiary families is expected reach 900.
The housing project, which was envisioned by Gatchalian, has been cited for its pioneering approach in empowering informal settlers.
In partnership with Gawad Kalinga, it aimed to make the beneficiary families a stakeholder on the project, instead of a passive recipient.
Beneficiaries were required to participate in the construction of the units by logging 500 hours of work, as a condition before they can avail of the housing program.
This represents their sweat equity, making them stakeholders to their new enclave.
To be able to maintain their rented homes, residents are also required to help in maintaining cleanliness in the surroundings and help safeguard their new neighborhood.
The city government also required the residents to participate in weekly community empowerment programs to prepare them as “disciplined” residents.
Not only are they provided with new homes, they are given the chance to earn additional income.
The city agriculture office launched a program called Bayan Anihan that teaches beneficiaries to utilize vacant portions of Disiplina Village for small scale backyard farming. The village is also a recipient of the Department of Agriculture’s poverty alleviation program Techno Demo Farm project that gives them additional income opportunity.
Gatchalian said the Disiplina Village experience showed that informal settlers can rise above themselves and redeem their self-worth and dignity.
“Our role as public servants is to provide that impetus and opportunity. That is how we do public service in Valenzuela City,” he said.
To prepare high school students for college and technical education, the city government saw to it that they are IT-ready.
Already, Valenzuela City’s high school students are perhaps one of the most IT-prepared and enabled in the entire country , with the city government flooding public schools with computers.
About 850 stand-alone computers and 17 LCD projects have been provided to the city’s 17 public high schools, allowing the students to be proficient in computer technology.
This innovative approach has allowed Valenzuela high school students to develop the first ever computerized campus poll in the country.
Such achievement is still unrivalled by other schools (MCO).