(STAR) COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva - In the aftermath of the flash floods that destroyed the homes of thousands of informal settlers in Metro Manila, housing authorities are in a quandary where to relocate them. While there are a number of available government resettlement areas located in nearby provinces, authorities would have to make sure the new home sites would be acceptable to the relocatees to entice them to move over there.

With barely eight months left of the administration of President Arroyo, government authorities are trying to come up with a massive relocation program to accommodate the victims of Ondoy who lost their homes.

With the political season already setting in the run up to the May 2010 elections, however, that relocation program would face a lot of obstacles, especially at the level of local government units. Although the focus at present is on the aspirants now in the thick of drumming up their respective candidacies for next year’s presidential race, the competition in the local election at the LGUs is also heating up this early.

The political reality is that these communities of informal settlers are the veritable source of voters for local executives who wish to be elected into office or re-elected for another term. But there is another complication to the government’s relocation program for informal settlers — the politically correct term to refer to squatters. This came to light in the case of informal settlers who were the subject of a complaint elevated before the office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo.

Through their legal counsel lawyer Edna Batacan, members and officers of the Knights of Columbus of the St. John of the Cross, Makati City Chapter, asked Comelec chairman Melo to look into the alleged existence of some 4,000 residents in Southville I in Cabuyao and Calauan, Laguna, who are apparently still registered and have continued to vote in the City of Makati in past elections.

In their letter to the Comelec chief, Batacan reported that the voters in question were relocated from Makati in 2006. They were awarded house and lots by the National Housing Authority (NHA), as confirmed by a certification made by the project manager of the Southville I Project Office in Cabuyao, Laguna, dated Sept. 24, 2009.

Consequently, their relocation carries with it a change of residence. Hence, the fact that the relocatees from Makati are now considered as citizens of Laguna, continuing to vote in their former place of residence would be a clear violation of the law.

Article V, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution states that: “Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least 18 years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote for at least six months immediately preceding the election.”

Batacan’s group asked the Comelec to purge the official Registry of Voters in the city of Makati from these so-called “flying” voters in preparation for the coming elections. Setting the example, I commend the officers and members of the Knights of Columbus for taking this initiative and calling the attention of the Comelec to this potential problem. If only more people would do their share in reporting irregularities such as this, we can be even closer to having “free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections” as all of us certainly would like to have.

Declared as the vice presidential running mate of deposed President Joseph Estrada, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay would definitely not tolerate such election anomaly. Otherwise, he himself will certainly be held accountable for this election anomaly. With his foray in the vice presidential race, the local contest in the city of Makati is coming up with new candidates like former Sen. Agapito “Butz” Aquino who announced his mayoral bid.

In a related development, the reported plans of former Arroyo-housing czar and ex-Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Mike Defensor in the mayoral race has changed the political equation in Quezon City. Defensor is throwing his hat in the mayoral race for the post to be vacated by three-term Quezon City Mayor Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte. The mayor's daughter Joy Belmonte-Alimurung is running for vice-mayor in QC.

The last time we talked to Defensor several months ago and we asked him what his plans for 2010 is, he said that running as mayor of Quezon City is one of his options. But his decision, he quickly added, would hinge on how he fares in the surveys that he will commission in the third quarter of this year. With the indications that he is ready to run for Quezon City mayor, it would seem that the surveys he has privately commissioned show that he has a fighting chance to win.

If and when he becomes mayor of Quezon City, the biggest contribution that Defensor would probably make would be in the housing challenge. Quezon City has one of the biggest numbers of informal dwellers in the whole country.

Defensor’s experience as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) should help him plan a program that would address the “squatter” problem of Quezon City. Mayor Belmonte has done a lot to establish the fiscal stability of the city and turned it to a vibrant urban center. A dynamic leader like Defensor is probably what the city needs to continue the programs started by Mayor Belmonte and to lead the city to a new level of development.

For now though, the Comelec must do its best to conduct a credible election. With an automated system to be implemented for the first time in our country’s presidential elections next year, it would do well for the Comelec to act quickly on reported attempts to thwart the conduct of clean and honest polls as in the reported case of “flying voters” in Makati.

I heard a radio interview over the weekend where Melo reassured the public that the Comelec is addressing with dispatch a number of concerns emerging out of the continuing registration of new voters. However, the Comelec chief reiterated the stand of the poll body against any extension of the October 30 deadline for the registration of new voters. We hold to Melo’s vows to keep the poll body pro-active in dealing with cases such as relocation in aid of election issue in the city of Makati.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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