Erle Frayne Argonza
We surely have housing backlogs on a perennial basis in the country. The backlog had never been sufficiently filled up amid the media hypes of stakeholders regarding this developmental problem. Even when civil society joined the housing arena together with the state and market, huge backlogs by the millions of houses remain.
I had the opportunity of working for the Ministry of Human Settlements in the early 1980s as a young junior executive. The posts I occupied (deputy provincial manager, acting provincial manager, …) allowed me to oversee state programs in development, notably community development, enterprise development and housing.
The institution of a line ministry as a strategy to meet the housing backlog, fast-track the construction and delivery of livable houses did work to achieve desired ends up to a certain extent. As far as my office was concerned then, our mandate was to plan and execute new projects under the shelter program (I directed the start-up planning for the house-on-stilts for new Cagayan subdivisions then, and had them approved for implementation), and monitor the ‘rural BLISS’ sites (BLISS = Bagong Lipunan Improvement of Sites and Services).
The rural BLISS sites were largely located in small towns and catered mainly to government employees. They were already constructed and occupied when I arrived as a community development assistant in 1981. A team in our regional liaison office monitored the sites by interfacing with the homeowners’ associations called the BLCA (BLISS Community Associations).
When our ministry was re-organized and expanded in mid-1981, management of the sites went to the Estates Management Office of the Regional Office (called Area Coordinating Center or ACC). My office (called Provincial Action Center or PAC) interfaced with the Estates Management group, got reports from them, and thanks heavens this relieved me of some heavy tasks regarding the matter.
Effecting recoverability was quite a tough one then, to recall. All of the sites’ homeowners somehow paid their mortgages on time, though some got delayed in remitting theirs’, save for one: the Tuao site. Tuao was headed by a warlord Mayor (Leonard Mamba), but who, being a fellow alumnus at the University of the Philippines, was very cooperative and cordial with me.
Having no problem in relating to the local exec, I can now deal directly with the Tuao BLISS homeowners. They simply refused to pay their bills (mortgage)! What terrible homeowners these ones were, one may rightly surmise. Because, as one can see, they were the only ones who refused to pay mortgage. Terrible! How should you deal with the matter, if you were tasked to do oversight job on it?
It wasn’t my office’s job to instill collection rules, but the matter was brought to my attention by the shelter staff of the regional office. They begged me to put my feet forward a bit, dip my hands in the fiasco, and negotiate with the homeowners. The residents could have gone to the mayor to stake out their stubborn attitude, but they realized I was ‘chika-chika’ (cordially related) to the mayor there (who was a brilliant lawyer in Manila before becoming the warlord mayor).
I immediately drew the tactics in my mind. It was still best to talk to them, this was Plan A. But if talks would fail, if carrots won’t work, then I will have to use sticks on the stubborn residents. The stick was to request the provincial commander of the Philippine Constabulary (who was my ‘chika-chika’ and distant cousin), and use the troops to drive out the residents. I was tough about doing Plan B.
But I was resolved in exhausting Plan A. For two (2) days I visualized myself like some Napoleon Bonaparte talking to his men and inspiring them with words. Inspire the homeowners with words, this was the tactic. Move them to tears, remind them that it would be better to have a home and pay for them, rather than live in the streets homeless. Move them with words, simple!
My own exposure to the theatre as a college student did pay off in this task. I had to role play for many hours, said my lines to my agency team, and then delivered my lines before the residents. It worked! There was standing ovation and loud applause after the talk. I can never ever forget the engagement, I myself was nearly brought to tears. The following week they began to settle their arrears and began to pay their dues.
Well, the occasion proved that good communications should be exhausted, and eloquence pays off much. Practice eloquence, maximize personal touch on clientele, and you can move mountains. That will brighten your day, as development is all about moving mountains anyway. It can be done.
[Writ 29 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]