Sep 182016

Given the current toxic political situation, I think VP Leni Robredo should just focus on making a difference in the housing sector. That is after all, her formal assignment as a Cabinet member.

Even if she is the highest elected official from the Liberal Party, she ought to put that hat aside to protect herself from being entangled in political plots, real or imagined. Taking a leave from the Liberal Party is a good idea, specially because she was elected despite her affiliation with that party.

I worry about Leni, a political newbie who doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. I do not believe she is capable of conspiring to unseat the President as some people are claiming. She has too much integrity to do that. But it is so easy for her to be used by scheming politicians in a way that affects her credibility as our vice president.

I can see and sense in her recent public statements how careful she is in expressing her views on current events outside of housing. So far so good, but it is so easy to slip, specially with the armies of vicious political trolls ready to twist her words.

This is why it is wise for her to focus on her current housing assignment. There is so much to do anyway. We have a current backlog of about four million houses. The market grows by at least 330,000 a year, but only 183,000 units are made available, according to BizNewsAsia data. By 2030, the backlog will be 6.5 million.

There are so many problems VP Leni must wrestle with in housing. She saw herself how her Liberal party mates miserably failed to provide housing to Yolanda victims, three years after the calamity.

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In her words: “nadismaya ako doon kasi ang pangalan niya parang emergency shelter response something, sabi ko, three years after Yolanda na, wala pa din. Nagco-construct pa lang ng units, ang ibang mga lugar hindi pa natatayuan. Apparently ang problema hindi pera kasi ang pera nandiyan na, naghihintay…

“Yong problema talaga ‘yong mga bureaucratic red tape ‘yong mga proseso, mga requirements ng BIR, requirements ng ganito, etc etc. So ‘nong ni-report ko iyon, ni-request ko sa pangulo na baka puwedeng magpatawag ng meeting na nandoon na ‘yong lahat ng ahensya na kailangan mag-usap-usap. Si pangulo naman right away nag-order na magpatawag ng meeting next week.”

She wants to reduce processing time from three years to 15 days… and received the support of President Duterte to do this.

Taking national perspective on the housing problem, Credit Suisse recently observed the residential property market in the Philippines has become not affordable for most citizens.

The bank’s analyst explains: “Average household income in the Philippines is low, and with income distribution highly skewed to the right, we believe affordability is a key driver to total residential demand.

“While there is some supply-side pressure on residential prices, we believe improvement in affordability is minimal in the next two-three years given long-term mortgage financing is still limited (i.e. government financing schemes/ programs have generally been unsuccessful; banks are risk-averse to lend long-term to consumers).”

Credit Suisse estimates that payment for required monthly mortgages for a medium-priced residential property already accounts for about half of a typical household’s average monthly income. This amount stretches an average Filipino households’ budget given that housing would normally just account for 13 percent to 27 percent of its total monthly expenditure.

“So how is the Philippines’ residential property market affordable? In addition, only 3.7 percent of Philippine households are considered upper-middle class and above (with at least P78,900 monthly income, or $1,661).”

There is so much for VP Leni to do while waiting for the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She has to streamline the housing bureaucracy. She herself said the many housing agencies have overlapping functions. Some of these agencies are notorious for waste and corruption, particularly the NHA.

This is only her second job in government and this is her first job with managerial responsibility. VP Leni must be able to show she can manage government bureaucracies.

She must show she can deal with corruption in agencies under her wing. She must reassure people she is more than a pretty accessory in our constitutional line of succession.

Given the limitation of government resources, VP Leni must actively seek the help of the private sector to make a dent in our housing backlog, specially at the socialized housing level. She must seek out her potential private sector partners and work with them on a realistic plan with measurable results.

It is unfortunate she chose not to attend what I thought was a rather important meeting of the Organization of Socialized and Economic Housing Developers of the Philippiness (OSHDP). This is a group of 200 or so developers engaged in mass housing and they were eager to meet her, if only to get a feel if they can work with her.

Instead, she decided to attend some event of a Makati-based foundation. I guess she figured she couldn’t disappoint presumably major contributors to her and the Liberal Party’s campaign. Or maybe she wanted to get this major high end property developer behind the foundation to construct more socialized housing units.

Actually, all property developers are required by law to construct socialized housing units. The biggies in the industry should be able to do a lot more, and it is VP Leni’s job to get them to do that.

 We all know about Megaworld, Ayala, SMDC and DMCI. But there are also private socialized housing developers who serve the lower end of the market. They are hoping government will one day see them as partners.

They feel the appointment of the VP in the Aquino, and now the Duterte administration, has not worked to the advantage of the sector. The VP title is immaterial, they explained. Because Binay, and now Leni, are from the opposition, it only means the sector will be largely ignored… It is VP Leni’s challenge to change this perception.

And VP Leni will not be effective in sponsoring her housing agenda if she is seen as the opposition’s eyes and ears in the Cabinet. She has to show her only interest is getting her assignment done because that is what people expect from her.

This is why I think she should take a leave from the Liberal Party. She has said time and again that we ought to support President Duterte because his success is ours too. She has to convince them she means that, as I believe she does.

The conspiracy story about the Liberals plotting to overthrow Duterte is as ridiculous as it gets. But it can still hurt her.

It doesn’t matter that it is silly to think the Liberals, the guys who can’t even fix the MRT 3 or properly manage the Yolanda relief effort (during and after) are capable of mounting something requiring meticulous planning and daring execution.

Raising the conspiracy story is a diversionary ploy. It came out again after the unfortunate diplomatic gaffes of the past two weeks.

Besides, the Liberals in the House are now too few to make an impeachment resolution viable. Most of the Liberals are now in Duterte’s coalition. The Liberals have been effectively decimated.

While VP Leni is so far able to navigate the dangerous political waters well, it is so easy to slip. Sayang naman if she ends up a brightly shining star that burned out too soon.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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