Most, if not all, housing advocacy in the Philippines is premised on the existence of what the government, developers and other stakeholders call the "housing backlog." Tersely, it is an aggregate figure based on the population, its projected growth, and the corresponding number of houses needed to ensure that all the members of that population have shelters to live in. For many years, it has been the backbone of programming and policy initiatives. Many have rallied, believed, and pushed for their respective agenda just because the number of homeless people is increasing, and the government's response indicates an alarming level of difficulty to cope.
To some, however, the housing backlog is a myth used by developers, and land speculators as lever-age for their businesses. Informal policy dialogues under the Solid Ground campaign have shown the beginnings of a possible consensus on the need for a disaggregated figure that will substantiate the housing backlog claim in terms of geography, income segment, capability to pay and other factors. The progress is gaining traction, and further research where communities have adequate opportunity to participate, provide inputs, validate and critique may yield results that would refine understanding of the figure on the basis of disaggregated data, which will definitely affect program and policy directions.
It would seem that the interface between land and housing advocacy presents both opportunities and challenges. On one hand, it could improve appreciation and presentation of shelter issues, which would in turn enhance solutions, and allow for the formulation of more specific and responsive ini-tiatives. On the other, conflicting interests, varying perspectives and uneven priorities could create friction or exacerbate existing distrust and animosity among stakeholders which would delay important and necessary reforms.
The annual World Bank Land and Poverty Conference provided a venue for knowledge exchange and potential consensus building through the promotion of an evidence-based approach to land governance. The immensity of tools ranging from simple, practical and easily adaptable modes presented by the Global Land Tool Network of UN-Habitat to highly specialized ones has essentially left policymakers and advocates with no excuse to inform their agenda with facts. The global movement toward consolidation or coordination of land rules and initiatives, with some quarters pushing for advancing land rights in the international legal platform – a mode perceived to ensure or strengthen their enforcement, has necessitated the use of more robust data trusted and recognized by stake-holders, most especially by those directly affected and whose circumstances prevent them from being sufficiently heard. With developments in the adoption in the national level of the Food and Agricultural Organization’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) and the formulation of global land indicators to monitor implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda, initiatives are seen to be moving from high-level prescriptions in soft law to more concrete actions driven and sustained by real, actual and verifiable information collected in the ground. More importantly, trends in policymaking indicate heightened demand for a reliable evidence-based advocacy to muster popular support. Indeed, the interplay of realist-universalist perspectives may be better harnessed with the use of relevant data. They bridge the gap between aspiration and action, and convert platitudes to tangible results.
Housing security, which is only an aspect of a broader initiative involving land rights and governance, could benefit from this progress. Nevertheless, there is much work to be done in terms of agenda-setting, and placing housing at the center of land advocacy, and it would be well to start with a multi-stakeholder platform to bring all expertise, interests, and information together to ensure that advocacy of this kind not be considered a stand-alone initiative isolating other rights, or worse – sidelining them to the point of insignificance. In addition to the progress achieved in the formulation of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, there is also much opportunity for specific rendering of the VGGT in housing. Housing (and land rights) advocates must welcome this development, and explore a paradigm shift that veers away from a perception that mutually exclusive, independent policy reforms are more effective and moves toward a more integrated, and holistic rights-based advocacy that acknowledges interdependence of human rights, and hence the importance of collaborative engagement.
The Solid Ground advocacy campaign in the Philippines creates a space for stakeholders to achieve consensus on needed reforms on access to land for shelter. Habitat for Humanity Philippines expects that more evidence, apart from that related to the housing backlog, will be introduced and evaluated by government representatives, communities, civil society organizations, and real estate developers. As it recognizes the centrality of land in housing issues, it will apply VGGT principles, will be guided by global land indicators, and hopes to apply available land tools and resources in its policy dialogues. It will also engage in more meaningful discussions with land rights champions to secure better informed action plans most especially in ensuring the place of housing in the national land use policy. Through these efforts, Habitat Philippines aims to contribute to the global movement toward responsible access to, and use of, land and ensuring a world where everyone has a decent place to live.