Land ownership Hell: The Philippines is Squatter Central when it comes to government subsidies!

Squatting does indeed pay in the Philippines. The most recent pandering to this vote-rich sector of Philippine society is an 18,000-peso “rental subsidy” to be provided by the Philippine government to each squatter family relocated to other settlement sites. This follows a reported announcement from Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson that “there is a need to clear the estuaries (esteros) and other waterways of informal settlers.”

For its part, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (“May One Movement” or KMU) denounced the 18,000-peso dole-out as “too meager even for renting houses and won’t cover additional expenses caused by being uprooted from the families’ sources of livelihood,” and offered their take on what the solution ought to be…

“Policies on the urban poor should primarily be about what’s good for the urban poor, not what’s cheap for the government. The government will never find a solution to the problems of the urban poor if it weighs options on the basis of what’s cheap,” [KMU chairperson Elmer “Bong” ] Labog said.

“The government should think beyond giving money to the poor or shelling out money during typhoons. The urban poor are calling for decent jobs, decent housing, and affordable social services,” he added.

Filipino warriors defending their 'informal settlement'
Filipino warriors defending their ‘informal settlement’

You wonder though why the “poor” is entitled not only to “decent jobs” and “decent housing” but an 18,000-peso “rental subsidy” as well. Last I heard, it is rich folk and people who occupy their domiciles legally who pay all the taxes that fund all these government “gifts” to these “less fortunate” sods.

I’ve been raised to believe that a “decent job” is something one earns by (1) listening to your parents’ sensible advise, (2) studying hard, and (3) working hard to earn your boss’s respect and confidence. So following that logic, one can infer that people who hold “decent jobs” are those that somehow did something right in the past.

Then jumping off that, the whole point of having a “decent job” is so that you secure yourself a reliable enough income stream to afford you “decent housing” either through an ability to pay a good enough amount of rent or to make the payments on a housing loan.

I fail to see where in the “solution” offered by the KMU this chain of causality I described above fits in. They seem to imply that bagging the good job and nice house is somebody else’s responsibility as far as the average squatter is concerned.

To be fair, squatters’ lifestyles are consistent with this KMU philosophy. They live on land funded by the hard work of somebody else and put a strain on public works and services funded by somebody else’s tax money.

Funny the way we paint these squatters (oh excuuuzzze me, “informal settlers” pala) like they are the victims in the overall scheme of things when in actual fact they hold Philippine society hostage by virtue of their enormous numbers. As Neal Cruz in his recent Inquirer article laments…

Even the government, at national and local levels, seems powerless against them. Or more accurately, is not willing to get the ire of squatters by relocating them. Reason: Squatters are voters. And squatters usually vote as a block. They vote for whomever their leaders choose. And with barangay elections coming up, it would be even more difficult for barangay officials to muster the courage and the will power to eject squatters. In fact, some of these local officials are the very same people who brought in squatters to vote for them. Some barangay officials (and even councilors, mayors and congressmen) protect certain squatter colonies because they consider these their bailiwicks.

That’s not exactly a new notion — just one of those commonsensical concepts that hover way above the intellectual faculties of most Filipinos. As far as the maths are concerned, there’s nothing like an accounting of who coughs up the cash to put the whole idea of the “victimisation” of “informal settlers” in the proper perspective…

Look at it this way: The homeowners pay the real estate taxes—in Quezon City, the highest in the whole country—as well as many other taxes. These taxes pay the salaries and allowances of all City Hall and barangay officials, as well as for all city assistance extended to squatters and other city expenses made for squatters. On the opposite end, the squatters pay almost no direct taxes (real estate tax, business tax, income tax, etc.). Worse, they are lawbreakers, technically stealing properties owned by others. So why do they have more rights than the law-abiding, tax-paying citizens?

I guess somebody needs to remind Mr Cruz that the Philippines is a society where all the wrong arguments win. Foremost of these arguments is who really is the bad guy around here.

As long as we celebrate poverty, poverty will celebrate us.

[Photo courtesy The National.]