Judging from the reaction of the readers to previous articles on squatters in the Philippines, there are definitely more decent Filipinos who are fed up with squatters who bite the hand that feed them compared to the number of readers who defended some of the squatters’ parasitic tendencies.
After my suggestion that illegal settlers should move out of their illegally occupied property, a lot of those who reacted strongly agree that the squatters have not only overstayed their welcome, they have also lost the sympathy of some of the hardworking taxpayers who have been very generous and tolerant of their abusive ways in the past.
It has come to the point where some taxpayers have already expressed their outrage and unwillingness to shoulder any relocation expenses in the future. This is after realizing that there are actually professional squatters who just take the money handed out to them by the government on condition that they agree to be relocated. Many of them, it usually turns out, will simply move to a new area to squat thereby cheating the system. The worst thing about this is that these handouts merely promote dependency instead of self-sufficiency. Some people who have decent jobs and work hard even say that life on the dole seems hassle-free.
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Of course there were those who were outraged with Filipinos who were outraged by the squatters’ arrogance. Some of them say that the “elite” and “educated” should not be too harsh on the squatters who resort to violence because they are merely driven by frustration and hopelessness by government inefficiency and bureaucracy. Never mind that a lot of the people from the squatter areas are known to accept bribes from corrupt public officials who are obviously inefficient and incompetent in the performance of their jobs. We get the politicians we deserve then. People from the squatter areas contributed significantly to the electing to office of public officials who are not really interested in uplifting the poor people’s conditions. The members of the “thinking class” can be forgiven for suggesting that some Filipinos from certain socio-economic classes should not be allowed to vote at all to end the sham that happens every election.
Squatter sympathizers insist that it is the government’s sole responsibility to cater to the poor in the slums. For the record, the taxpayers have been very generous without even realizing it. The National Housing Authority (NHA) is spending P3.4-billion in low-rise housing projects that are said to be currently in various stages of development. This includes “10 low-rise housing projects, equivalent to 6,404 housing units, being built by the NHA for the 18,000 families living in the six priority waterways in Metro Manila.”
In addition, taxpayers are paying an 18,000-peso “rental subsidy” for each squatter family relocated to other settlement sites. That’s a lot of money if you multiply that by the number families in the squatter areas. The number of families in squatter areas keeps growing everyday and could even go up further after the government’s subsidy announcement. According to the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council estimate, at the moment there are 550,771 squatter households in the country, over 90,000 of which are in Quezon City alone.
Asking the squatters to move out and clear the areas they are currently occupying – near riverbanks, under the bridges, along the railroad tracks and behind economic and exclusive residential zones, is easier said than done. Aside from professional squatters who try to cheat the system, there are squatters who keep returning to squat near the cities because they say there is no livelihood in the relocation sites. This is proof that the government’s relocation program is completely flawed and is not even working to decongest the country’s busiest districts.
To address this perennial problem, instead of spending too much money on relocation of the squatters, the government should allocate the funds to develop industries in other regions in the country to create jobs for the unemployed. This will encourage the squatters to move out on their own. At the moment, the country’s projects are too focused on developing infrastructure within the capital region. This naturally compels people to converge in the same areas to look for work.
Likewise, the squatter sympathizers who demand more dole-outs for the poor should give taxpayers a break. Using band-aid solutions cannot solve the squatter problem and will not break the cycle of poverty in the country. Giving money away in exchange for nothing is not going to help inspire the poor to achieve independence. It has been proven in the past that money that is earned through hard work is better appreciated than money received for free. In considering this, the government can also run an initiative by paying the poor only after they have provided some services to the community. This can be in the form of asking them to work for several hours a week cleaning up the environment or helping out in beautification projects in their local areas. That can make them appreciate and care for their surroundings in the long run. They can also develop life-long skills that they can use for future employment.
Those from the squatter areas who work menial jobs for the upper class are already given breaks by being allowed not to pay tax. Their situation is what is referred to as the underground economy that is unregulated. It may be a double-edged sword because they can be paid peanuts, but it is the result of the law of supply and demand.
It is wrong for some people to insist that the poor people in the squatter areas are the taxpayer’s responsibility. Not only is such a philosophy unsustainable, it is tantamount to going against nature. If one doesn’t have the right skill to survive in the city jungle, one should seek another jungle that is more appreciative of one’s abilities.
In life, things are not always what they seem.