As part of an ongoing series that focuses on issues rather than personalities for the 2016 Philippine General Elections, this short essay zeroes in on one of the country’s most chronic problems.
Among other things, the lack of rural development, as well as the constant attraction of urban city life, have increased the population of squatters in the country. The trend apparently started after the Second World War, when thousands of people from the rural areas had no choice but to settle within major cities to look for jobs. Since then, national legislation has tried, and often failed, to come up with a comprehensive implementation to house those who would eventually be labeled as informal settlers : it is estimated that they comprise 15% of the total urban population of the Philippines.
President Ferdinand Marcos created PD 772 in 1975, which criminalized squatting; this, however was officially repealed in 1997. Written between this period is another official act that governs how squatters are treated: the Lina Law, as the Urban Development Housing Act of 1992 (RA 7279) is more widely known, requires that squatters be compensated by the government if they are to be relocated to proper housing sites, even if they primarily settled in privately-owned land. Taxpayers’ money, in short, is used to resettle squatters somewhere else. Worse, the Lina Law actually allows for squatters to squat on private land unless the landowners dole out the cash for them to leave.
The loopholes that have been created by both the Lina Law and the 1997 repeal has spawned professional squatting syndicates who extort informal settlers for “rent” in return for letting them stay where they are. Worse, perhaps through no fault of their own, informal settlers have been taken advantage of by both national and local government officials who often see informal settlers as vote farms, and who refuse to fully implement other Philippine laws on the flimsy excuse of “humanitarian appeal.” The Lina Law, which supposedly was enacted to diminish squatting, has in fact increased incidences of such. Thus, though squatting is a transnational problem, nowhere is it more stark than the major urban centers of the Philippines.
Here are statistics for several major Philippine urban centers with populations deemed as “informal”:
- Baguio: 1,104 informal settlers (c. 2010)
- Bacolod: 9,242 informal settlers (c. 2010)
- Camarines Sur (inc. Naga): 5,730 informal settlers (c. 2010)
- Cebu: 8,215 informal settlers (c. 2010)
- Davao: 13,750 informal settlers (c. 2010)
- Ilocos Norte (inc. Laoag): 774 informal settlers (c. 2010)
- Iloilo: 7,319 informal settlers (c. 2010)
- Manila (NCR): 140,308 informal settlers (c. 2010)*
- Zamboanga: 6,256 informal settlers (c. 2010)
The demographics show a steady increase of informal settlers from a similar census conducted in 2007, and no doubt the population has increased further as of this writing. During those uncommon instances when laws are implemented to reduce the incidences of informal settlement, violence often ensues from both the illegal settlers themselves and the government officials who perpetuate their existence. It’s obvious that an implementation of the law is lacking, but even pundits empathic to squatters and supportive of housing reform in the Philippines have seen how defective the Lina Law is, and how it results to judicial impunity, extreme urban poverty, and environmental decay, among other things.
Republic Act 7279 needs therefore to be repealed, but which national candidate (especially from the urban centers mentioned above) has the political will to to attempt it?
* Former DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo once quipped that the squatter population of Metro Manila may be as high as 25%, or roughly 2.7 million informal settlers.
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