As the OHSDP Davao convention, comes to a close, (August 28-30, 2013), I wish to focus on one of the major concerns of housing which is addressing a chronic and progressive problem of the homeless. The urban poor family in order to survive, has no alternative, but to find a dwelling place no matter where and whatever manner. Ending up to be known as an “informal settler”, more commonly known as a “squatter”.
The Organization of Socialized Housing Developments of the Philippine (OSHDP) us pushing for the inclusion of specific residential condominium projects under socialized housing through an amendment of R.A. 7279 to pave the way for what the group describes as “socialized housing condominiums”.
Mr. Tan said the the housing problems in the country remains huge with 600.000 informal settler families all over the country and 104,000 in the NCR region alone.
If the Aquino administration wants to address this problem and provide safer and disaster resilient communities for the marginalizzed sector, then this will be a significant legislation. OSHDP President Ryan T. Tan told BusinessWorld during the group’s 4th annual convention.
National Housing Regional Manager Carol R. Angel said that low income earners do not want to be relocated far from their workplace because that will be double expenses for them in terms of living allowance and transpiration cost.
All over the world, vagabonds, tramps, hobos and the squatters or whatever term they are called, has become a common sight. There are also people who are homeless or who lives on the streets.
In poor, third world or developing countries, it is more common to see beggars, destitute, homeless, and the marginalized urban poor. But there is one growing concern which has increase especially in the Philippines – Squatting.
What is squatting actually? According to Author/Writer Robert Neuwirth, Squatting consists of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land and/or a building – usually residential that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have lawful permission to use. (Source Robert Neuwirth)
Mr. Neuwirth said there are one billion squatters globally, that is, about one in every seven people on the planet. But according to Kesia Reeve, “squatting is largely absent from policy and academic debate and is rarely conceptualized, as a problem, as a symptom, or as a social or housing movement.”
After the World War II devastation, rebuilding started and Metro Manila became the country’s economic hub and political capital of the country. People from most provinces in the country are hardworking farmers and fishermen, living a simple life. Promised with limitless opportunities for employment and business, the “probinsianos” flocked in hundreds to Manila.
Sadly to say, the migrants found themselves jobless, without a home within an urban jungle. It is but normal that population grows, especially the high birth rate that came after World War II. Growing families and higher cost of living made it impossible for the urban poor to afford a decent home.
Manila, a mirage for the hungry provincial migrant, blinded by what was supposed to be – “promise land” – as they were made to believe, fell short of expectations, and got stuck in another trap; that of poverty and the slums.
In the 1950’s people then started to built “makeshift” houses, also called “Barong-Barong” inside abandoned private lands. Many of them landed in Intramuros, at that time, had several abandoned and uncleared land. Others found their way to vacant lands near jobs sites, relatives mostly in Tondo, Binondo, San Andres Bukid, Paco and Pandacan.
Squatting has become a huge social, economic and even political problem in the Philippines.
According to the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Informal Settlers (MMIAC), one out of every five residents in Metro Manila is a squatter.
As of 2007, the Inquirer quoted a report of the MMIAC saying that there are more than 544,609 households of informal settlers in Metro Manila, representing 21% of the total 2.6 million households population.
Last 2010, news.yahoo.com stated that Metro Manila, with a population density of 19,137 persons/sq.km. is currently ranked 12th in the world. With the limited area, condominiums and high-rise low-cost houses were built to solve the problem. However, condos are very expensive, while low cost houses are both limited and not affordable. Finding no alternative, the increasing squatter families invaded more private, public lands, sidewalks, any open spaces and worse, the rivers and small waterways.
It is important to know the categories of squatters in the Philippines for a clearer picture; squatters who squat because of poverty (Deprivation based); squatters who squat because they want to profit (receive payment in exchange for leaving the real estate property). Squatters who hopes to make a profit are called “professional squatters” or “informal settlers”. Lastly, there are now Squatters syndicates.
This country, unfortunately, has a higher percentage of professional squatters and squatting syndicates. Professional squatters, won’t relocate unless they are paid, before repeating the process. A syndicate, usually outsiders, organizes the squatters association, giving assurances of protection from eviction. They collect monthly membership fees from each family, threatening eviction from the colony if anyone protests. The syndicates have lawyers and enforcement teams as protection and they coaxed the members to become violent and difficult during eviction.
With land area getting scarcer, “squatters” have become bolder by taking over the sides of the river. This is very dangerous especially when the rainy season comes and tides are high. Worse, the informal settlers have turned the rivers into a “permanent, one-stop toilet, wash and garbage area”.
It is a known fact that Metro Manila does not boast of a large and effective waterway and sewerage system, and adding the squatting problems, the metropolis is always quickly flooded. Traffic becomes a nightmare, and the risk of killer diseases like leptospirosis goes higher.
Heavy or even Light Floods would translate to millions of losses in government funds, infrastructure, international and local businesses, livelihood, school & work time, and even lives.
Squatters’ has been dubbed as an “eyesore” in the Philippines. Imagine a 20-story 1st class condominiums, residential and commercial establishments standing beside a squatters area, where old, decaying houses are surrounded by garbage and human dirt.
Local residents and Tourist alike, frowns at the pitiful sight of squatters proliferating all over Metro Manila. Just like terrorism, problem on squatters in Metro Manila is taking its toll on the country tourism industry. Former Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon said “tourists are turned off by the presence of squatters shanties in many parts of Metro Manila”. “Squatters weaken tourism, tourists are depressed to see them,” Gordon added.
Squatters also hamper the development efforts of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to rehabilitate the Philippine National Railways (PNR). The PNR tracks particularly in the north are now covered with shanties.
Metro Manila is in the top list of cities having a high-crime rate in the world. More often, big and small-time criminals are associated with “squatters”. Crime syndicates, big or small, hires professionals living in squatters because of their willingness to do the job at a much cheaper rate.
The tourism industry is one of the sectors badly hit by terror threats and crime activities as many foreign governments issued travel advisories to their citizens against visiting the country for fear of their safety.
In 1975, former President Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Decree 772 PD (772), made prosecuting “squatting and other criminal acts” relatively easy. Under PD 772, squatting was clearly a criminal undertaking as Section 1 of the decree states. It is under Marcos’s administration, where thousands of squatters were successfully evicted from land they illegally inhabited and jailed for their offense. PD 772 was repealed when Republic Act No. 8368, the “Anti-Squatting Law Repeal Act of 1997″ took effect. RA 8368 also authorized dismissal of all pending cases.
During the late 1990’s, the Philippine government started offering off-site, off-city resettlement areas where squatters are relocated with own house and lot properties like Tondo (formerly Smokey Mountain landfill), Taguig (BLISS Housing Project), and Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal. The government initially covers the costs and recovers these through cheap monthly amortization ranging from P300 to 1,000.
According to the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Informal Settlers (MMIAC), a committee created by then Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last 1997, said that “the Philippine government would need around P3.2 billion every year for the next 10 years to provide socialized housing units to informal settlers.”
In tackling the squatter’s issue here in Manila, there are two important issues to understand. First, the proper treatment for squatters, whether they are real or professionals and the development of settlement shelters.
Squatters are mostly in the lower or minimum-wage bracket. In simple terms, they cannot afford to have a decent life and even a decent home. Squatters are persons, and they need to be treated “humanly” as much as possible.
The current administration plans to relocate informal settlers in three ways – in city, off-site, and with help from civil society groups involved in housing poor families.
A squatter settlement is a residential area which has developed without legal claims to the land and/or permission from the concerned authorities to build and there are essentially three defining characteristics that needs to be satisfied: the Physical, the Social and the legal.
A squatter settlement, which has a “non-legal” status, usually has services and infrastructure below the “adequate” or minimum levels. This is the common complaints of squatters set for relocation. A settlement should include enough services both in network and social infrastructure, like water supply, sanitation, electricity, roads and drainage; schools, health centers, market places etc.
Most squatter settlement households works as wage laborers or in various informal sector enterprises. On an average, most earn wages at or near the minimum wage level. But household income levels can go higher due to extra and/or part-time jobs. Squatters are predominantly migrants, either rural-urban or urban-urban. But many are also second or third generation squatters.
The Tondo, Taguig, Montalban housing projects has been done, while new relocation sites are in the offing. The question lies whether new project would satisfy the characteristics of a good relocation site.
Unfortunately there is not enough political will by local government units (LGU’s), the city government and barangays to undertake relocation of squatters no matter how important it may be. The question is not about the problems that they cause but for a local politician the high density population of squatters are valued votes and voters. Therefore it will be a political counter-productive move for one in need of votes.
The second part of this article will discuss the need and cost of relocation and other details such as success stories of urban housing projects.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
business world. carmencita a carillo.