As I See It

The truly marginalized and underrepresented

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Only A few days before the elections, the Quezon City government exempted squatters in the National Government Center near the Batasang Pambansa from paying real estate taxes on their homes and stores. The government lots will be sold to them at very minimal prices. How lucky can squatters get. That is why Quezon City is called the paradise of squatters. And that is why squatters congregate there.

The Quezon City government’s move is obviously a vote-getting ploy because squatters are voters (attention: Comelec), and squatters vote like herds of cattle. They vote for whoever buys their votes or whomever their leaders tell them to vote for.

I am happy for the really poor squatters who would benefit although I don’t agree with rewarding lawbreakers, which squatters are. But what about the law-abiding lot owners whose properties have been squatted upon but continue to pay real estate taxes to the Quezon City government? Not only that, the city assessor regularly increases the valuation, and therefore the realty taxes, of these lots. The lazy assessor bases his valuations on maps, without going to the actual sites to see the conditions there. If he does, he would see that many of the sites on which he imposed high taxes are overrun by squatters.

As if to twist the knife further, the City Council passed an ordinance imposing an additional realty tax on property owners—to be used, it said, to construct homes for squatters. The city government has been collecting this additional tax for years now but not a single hollow block for any squatter medium-rise building has been put in place. What’s happening to these additional taxes paid by property owners?

As if to add insult to injury, there is no assurance that the squatters on private lots assessed the additional taxes would be relocated first. The lot owners may be paying the additional taxes for years but the squatters may continue to fatten on their properties.

Squatters never have it so good anywhere else in the world but in the Philippines. They picture themselves as “poor, homeless people” in need of help. Because of which there are many bleeding hearts who coddle them. Politicians not only coddle them but also encourage them. Every candidate’s heart bleeds for them. In fact, many of these politicians actually bring the squatters to their districts to vote for them.

There are many urban poor groups and congressmen who protect them and look after their welfare. There is an existing law, the Urban Development Housing Act, better known as the Lina Law, that protects them. Squatting has been decriminalized. Since its enactment, squatters have run amuck. Squatter colonies sprouted everywhere.

But are these squatters really poor? Open your eyes and use your brains. Pass by these squatter colonies and see for yourselves. The squatters have stores and shops and other business establishments. Many of them have four-story concrete and hollow block dwellings. Television antennas sprout like bamboos above their roofs. At night, vehicles of all sorts are double-parked on both sides of streets surrounding the colonies.

Think of it. The squatters earn a lot from their stores and shops but pay no rent to the owners of lots they have squatted upon. They do not pay any real estate tax or any business tax to the government. Sometimes they pay no electric and water bills because they steal power and water from the concessionaires. Some of them have two or more houses, renting them out to other squatters. Some of them steal electricity and power and sell them to their neighbors. Others have been given lots in relocation sites but have sold them to speculators and gone back to squatting. Squatters are paid tens of thousands of pesos to voluntarily dismantle their shanties and move out. But they reassemble their shanties somewhere else and the whole cycle begins again.

They say that crime does not pay, but in the Philippines it does.

It pays to squat here, although stealing somebody else’s property is a crime. On the contrary, those who steal are rewarded by the government for it: relocation lots, exemption from real estate, business and other taxes, free use of somebody else’s property, relief goods and laws favoring them. For one, I think the Lina Law is class legislation. It favors one class of citizens (and lawbreakers at that) at the expense of the property owners.

What’s more, the squatters have several party-list congressmen representing them in Congress. So they are no longer underrepresented and marginalized.

On the other hand, it is the lot owners who are marginalized and underrepresented. I am referring not to the big landowners (they can take care of themselves) but to the small lot owners—the teachers, clerks and other workers who paid for their 200- or 400-square meter lots by installment for years only to discover that squatters have occupied their lots.

They ask help from the government, national and local, but although public officials are duty-bound to protect private property in exchange for the taxes the owners pay, they do nothing. Senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, councilors all coddle the squatters because they are voters. In fact, officials of barangays, who are supposed to be the first line of defense against squatting, are the ones who bring in squatters to vote for them.

Going to court is too long, tedious and expensive. The small lot owners cannot afford the expense. And they have no party-list, no representative to look after their plight in Congress. These law-abiding, taxpaying property owners are the truly marginalized and underrepresented of our citizens.

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