As in the poem, my heart leapt up when I beheld in Thursday’s Inquirer a report that the Metro Manila Development Authority will conduct a census of squatters to prepare for their relocation. At last, I thought, we will get back our family property that has been squatted upon for decades. But, reading further, I learned that only squatters along waterways will be the subject of the census and relocation. What about the private properties, especially in Quezon City, on which the city government is collecting additional real-estate taxes, allegedly to be used for squatter housing? Not a single hollow block for the alleged squatter housing has been put in place, and the terms of office of the councilors who passed the additional realty tax as well as the mayor who implements it are to end in one month.
Much of Metro Manila is decaying due to the squatter colonies that local government units are tolerating because they are vote-rich areas.
In fact, many of those squatters were brought in by these local officials when they were candidates, to vote for them. And these same squatters are the ones who keep them in office during every election.
Lot owners cannot develop their properties because of the squatters. It is ironic that many lot owners are themselves homeless and are renting rooms because squatters have taken over, and are profiting from, their properties. It is fallacious to think that all squatters are poor. Many of them are rich opportunists.
Look at the squatter colonies: There are stores, shops, and other businesses, as well as two-to four-story concrete houses built on lots that were stolen from their owners. Yet the squatters do not pay real estate and business taxes, have no business permits, and most likely do not pay income taxes, too. It is the lot owners who pay the real estate taxes for the lots being used by other people. The Quezon City government is quick to sell at public auction those lots whose registered owners are delinquent in the payment of realty taxes. The winning bidders are usually syndicates close to City Hall.
It is the responsibility of the government to protect private property in exchange for the taxes the owners pay. But the LGUs do not do that. To be fair, the LGUs should suspend the collection of real estate taxes on lots squatted on until they have relocated the squatters. When will they start doing this?
If you go to City Hall to seek police help to stop squatters from building their shanties on your lot, officials will tell you to get a court order. Yet, it is the duty of the police to prevent a crime that is in the process of being committed. When a policeman sees a person being held up, it is his duty to arrest the holdup man. When he sees thieves taking away appliances from a house, it is his duty to arrest those criminals even without a court order. It is the same thing with squatters. They are thieves and robbers stealing somebody else’s property.
If you file an ejection case in court, the wheels of justice grind so slowly that by the time the court issues a decision, the squatter colony would be firmly established. And even if you win the case, the sheriff and police will not enforce it if you don’t pay them extra.
And the courts are so slow and the legal process so expensive that many property owners cannot afford the costs. On the other hand, the squatter associations have in-house lawyers and enforcers. The odds are stacked against the law-abiding property owner.
The fact that one is poor is no excuse to steal. Even if a person is poor, it is a crime to hold up a fellow man or rob someone else’s house; that person is still guilty of theft and robbery. Squatting is no different. A squatter is guilty of theft.
But the bleeding hearts in Congress have decriminalized squatting. And the Urban Development and Housing Act (Udha), better known as the Lina Law, piles all the benefits in favor of squatters. As I see it, the Udha is class legislation because it favors one class of citizens—the squatters—at the expense of the law-abiding, tax-paying property owners. It should be repealed. Likewise, the law decriminalizing squatting should be repealed.
Because of these laws, squatter colonies have mushroomed everywhere like bad weeds, leading to the decay of many urban areas.
The contagion is still spreading, with the government unable, or unwilling, to stop it because squatters are voters. Many flying voters are also squatters, as are many vote-sellers.
All over the urban areas, we see these tall condominium buildings for the rich. What about the poor? Why is there no in-city housing for them?
The reason squatters resist relocation is that they are thrown to places far from their means of livelihood. The pittance they earn is spent for transportation. So they go back to squatting in the cities.
Can’t the government require the land developers that for every 100 units for rich customers, they provide 10 low-cost housing units for the poor? Build medium-rise housing, at break-even prices for the squatters, near the tall gleaming condominiums.
Then the house help of the condo owners can come from these medium-rise housing units. The owners of the condo units—which are very small—will save money if their house help are “living out.” And the house help will save the money they will otherwise use for transportation because they can just walk to their jobs.
Vice President Jejomar Binay is the housing and antisquatting czar. But he is more concerned about working for his election to the presidency in 2016 that he has forgotten his responsibilities. Doesn’t he realize that he will get more votes if he is able to provide housing for squatters and return the lots squatted on to their owners?