As I See It

Too many condos for the rich but none for the poor

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10:35 PM June 27th, 2013

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By: Neal H. Cruz, June 27th, 2013 10:35 PM

Isn’t it ironic that with all the gleaming high-rise condominium buildings mushrooming all over the urban areas, there is no housing for poor squatters? Everything is for the rich.

Isn’t it possible to compel land developers, through legislation or rules, or by appealing to their social conscience, to construct medium-rise, affordable housing for poor squatters for every tall condo building that they build for the rich? Let us say that for every 100 costly condos for the rich, the developer will build 10 to 20 units (that’s only 10-20 percent) for the squatters nearby, not in some faraway, godforsaken place.

Squatters resist relocation because the sites are in some remote province where land is still cheap, where they will have no jobs, no water and electric connections, no schools for their children, etc. They will be so far from their means of livelihood in the cities that most of their daily earnings will be used up only for transport. That is why many of them go back to squatting in the cities. If we continue with this, the government will run out of land to award to the homeless but squatting will never disappear. The relocation sites will be sold by the squatters to land speculators, and the squatters will go back to living in shanties or under bridges in the urban areas.

The host communities also resist accepting the squatters because they add to the municipalities’ expenses. Worse, the crime rate in the host communities usually rises, and sanitation usually deteriorates.

The answer, as I see it, is in-city relocation, to medium-rise housing units that will not be sold to the recipient squatters but only rented to them to keep costs as low as possible. That way, land speculation will also be prevented as the squatters cannot sell their rights to their units.

The house help of the condo owners can then come from these medium-rise housing units so they don’t have to be accommodated in the cramped condos.

Great care should be made, however, to award units only to the true homeless squatters, not to the professional squatters and squatting syndicates and land speculators. The latter should be ejected immediately without relocation and prosecuted if they go back to squatting.

The squatting syndicates prey not only on the landowners but also on the squatters themselves, from whom they demand monthly membership fees. These membership fees are never accounted for and simply disappear—into the pockets of the syndicate officers.

Study any squatter colony and you will see that there are stores and shops from which they derive income but for which they pay no rent to the owner of the land they are squatting on. Neither do they pay business taxes to the local governments or income taxes to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Visit any squatter colony at the end of the day and you will find their vehicles double-parked on the streets. You will also see TV antennas shooting out of the rooftops and hear soap operas blaring out of their stereo sets. These squatters own vehicles, TV and stereo sets, and other costly home appliances, and we call them “poor” and the bleeding hearts bleed for them?

No government heart bleeds for the poor lot owner whose property has been squatted upon. Local governments collect higher and higher real estate taxes from them but do not protect their properties from squatters. Ask for their help against the squatters and they will give you the runaround. Most of the time, local officials will side with the squatters because of their votes.

There are many urban poor groups and even party-list groups, but none for the poor property owners victimized by squatters. By “property owner,” I am referring not to the hacienda owners or the corporate owners of estates who can take care of themselves, but to the poor teacher, clerk and other lowly employees who paid for their lots in installments, month after month and year after year, only for these to be stolen by squatters. To make matters worse, City Hall raises the realty tax every few years on these properties that only the squatters profit from.

These property owners obey the law and pay the taxes. Their taxes are used to help squatters who have broken the law and victimized them. Does this mean that it pays to be a lawbreaker than to be a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen?

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Mayor Calixto Cataquiz of San Pedro, Laguna, has been suspended from office and Vice Mayor Norvic Solidum is now the acting mayor. But that is a very brief victory for Solidum. On July 1, or just three days from now, Lourdes Cataquiz, the wife of the suspended mayor, will take over as mayor of San Pedro.

Calixto Cataquiz was going to run for his third and final term as mayor but was disqualified by the Commission on Elections because San Pedro was converted into a city last March 27. This is according to his supporters. His opponents, however, claim he was convicted in an administrative case for graft that dates back to 2003, when he was chief of the Laguna Lake Development Authority. The conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Cataquiz was replaced by his wife Lourdes as mayoral candidate in the May elections. Solidum also ran for mayor. Lourdes defeated Solidum by more than 26,000 votes.

Less than a week before his term ends on June 30, Cataquiz was finally suspended and Solidum proclaimed as the acting mayor. On July 1, however, before Solidum has even warmed his seat, the duly elected Lourdes Cataquiz will take over as mayor.

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