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As I See It
One cause of floods: squatters

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:22:00 10/14/2009

Filed Under: Waste Management & Pollution Control, House building, Social Issues, Flood, Laws

Why do the floodwaters in Cainta, Taytay, Pasig, and other low-lying areas away from Laguna Lake refuse to go away despite the fact that it has stopped raining and the sun is shining hot? Because the drainage pipes are blocked by non-biodegradable garbage: plastic bags, styrofoam, plastic cups and plates, etc. These are the trash that lazy residents conveniently dump into esteros, creeks, rivers, and sidewalks. Now these trash have come back to haunt them.

Unlike organic waste that degrade in due time, non-biodegradable waste don?t decay. Rushing water carry them to drainage pipes and clog them. And there they will stay forever unless declogged. The water cannot drain into Manila Bay and so it backs up into the streets and homes, carrying with it mud, pieces of trash, and disease.

How do we prevent this from happening again and again? This was the subject of last Monday?s Kapihan sa Manila with Mayor Alfredo Lim and City Hall officials (an engineer in charge of pumping water out of low areas and a police official in charge of garbage collection and disposal) exchanging ideas with Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon and Jun Ebdane of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

They all agreed that when the squatters return to their homes beside the waterways, the whole rigmarole will start all over again. They agreed that local governments should relocate the squatters, but that?s easier said than done.

Relocate them where? In some god-forsaken place far from their means of livelihood so that the squatters will, in time, sell their homes to speculators and go back to squatting?

Worse, the very cheap lots awarded to squatters attract more settlers from the provinces to come to the cities and squat there. In spite of billions of pesos spent and large areas of land allotted for relocation of squatters, these informal settlers increase instead of decrease.

Then there are the LGU officials themselves, from barangay officials to councilors to congressmen, who coddle squatters. Try to relocate a squatter colony and these officials come out of their air-conditioned offices like angry bees to protect and grandstand in front of the squatters.

Why do they do this? Because the squatters are voters. In fact, in many cases, it was the politicians themselves who brought in the squatters to vote for them. Barangay officials also make money out of them by collecting fees or rent from them for the right to squat on a piece of land (belonging to some hapless teacher or clerk).

To stop this anomaly, Lim suggested that they not be allowed to vote in places where they are squatting. ?We will not deprive them of the right to vote,? he said, ?but they have to vote where they came from.? If Jesus and Mary were made to go back to Bethlehem, where they came from, for the census, why not present-day squatters?

Another anomaly pointed out is the practice of the Department of Public Works and Highways to pay each squatter at least P15,000 to get out of the right-of-way of a road the DPWH is constructing. The Lina law provides that a census be taken some time in the 1970s and that those who squat after the census would not be entitled to relocation or the payment of any amount. But just to make things easier, the DPWH pays everybody in the way of a street under construction, census or no census.

This DPWH policy gives an incentive to squat. When people hear that a road is about to be built, they flock to the road right-of-way, expecting to be paid for their shanties. Some build their homes of hollow blocks and then haggle with the DPWH for a higher ?disturbance fee.?

For their own convenience, the DPWH pays. Anyway, it is not its money it is spending; it is the people?s taxes.

After getting his money, the squatter goes to another lot and squats there, and the whole process is repeated. Some professional squatters have moved so many times and earned hundreds of thousands of pesos just from squatting. That is why we can never stop squatting with the present policies. The government itself gives the squatters the incentives to violate the laws against squatting.

The panelists said that the laws themselves?the Lina law and the law decriminalizing squatting?proposed and passed by legislators coddling squatters, encourage squatting. Squatting has become many times worse since these two laws were enacted, they said.

Still another irony is that the courts are encouraging squatting. Because of the very slow wheel of justice, a simple ejectment case against a squatter who has no claim at all to the property can take many years, during which time the squatter stays on the property as if he owns it and the owner spends hundreds of thousands of pesos for lawyer?s fees.

The police and City Hall are supposed to protect the property of taxpayers. That?s the least they can do in exchange for the taxes the citizens pay that go to the salaries of the policemen and city officials and employees. But just try to get their help when you catch a squatter erecting his shanty on your property.

The police will insist that you file a case in court and won?t stop him from erecting his shanty on somebody else?s property. And City Hall will call a meeting, maybe a month later, between the owner and the squatter. Most likely, the meeting will never materialize, as the squatter will not show up and the owner will be told by City Hall to come back again and again. During that time, the squatter will have finished constructing his home, and the lot owner can no longer eject him without a court order.

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