Informal settlers and water rates | Inquirer Opinion
Get Real

Informal settlers and water rates

I haven’t done an actual count, but it seems that the past week has had more than its share of news stories worthy of comment or analysis, and I don’t want to pass up the chance to get in my licks. So I ask the Reader for her forbearance as I tackle more than one issue in this column, not necessarily in the order of their importance.

For Metro Manilans in particular, but with application to all highly urbanized areas, there is the issue of informal settlers, and the controversies arising from them. But let us start with a definition of informal settlers, who obviously are those who live in informal settlements. So what is an informal settlement? The UN Habitat Program defines it as a residential area where a group of housing units has been constructed on land to which the occupants have no legal claim, or which they occupy illegally, and/or unplanned settlements and areas where housing is not in compliance with current planning and building regulations (unauthorized housing).

The latest incident to grab the headlines was the confrontation between the police and the apparently last holdover families—estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 of the original 10,000-12,000 families who were unauthorized/illegally occupying a 29-hectare property of the National Housing Authority which had been sold to the Ayalas for development.

The property had been squatted on for decades, but one does not know whether the informal settlers were paying rent to so-called squatter lords, or whether they were living there rent-free. If squatter lords were involved, these are generally believed to be members of the police or military—who are feared by the local residents and at the same time are treated gingerly by the local politicians, who are suspected of getting a cut anyway from the enormous rents being exacted from the informal settlers. On the other hand, if the informal settlers were living rent-free, then obviously they were being rewarded for breaking the law, which does not give them any incentive for being the law-abiding citizens that the country needs.


What horrified many, and turned off any public sympathy for the holdover families, was their use of feces as weapons against the police. Apparently, in these confrontations throwing sticks and stones and Molotov cocktails are acceptable, but throwing feces goes beyond the pale.

I don’t know where the rest of the informal settlers who left the area went—no doubt encouraged by some financial arrangement with either the NHA or the Ayalas. But their departure most likely will be temporary—simply because the relocation sites offered to them involve unaffordable transport costs (in time and money) to their workplaces in Metro Manila.  They will come back—and settle/squat somewhere else.

Which brings me to my point: If relocation sites have failed because they are too far from work areas, why do the government authorities insist on selling government land for high-end commercial/residential development rather than setting them aside for social housing projects? The government has helped informal settlers buy privately owned land through the Community Mortgage program. So why not do the same for government property?

The Quezon City property of the government that was the subject of the recent violence covers 29 hectares. Another government property, this time the FTI (Food Terminal Inc.) in Taguig, and also sold to the Ayalas, covers 79 hectares.  At least a portion of these areas could have been set aside for socialized housing and for resettlement, where the working poor (hopefully chosen by lottery) would benefit. As it is now, let’s face it, it is the wealthy who will benefit. One sincerely hopes that the Quezon Institute property and the Welfareville (Mandaluyong) property of the government will not be developed for the rich but for the poor.


* * *

The other local issue that caught my attention is the matter of water rates. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, bless its heart, has posted the costs of water in major cities in Southeast Asia, and lo and behold, we pay the third and fourth highest water bills per 15 cubic meters, following Singapore and Jakarta, with Bangkok trailing far behind us.


One recalls that the entry of the two concessionaires of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (Maynilad and Manila Water) resulted in less distribution losses, more client-households served, and definitely less cost of water paid by the poor and marginalized than when the MWSS was directly involved. Not to mention much safer water. Privatizing was definitely a plus.

What the concessionaires pay their employees or officers is none of MWSS’ business. And until I see all the data, I am not prepared to comment on whether rates should be increased or decreased.

However, if the reports are accurate about the two concessionaires passing on to their users their income tax bills, that action has to be roundly condemned. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify such a move. Income taxes are paid on the net income or profit of the corporation. Profit or net income is equal to total revenue minus total costs. So how can a tax on net income be a cost? Unconscionable. If indeed the reports are accurate.

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Frankly, it is hard to believe that such upstanding corporate citizens like Maynilad (Pangilinan, Consunji) and Manila Water (Ayala), can be so deliberately underhanded—but there is always a first time. Moreover, that the MWSS allowed this practice to go on, apparently for the past five or six years, before blowing the whistle is equally condemnable.

TAGS: demolition, Get Real, housing, Informal settlers, NHA, opinion, Poverty, Solita Collas-Monsod, water rates

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