The squatting mess

I  ALWAYS get into trouble whenever I insist that we should not blame the squatters for having mushroomed in the metropolis. There was simply no opportunity for them in the city, although most of them admittedly came from the provinces where they suffered the same fate.

But a Filipino must not be a squatter in his own country. It is every Filipino’s right to have a decent home. Yet the problem has worsened, and we find slum communities all over the metropolis, and the number of informal dwellers as they are now called, continue to increase by the day.

In 1986, President Corazon Aquino started building new communities around the metropolis to decongest Metro Manila of its slum communities.

The Marcos regime built tenement buildings which later turned out to be ghettos, with the so-called Zonal Improvement Program, or ZIP

Every year, the government prioritizes socialized housing in its national budget, but we just couldn’t cope with the number of units being built to absorb the number of informal settlers.

The National Housing Authority even came up with joint venture programs for mass housing in collaboration with local government units and the private sector, which also joined in developing subdivisions, apartments and dormitories. Later, there was the so-called Community Mortgage Program (CMP) for informal settlers. The NHA organized communities intending to acquire the land they occupy or in which they wish to be relocated.

In a way, government has succeeded relocating hundreds of thousands of people squatting near railroad tracks and those living in conditions that expose them to peril alongside creeks.

Still, there is much that needs to be done. Methinks that government has not really seriously prioritized housing as a major component for development, if we are to make Metro Manila and other urban centers a livable place for all—rich or poor.

Whenever there is a financial crunch, socialized housing is being sidelined. Our political leaders would rather resort to dole-outs.

We always blame organized groups for agitating informal settlers to assert their rights, and at the end of the day we find government being criticized for inaction. But slum dwellers need help to engage government in a debate and explain to our policy makers that even if they are squatters, they have a right to a decent home.

Government would not think in terms of compassion, but in figures.  It will cost government over P100, 000 for one unit.  In the meantime, we can only expect urban poor groups to launch protest actions if only to be heard.

The latest mass action was the human chain and noise barrage to call on the President to fulfill his campaign program on a compressive reform of the housing program for the poor. They are even calling for a three-year moratorium on demolition, evictions and foreclosures.

But I don’t think a moratorium is part of the solution to problem. We would just encourage continued influx of slum dwellers in the metropolis. It will also give syndicates the opportunity to easily identify vacant areas which they can develop and turn into slum communities.

It can also trigger another wave of urban migration, knowing that Metro Manila can still accommodate the poor families since they are free to build shanties right in the heart of the city.

It would be best that we realize and accept that informal settlers cannot afford to acquire their own house and lots unless the government takes the cudgel for them.

Government can claim that it has been doing this for decades, but we can not say that our leaders have succeeded in improving people’s lives unless the informal dwellers are given the opportunity to own homes and become involved in projects that help improve their earning potentials.

Government should finally provide a blueprint that will solve the squatter problem and decide which programs they have implemented in the past are fit to be continued for the mass housing projects that the Aquino administration will be implementing during the next six years. The perennial problem just makes us really look like a poor country.


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