Editorial: Dealing with informal settlers

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

AN INTERESTING comment raised by observers in the current conflict between residents of lots 942 and 947 in Sitio San Miguel, Barangay Apas and the lots’ claimant, Aletha Suico-Magat, is about rent.

The argument is that because the informal settlers, all 157 households of them, supposedly used the lot rent-free, they have lost the right to get the compensation that the lot claimant is dangling on them so they would voluntarily dismantle their houses.

That point glosses over the fact that ownership of the lot has been contested in court and has been undergoing years of litigation. Before that, the lots in question were considered part of the government-owned Lahug airport. How could rent have been collected under that setup?


These make the insistence that Sitio San Miguel residents should have paid rent in the first place untenable.

More than that, it misses the point about the proliferation of informal settlements in the country’s urban centers. Economic circumstance and not conscious attempt at a land grab has driven most of the informal settlers to “squat” on lots that are not theirs.

It is for this reason that “squatting” is no longer the crime that it was during the Martial Law years when Presidential Decree 772 was not yet repealed by subsequent laws (although professional squatters and squatting syndicates can still be penalized).

Instead the “squatting” phenomenon is placed within the context of the government putting in place a genuine urban housing and land reform program as part of its effort to battle widespread poverty.

This rebuts the perception that informal settlers are parasites feeding on the blood of the government and society’s land-owning class. Instead, their situation is viewed as the product of society’s inequities and government’s failure in the task of urban planning.

Of course, this is a rather simplified view. The truth is that squatting is a complicated problem that involves not only social concerns but other aspects including the legal one. But the starting point in the discussion should always be the humane treatment of informal settlers.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 13, 2014.


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