Pampering squatters

>> Saturday, July 29, 2017

Alfred P. Dizon

BAGUIO CITY – If legitimate landowners and even government have a hard time in their intent to demolish buildings or houses of squatters (who are often referred to as informal settlers), it is because of the Lina Law or Urban Development Housing Act of 1992 (RA 7279)  as it is commonly known.  
It was considered a landmark legislation filed by then Sen. Jose “Joey” D. Lina, Jr. who was the youngest member of the Philippine Senate from 1987 to 1992.
Squatting is one of the country’s most chronic problems and unless the Lina Law is repealed or amended, expect more opportunists and land grabbers, rich or poor to take lands which are not their own.  
National legislation has tried, and often failed, to come up with a comprehensive implementation to house those who would eventually be labelled as informal settlers. It is estimated they comprise 15% of the total urban population of the Philippines or more.
Ferdinand Marcos created Presidential Decree 772 in 1975, which criminalized squatting. This however, was officially repealed in 1997. Written between this period was another official act that governs how squatters are treated --  RA 7279 which requires that squatters be compensated by the government if they are to be relocated to proper housing sites, even if they primarily settled in privately-owned land.
Taxpayers’ money, in short, is used to resettle squatters somewhere else. Worse, RA 7279 actually allows squatters to squat on private land unless landowners dole out the cash for them to leave.
Any laymen or non-lawyer could see that loopholes created by both the Lina Law and the 1997 repeal has spawned professional squatting syndicates who extort informal settlers for “rent” in return for letting them stay where they are.
Worse, perhaps through no fault of their own, informal settlers have been taken advantage of by national and local government officials who often see informal settlers as vote farms, and who refuse to fully implement other Philippine laws on the flimsy excuse of “humanitarian appeal or reasons.”
The Lina Law, which supposedly was enacted to diminish squatting, has in fact increased incidences of such. Squatting is a national problem and nowhere is it more stark than major urban centers like Baguio City.
If no one in both Houses of Congress has ever sponsored a bill to repeal or amend the Lina Law, it is because it would spell a death sentence to whoever will do and co-sponsor it come next elections.
So these squatters erect buildings over anything – idle lands, roads, pathways and yes, -- -- even rivers.  For as long as the government cannot find a real and honest-to-goodness solution to the never-ending problem of squatters, this problem won’t go away.
There has been no political will to confront the squatting problem. Politicians always court these squatters during elections or any day, giving them all sorts of promises that they intend to break anyway.
In a case, a certain Bimbo Fernandez cited Rep. Act. No 7279 of the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 that clearly states that “urban poor dwellers shall not be evicted nor their dwelling demolished, except in accordance with law and in a just and humane manner.”
Perhaps it is time for Congress to revisit this law, as it has encouraged people from outside urban areas to construct shanties in the hope of getting the government to pay up for land and housing.
While we’re at it, we should have a law that ought to criminalize professional squatting. The Lina Law provides that certain lands owned by the government may be disposed of or utilized for socialized housing purposes. It was signed into law to address the housing shortage of the country.
The Act was supposed to have laid down the groundwork for a comprehensive and continuing urban development and housing program. It was supposed to address the right to housing of the homeless and underprivileged Filipino people. This law sought to provide social housing to the marginalized sector by addressing their access to land and housing, relocation, demolitions, and promoting private sector participation in housing.
The law also mandated local government units to provide shelter to qualified beneficiaries and to undertake measures to curtail activities of professional squatters and squatting syndicates.
In addition, the Act also mandated the formulation of a National Urban Development and Housing Framework to guide policymakers in the determination of areas for urbanization and development of programs to address urbanization problems.
The Department of Interior and Local Government and the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council developed the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the UDHA to ensure the observance of proper and humane relocation and resettlement procedures mandated by the UDHA of 1992.
The Urban Development and Housing Act (RA 7279), in Sec. 210, says, “Urban or rural poor dwellers shall not be evicted nor their dwellings demolished, except in accordance with law and in a just and humane manner. No resettlement of urban or rural dwellers shall be undertaken without adequate consultation with them and the communities where they are to be relocated.”
Under the UDHA, eviction or demolition may be allowed only when, squatters occupy danger areas, public places, government infrastructure project site and there is a court order for eviction or demolition.

But then, laws are laws and any brilliant lawyer can find loopholes in them. One need not wonder anymore if squatters, even the rich, are increasing by the day. 


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