January 12, 2012. There is something particularly bothersome with the condescending arrogance displayed by some people with regard the issue of the urban poor and their problem on housing. Relying on pure legalese, they forward an overly simplified position that since “squatters” do not own the land where their shanties are built on, they deserve to be evicted–by force–using the entire arsenal of the state to protect the property rights of the owners.
These people fail to recognize the social context of the problem. A fourth of Metro Manila, a staggering 584,425 families according to the National Housing Authority, are informal settlers. When the problem affects a significant portion of the population it ceases from becoming a purely legal problem of property rights and land ownership. It becomes a tragic social phenomenon, in much the same way as peasant landlessness is, and thus calls for fundamental political and economic solutions like agrarian land reform. It is a social phenomenon because it finds its roots in political and economic forces that compel hundreds of thousands of Filipino families to move to urban centers and “squat” on idle lands.
If you think squatters are not entitled to live in their homes, you might as well ask for the eviction of a fourth of Metro Manila for squatting on idle lands. Wow. If you don’t realize it, many of Manila’s laborers come form the urban poor. They do everything from cooking and serving your food, doing your laundry, and ironically–building your homes. You might as well ask for the paralysis of economic activity in the national capital.
Even the 1987 Constitution (Secs. 9-10, Art. XIII) recognizes the problems of the urban poor as a manifestation of a grave social ill, rejects the idea that squatting is merely an issue of property rights, and affords the urban poor protection.
Sec 10. 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.
Naysayers are quick to make judgments about the urban poor. That they are stubborn and anti-development, lazy and unwilling to work, that they are in cahoots with syndicates, etcetera. The urban poor are not anti-development. They are not totally unwilling to move out of their shanties, because whose man’s dream to live in a squatter’s area, really? They only ask that they be relocated to homes that they can afford, and to communities that are near places of economic activity that will provide them jobs and places where there are public services and utilities–in other words, places where they could live like all Filipinos should. It escapes me why the government insists on relocating the urban poor to places where there are no jobs and where there are dilapidated public utilities and services–the very reasons they left their places of origin in the first place.
A government that fails to address the fundamental roots of poverty, especially in the countryside, that forces millions of Filipinos to “squat” in urban centers has no business evicting them from their homes. If they insist on inflicting violence and displacing a fourth of the national capital from their homes, they might as well call for a massive riot the next day, for it is instinct for any man to defend his home, sometimes to the point of anarchy and death. Thank god for activists though, however maliciously maligned by those in power, for organizing the urban poor to ensure organized political action to assert the rights of the marginalized.