Bad sneak preview

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HERRERA

If the widespread flooding last week in Metro Manila was a sneak preview of what’s in store for us this rainy season, then God help us.

Last week’s deluge was what? a result of one hour’s worth of rain? I shudder to think what would happen with more monsoon rains or if a real storm came along and made a direct hit on the metropolis?

I thought the government had been implementing its multi-billion flood-control project for a good part of a year already and all through last summer?

It didn’t help at all that there are so many road repair projects and diggings all over in Metro Manila, some by Maynilad, others by the Department of Public Works and Highways, and still others by local governments.

A lot of these projects were started suspiciously before the elections but the fact that they are still ‘ongoing’ speaks of the quality of the contractors hired for these projects. Perhaps a good chunk of their budgets went to pay ‘commissions’ to the powers that be?

Whatever, these road projects and diggings certainly contributed to last week’s flooding.

Squatters are also hampering the government flood-control project. Local officials should do their share to remove squatters.

The national government really does not have enough money to relocate squatters. The government has to spend at least P250,000 for relocating every family of squatters, which could easily run into the tens of billions considering the thousands of squatters in Metro Manila and outlying provinces.

The national government also spends upwards of P20 billion for new public housing every year for them.

Apparently, all those billions go to waste because the squatting problem hasn’t been solved. The government has relocated thousands of poor families living in slums, particularly those in high-risk zones such as along waterways in Metro Manila, but they keep coming back.

According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), some four million Filipinos or 580,000 families live in slums, including 105,000 households in disaster-prone areas. In Metro Manila alone, 37 out of every 100 inhabitants live in the slums.

Slum dwellers are extremely exposed to filthy living conditions, constant health risks, and the hazards of harsh climate change.

So why do they keep coming back? Because there are no income opportunities elsewhere but in Metro Manila.

In fact, the squatters fight tooth and nail, many times literally, to stay where they are. The government is spending billions to relocate these squatter colonies, and yet it is seen as the bad guy by doing so.

A reader, Tony Serquina, in letter emailed to me, says the same thing. The government has been relocating squatters for decades now and yet the same problem persists today, which must mean that relocation is NOT the solution.

He said the country can ill-afford to allocate significant portions of its very limited annual budget to relocate squatters who keep coming back time and time again. The money is better spent for education and health services.

“It is time the government took a stand against ILLEGAL squatting which has been a bane of the nation for as long as I can remember,” Serquina writes.

“I’ve been told by Bert Lina (of the Lina Law fame), who is an acquaintance of mine, that the law bearing his name was NEVER meant to legalize the rights of squatters,” Serquina informs me. “Somehow, however, politicians drew up skewed implementing rules to favor those politicians, and that is something symptomatic of what ails Philippine politics. Squatters invoke the Lina law every time they are evicted from their dwellings, which has been built illegally in the first place.”

How true, indeed.

The government must implement property rights for our country to progress and for business investments to pour in.

Squatters in the Philippines have developed de facto owner-like rights over property, due largely to patronage politics. They build housing structures on other people’s properties or on government-owned land, then they sell or rent these out. When they are evicted, they are either compensated or assured of a slot in a relocation site. In most cases, they can also access services such as water and electricity, most times illegally, and such pilferage is charged to paying consumers.

A lot of times, it is the actual landowners who are rendered powerless because they cannot regain possession of their properties without long, costly and at times even violent battles, whether in court or in the streets.

Owners are even made to offer financial compensation for the squatter. And local politicians who have found vote-rich banks in these squatter colonies even protect them from the actual owners.

All these are also very wrong but they happen in a country where the rule of law is oftentimes and quite sadly equated with the rule of the mob.

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