SEN. Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao recently declared that if he becomes president, we won't see squatters in the country in four to five years. He said: "All of them will have their own homes or condominiums or subdivisions. They won't pay for these, even for one peso."
At least early in the political season Pacquiao has already revealed: 1) he is in the mold of the traditional politicians we've hated, those who'd promise people the moon just to get elected; 2) he is either intellectually lazy or just plain stupid; and 3) he is politically vacuous.
He's the first announced presidential candidate to promise such a big thing. But we all hear these sickening promises every election... I promise this, I promise that, that it has become a favorite topic for editorial cartoons.
Can't Pacquiao or his handlers be more innovative? But, then, what do you expect of Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd, who is the antithesis of his father, in integrity and intellect.
Second, Pacquiao knows really nothing, but one would have expected him to at least ask his Senate staff, or even Koko, to do some research on why there are squatters in the Philippines (and even in San Francisco in the US and in the rich countries).
The existence of squatters is a complex phenomenon, of course, mainly due to poverty but also to many other things. Pass by what seems to be a "squatter" area in the metropolis and you'd even see Cignal TV dishes, and even cars. In this case, what appears to be slums are really rundown shelters for workers and even white-collar workers (even police) that they prefer to live in because they are close to their places of work. They save a lot in transport expenses by enduring living in such homes.
The Marcos regime, especially Imelda Marcos (as she ran the Human Settlements ministry), was quite active in clearing the metro Manila of squatters and established "relocation" areas outside Manila where the poor were given practically free housing.
In a span of a few years though, many of them sold these houses and returned to the metropolis to live again in slum areas. Carmona in the south and Sapang Palay in the north, among other places, were such squatter relocation sites. The squatters and their families relocated there have mostly gone back to the metropolis - and these are now lower-middle and middle-class areas.
One important factor that has made squatters a huge problem in Manila is politics. Many properties in the metropolis were either abandoned or forgotten by the elites during the Spanish and US colonial periods. There are also real properties that migrants to the United States and Canada simply forgot or when they died, their papers were lost or couldn't be recovered by their heirs. The middle class also purchase lots on installment, but then abandon them when they couldn't afford to keep up with the payments, leaving their ownership in limbo, that the squatters move in.
It is the municipal or city officials who know where these lots are, since so much of local government revenues are from property taxes.
It is these areas where the poor build their slums. But they didn't just wander into these areas and built their shanties there. A person of authority in the local government, in conspiracy with the police, encouraged them or at least gave their express permission, to do so - in exchange for "rent," of course. These people would be part of a politicians' group with the "squatters" under them often becoming a formidable bloc of voters. The politician, of course, would be practically their lord and master, protecting them from eviction. Many of the slum areas in Pasay and Manila (such as the Smokey Mountain and Payatas dumpsites) had been bailiwicks of competing political factions.
Ironically, or very unfairly, it is big-business developers that have cleared many metro Manila slums. With their political, legal and financial clout - and even muscle - they have been able to acquire and title lands occupied by squatters and built condominiums on these. Fires that burn down squatter areas are part of these "clearing operations."
To clear metro Manila of squatters requires an array of major government programs. President Rodrigo Duterte's Build, Build, Build program would actually help in this as even workers in Metro Manila could be encouraged to buy or just rent homes in nearby provinces as long as travel time to these areas are reasonable.
Hong Kong was able to reduce urban blight by subsidizing the construction of tall apartment buildings even on small properties. The decongestion of Metro Manila would also be a big boost, which could be accelerated by the transfer of government departments to provincial capitals and by additional incentives for factories to move out of Manila.
Pacquiao's promise to eradicate squatters should serve as a reminder that this problem exists and should be addressed. During the Marcos regime, the Ministry of Human Settlements headed by Imelda herself served to force focus on the squatter problem. I remember the ministry even commissioning studies to find out how the problem could be solved. Since Marcos' time, though, there isn't any government institution that could "force" us to face the problem squarely. Slums now have become the Communist Party's base of operations in Metro Manila and the source of recruits for its New People's Army.
Credit it to Pacquiao's promise, even if he doesn't understand it, if the Duterte administration or its successor launches a campaign to solve the squatter problem.
In the meantime, though, his promise on this issue is yet another indication of his vacuity. Didn't he stop to think: "Why have most politicians ignored this issue?" Because such a promise doesn't generate many votes. The squatters themselves know the problem. They are also mostly a Metro Manila and Cebu phenomenon. Worse for a candidate who makes that promise, either most squatters don't vote or vote for whoever the local boss (who protects them and extracts rent from them) tells them to vote.
Try again, Manny, or better still use your money for other things, which may be as ego-boosting as running for the presidency, which you will lose as sure as the sun rises tomorrow. Set up a foundation to finance schooling for the athletic-minded and people will remember you way past your fighting years. The people around you, like that senator, who tell you that you can be president, are pulling your leg. Muhamad Ali and Floyd Mayweather seem to have been smarter and more realistic than you in their post-boxing plans.
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