Urban poor or urban rich

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Squatting or the proliferation of informal settlers is now one of the most complicated problems of urban centers and fast becoming a major concern for local officials in upcoming populated areas entire the archipelago. The migration of people from the countryside to the urban centers primarily to look for sufficient sources of income in order to uplift the living condition of their families has been pinpointed by numerous researchers as the main cause of squatting. Because of the absence of a legitimate property that they own to build their shelter, many people are tempted to gamble by putting up their temporary shelters in either public lands or privately owned properties and subsequently claim ownership of the same. In order to concretize their political clout, numerous individuals establish associations among other so-called urban groups within their villages in order to prevent them from being booted out of the identified public lands or privately owned properties.

Another major strategy of informal settlers is to seek the assistance of cause-oriented groups who always come to their rescue and make it appear that they are members of the urban poor or the marginalized sector in the city who want to own parcels of land knowing that their plight for shelter is being used by unscrupulous non-government organizations to solicit and justify the grant of foreign aid without transparent accounting and auditing for the organization to be able to sustain their assistance to the disgruntled members of the urban poor. In the guise of human rights, right to own a shelter among others, officials and employees of some unscrupulous NGOs are now the ones who own large parcels of land and big houses in urban centers while the so-called urban poor remain as such and being blinded by the whims and caprices of leftist organizations being used as legal fronts of the communist movement to justify their existence in the mainstream society.

On the other hand, some of the members of the urban poor are also being used by enterprising individuals to squat on privately owned properties and bankroll their claims to the detriment of valid and vested rights over their properties and concerned government agencies and local governments are also being given the run around to whom to seek assistance.

Many are questioning the snail-paced implementation of demolition orders against those informal settlers and concerned local officials are being alluded as being protectors of squatters because of their enormous number in aid of election or re-election. In most cases we beg to disagree with such self-serving confusions and remarks because evidently squatters or informal settlers who were issued demolition orders often resort to seeking the intervention of the court through the so-called temporary restraining order for sale. By merely paying the P500 fee, an individual or organization can be guaranteed a 72-hour TRO against the implementation of a demolition order and the judicial proceedings will then take its course. Another option being taken by the disgruntled informal settler is to seek the assistance of the National Commission on Ingenious Peoples (NCIP) to legitimize their claims over the land they claimed they occupied since time in memorial even if it is not true.

The most important thing in such cases is for all local governments to have their comprehensive land use plan (CLUP) and zoning ordinance to be in place the earliest possible time in order to be able to identify the uses of lands within their respective areas of jurisdiction. For urban areas, concerned local officials should have the strongest political will to enforce all issued demolition orders at all cost because it will reflect on what kind of leaders are they. Except for those owners of private properties who consented in having their squatted properties purchased by the informal settlers, all those who illegally built their houses on public lands and privately owned lots must have to irregardless of them having stayed in the area since time in memorial.

We believe local officials must think in advance on how to combat the proliferation of informal settlers in their respective places. Many land grabbers are now prospecting prime lots where they can start initially building shanties, then it will be upgraded without being noticed and if attention is not appropriately given, the structure will then become a multi-storey building which would be difficult to dismantle and evict in the future.

Common sense and wise decision-making is required in such instances because informal settlers have also become intelligent because of their backers who claim to be human rights activists fighting for their rights but at the back, seeking for a much larger share from the occupied land to sustain their stay in the property or else be driven out of their major source of livelihood.

Let us keep the informal settlers away or we will wake up some day, prime lots in our mist would have gone away.

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