POSTSCRIPT / October 8, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Don’t allow squatters’ return to old locations

CLEAN SLATE: In a negative way, storm Ondoy actually prepared the ground for Metro Manila to rise again with less urban blight, minus the squatter colonies that have made a joke of our Torrens title system and concepts of public order and sanitation.

After the floods unleashed by Ondoy swept away squatter shanties near waterways and on lots grabbed from their legal owners, the logical followup is for the government to quickly bar the return of unlawful tenants by providing them alternative sites.

We have just been given an opportunity to restart clean, fill deficiencies in our urban planning and housing programs, and put things in proper order.

Postponing this preemptive response will allow the problem to bounce back with impunity and ensure a repetition of the Ondoy tragedy.

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GOV’T AFRAID: We now have this golden opportunity to use Ondoy to wipe clean the slate. But we don’t. Why?

* Because government leaders, engrossed with short-term interests with quicker returns, do not have a ready long-range resettlement program to carry out with dispatch.

* Because local officials coddling squatter colonies do not want to lose their votes. In fact they want more of them.

* Because some well-connected syndicates have organized the squatters and are using urban settlers as political weapons and business tools.

* Because many elective officials have grown afraid of squatters, whose number has burgeoned and may soon overrun large sections of the community. Officials will not dare tell them to toe the line.

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REBUILDING PLAN: Being the entity issuing land titles and collecting realty taxes on privately owned lots, the government should be the first to defend the Torrens system and restore respect for private property.

The irony is that the government, bothered by a guilty conscience, seems poised to spend millions to restore the squatter shanties right where the ravaging floods caught them two weeks ago.

Some politicians are even helping squatters buy lumber, tin roofing and other construction materials so they can rebuild their shacks before they throw a political tantrum.

Why not pool and spend the same millions for putting up livable multi-storey dwellings on public land certified as safe and in consonance with proper land use? To maximize use of space and as a precaution against possible flooding, build vertical.

Dwellings are just part of a bigger problem, but we have to start somewhere. With a state of calamity having been declared, rehab should be faster.

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DISPERSAL: Coddled by officials lacking political will, squatters write to their relatives in the province that it is easy to grab land in the capital and somehow make some money. So hordes of them keep arriving and straining limited space and resources.

It is time for the administration to report what it has done in the last nine years to reduce pressure on the nation’s capital by dispersing to the countryside the jobs and opportunities centralized in Metro Manila. The report must be on a year-to-year and region-by-region basis versus targets.

Some people have gotten the notion that the government owes them a living. To some extent, this expectation may be valid. Does the administration have a well-laidout plan to meet it?

As for our honorable congressmen and senators, we are still waiting for them to surprise us with an announcement of their donating or channeling a big slice (in pesos) of their pork barrel to helping disaster victims. Why are they unusually quiet?

Especially being watched are lawmakers whose sworn Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) and other records show they have become overnight multimillionaires with prime real property hidden abroad.

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NORTH HARBOR: What is keeping the Philippine Ports Authority from going ahead with the awarding of the contract validly bid out and won by a qualified bidder for the modernization and management of the North Harbor of the Port of Manila?

The PPA’s hesitation gives the wrong impression that it is waiting for something or has been frightened by the antics of a self-styled labor group with no direct interest in the port operation and which is now resorting to personal attacks on prospective contractors.

The bidding has been won by the consortium of the Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) and the Harbour Centre Ports Terminal Inc. (HCPTI).

Instead of dishing black propaganda, bona fide stakeholders should explain their reasons for belatedly objecting and then argue on the merits. That is the only way we can move forward.

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SABOTAGE: Further delay in the modernization of the decrepit North Harbor, now a mere shadow of the crown jewel of the transport industry that it used to be, will be costly for commerce and the national economy.

Dilatory tactics amount to economic sabotage. The larger business community will not look kindly on this.

The rumor that large numbers of workers face layoff has been belied by the contract itself. It assures that no worker will be dismissed. In fact, an additional 20,000 skilled workers will be hired for the modernization of facilities and the upgrading of services.

Under the P14.5-billion contract, the eight old piers will be replaced with modern structures similar to those in Rotterdam, Singapore and Hong Kong. The government stands to gain P6.8 billion over 25 years. In its first-year operation, the PPA is expected to earn some P160 million, increasing every year thereafter.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 8, 2009)

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