POSTSCRIPT / October 13, 2009 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

Share This

Lack of political will abets squatters’ abuses

ATTITUDE: Aside from housing and feeding displaced squatters, the government may have to also educate them. Wherever they happen to be — in the province, urban slums or evacuation centers – some characters seem to carry their anti-social attitudes.

More policemen were assigned to schoolhouses used as temporary shelters after complaints reached the authorities that some evacuees have vandalized blackboards, desks, toilets and other school facilities.

In a few evacuation buildings, some evacuees have been reported to be gambling and drinking, to the annoyance of other people. In a school in Muntinlupa some pupils who came back with the resumption of classes were robbed of their “baon.”

This is unfortunate. Flood victims are already being helped with the limited resources of the state and private do-gooders, yet some of them do not seem to appreciate it.

* * *

QUICK ACTION: In rescue & rehab, speed is of the essence. At the rate the government is responding to the evolving crisis, the problem may have circled back to the home plate by the time disaster coordinators are able to throw the ball to first base.

In many places in Metro Manila, squatters swept away by storm “Onyong” from waterways and other forbidden places are scurrying back and rebuilding like ants because of government failure to show enough will to impose order.

We saw a good example of fast government action years ago in the area bounded by East Avenue and BIR Road near the Central Bank mint in Quezon City. After fire levelled the squatter colony there, the area was fenced off, cleared and used for legitimate public structures.

* * *

NO MAN’S LAND: Decades ago, then Mayor Antonio Villegas did a similar speedy clearing of the no man’s land behind the Manila cathedral after fire gobbled up the squatter village there.

Private owners of lots near the cathedral were encouraged to come back and erect structures that have now become landmarks. Alas, there are still squatter holdouts who continue to give the Intramuros Administration headaches.

Before Villegas cleared the area, snatchers and petty criminals victimizing students and commuters in Plaza Lawton (now Bonifacio) ran into the forbidding maze of shanties where even the members of Manila’s Finest would not dare pursue them.

* * *

ILLEGAL LETTING: Baltazar Melgar, head of the MMDA’s flood control management services, reports: “Illegal settlers along the Manggahan floodway are going back to the area, because the local government can’t relocate them elsewhere.”

These were the same squatters whose dwellings blocked the floodwater’s outflow at Manggahan. Radio-TV crews have reported that some tenants were renting the dwellings from others (the landlords!) who owned the illegal structures.

These squatter-landlords are the same people that a weak-kneed government is handling with kid gloves. With right connections, they have found squatting a lucrative business.

* * *

SLICE OF PORK: Rep. Amado Bagatsing wrote to say that a bill passed in the House of Representatives early this year has been awaiting approval in the Senate since January. It sets aside P3 billion for the resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced squatters.

The Manila solon sent us a copy of his bill (HB 2596), co-sponsored by 27 other congressmen, and its consolidated version (HB 5623) approved by the House last Jan. 26 and sent to the Senate three days later.

He said in effect that lawmakers have foreseen the relief and rehabilitation disaster we are witnessing in the aftermath of typhoons and floods that have killed hundreds, uprooted millions and destroyed properties worth billions of pesos.

When senators are not busy throwing mud at each other or strutting like presidential peacocks, they might want to look for the bill of Bagatsing et al.

Better still, congressmen and senators should donate immediately a slice (say 30 percent) of their P80 million and P200 million, respectively, pork barrel for relief and rehab of calamity victims.

* * *

INTEGRATED APPROACH: But HB 5623 pertains only to people removed from public land and not to squatters being ejected from private lots they had illegally occupied. And it applies only to Metro Manila.

It provides for “the resettlement, aid and rehabilitation services for the underprivileged and homeless citizens affected by the demolition of houses/dwellings along danger areas such as esteros, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways and other public places such as sidewalks, roads, parks and playgrounds as well as the victims of disasters and calamities and those affected by government infrastructure projects in Metro Manila.”

With killer typhoons having walloped northern Luzon after storm Onyong devastated Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, and with more weather disturbances expected to follow, the bill, if it is worth it, has to be written to provide a nationwide integrated approach.

* * *

MANAGER NEEDED: Some 200 families who have been relocated to Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and those being cared for at Malacanang and the presidential Mansion in Baguio are just a small speck in the montage of human faces ravaged by Onyong.

But every small step, every little effort, counts. What is needed is integrating disparate moves into one coordinated national effort supervised by a Good Manager, not by hit-and-miss politicians.

So as not to give a piecemeal picture, President Arroyo might want to direct the National Disaster Coordinating Council to render ASAP a comprehensive report initially for Metro Manila and later for the rest of Luzon.

We have been straining to see if the Chief Executive has taken control of the disaster situation considering the obvious difficulty of her NDCC people in managing a more systematic relief and rehabilitation.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 13, 2009)

Share your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published.