It’s the same thing over and over in Quezon City (QC) since the post-Marcos years. Starting with the administration of Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr. up to the incumbent, his daughter Mayor Joy Belmonte, the QC government has been tolerating squatter colonies in the city because of the command votes city hall can demand from them during every election.
They are called “command votes” because if the squatter colony concerned does not deliver to city hall’s candidates the votes corresponding to their population, city hall will forcibly evict them after the election.
This racket reached its worst during the administration of Mayor Hebert “Bistek” Bautista, who allowed squatter colonies to resurrect in the same place even after fires destroyed their illegal settlements. Yes, it’s all about votes.
The more promiscuous squatter colonies in QC are located at the East Triangle area surrounded by East Avenue, Quezon Avenue and Agham Road, near the vicinity of the Lung Center of the Philippines.
Squatters there are not exactly poor and miserable. Most of the makeshift dwellings there are made of strong materials, complete with electric and water service lines. Quite a number of them have air-conditioning units and cable television. Cars are parked at the colony’s periphery.
Many of the dwellings have been converted into eateries, stores, bakeries, beauty parlors and automotive repair shops. Caged fighting cocks can be found along the sidewalks and even in the center island across the street at the back of the National Irrigation Administration Building.
More squatter colonies can be found in the Fairview area beyond Regalado Avenue. Others are located in the western sector of the New Manila district, near Araneta and Rodriguez Avenues.
Squatter colonies are convenient hideouts of thieves and drug addicts. Other than policemen hunting down a known criminal, nobody will dare pursue a thief who runs inside any of these squatter colonies.
The sewerage problem there creates a health hazard.
Communist cadres frequent squatter colonies because the poverty associated with life in the slums provides a fertile ground for Red recruitment. This should be a cause for concern for the military establishment.
Squatters also deprive the lawful owner of the property they occupy of his right to use his property. Once squatters invade private land, that land is rendered valueless. It can’t be used by the owner, and nobody will buy land occupied by squatters since it will cost big money just to drive them away.
To add insult to injury, the QC government continues to extract real estate tax payments from the owner of property occupied by squatters. If the realty tax is not paid, and realty taxes in QC are very costly, city hall will seize the land.
Imagine that! The owner must pay an annual tax for real estate he is unable to use or sell through no fault of his own.
By tolerating squatter colonies, the QC government bleeds its real property owners. That inequity sits well with city hall because, to repeat, squatter colonies give city hall’s politicians their command votes.
Squatting was a criminal offense during the Marcos administration. Then President Ferdinand Marcos saw through the command votes racket of local politicians and issued a presidential decree declaring squatting a criminal offense.
That changed when then Senator Jose Lina, an ally of then President Corazon Aquino, came up with his so-called Lina Law which decriminalized squatting and even required the lawful owner of the land illegally occupied to find a suitable relocation site for the squatters before the squatters may be required to leave the property.
No wonder many journalists of that period called it “that stupid Lina Law.”
Acting on the order of President Rodrigo Duterte, the mayors of the cities comprising Metropolitan Manila are dutifully clearing the streets and sidewalks of their cities of obstacles and other illegal structures.
With the success of his street and sidewalk clearing program, President Duterte should also order the same mayors, the QC mayor in particular, to immediately relocate all squatter colonies, especially those that deprive the land owners of their right to use their property.
The squatter problem is so serious, only President Duterte can solve it.