Is Poverty The Lack of Money?
Money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally in the past, a standard of deferred payment. Any kind of object or secure verifiable record that fulfills these functions can serve as money.
There was a saying ” Mabuti pa ang pera may tao, ang tao walang pera”.
It’s meant to be a joke ….but that is actually a reality for most Filipinos.
When I tried running for a “kagawad” or barangay councilor position in our barangay a few years ago, it was my first time to see all the “kaloob-looban” of our entire barangay, and boy!, was I surprised.
There were several squatters (Individuals who settles on government land or the land of another person without any legal authority to do so, or without acquiring a legal title) occupying the riversides and the formerly vacant areas of our barangay.
And then a flashback….. I remembered that during my youth as a student, I used to be able to walk from school back to our home using the paths along the riverside, and now that would be an impossible task because it was occupied already by these squatters.
I’ve talked to a lot of them, and there was only one common request. To help them out of poverty. Some were even actually asking for money right there.
I’ve also learned that most of them originated from the provinces, and have been living in our barangay for several years already. A lot of them got married here, and raised their family at the very same place.
There have been a lot of studies made regarding squatters, squatter’s area and people who do not have their own houses or better yet, let us call it homes. These people are not homeless per se, but homeless in terms that they do not own the houses and lots they live in and stay at.
What was so surprising, actually shocking, was these informal settlers has grown “professional”, erecting houses already made of bricks, have also taken into their small shanties, additional informal settlers who are paying rent for a room. Apparently, the place has no more vacant spots to squat that others have resorted to just rent a bed space or a small room for a small fee. Imagine that.
Our country has also grown into a society that likes to play the “humanitarian” card when it comes to squatters. Even the use of the word “squatter” was dropped in “polite” conversation in favour of the euphemism “informal settler.”
Squatting is a huge social and economic problem in the Philippines, more so because squatters are protected by laws that make it difficult to remove them from properties they infest.
Presidential Decree 772 (PD 772) effected by former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1975 made prosecuting “squatting and other criminal acts” relatively easy. Squatting under PD 772 was clearly a criminal undertaking as Section 1 of the decree states…
Any person who, with the use of force, intimidation or threat, or taking advantage of the absence or tolerance of the landowner, succeeds in occupying or possessing the property of the latter against his will for residential commercial or any other purposes, shall be punished by an imprisonment ranging from six months to one year or a fine of not less than one thousand nor more than five thousand pesos at the discretion of the court, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.
And so, under Marcos’s administration, thousands of squatters were successfully evicted from land they illegally inhabited and jailed for their offense.
Unfortunately PD 772 was repealed when Republic Act No. 8368, the “Anti-Squatting Law Repeal Act of 1997″ took effect. RA 8368 also authorised dismissal of all pending cases that drew upon the provisions of the now repealed PD 772. It also directed criminal cases against squatters to defer to the broader “Comprehensive and Continuing Urban Development Program” described by Republic Act 7279, which stipulated sanctions that are applicable only to “professional squatters” which are defined to be…
[...] individuals or groups who occupy lands without the express consent of the landowner and who have sufficient income for legitimate housing. The term shall also apply to persons who have previously been awarded homelots or housing units by the Government but who sold, leased or transferred the same to settle illegally in the same place or in another urban area, and non-bona fide occupants and intruders of lands reserved for socialized housing.
RA 7279 however explicitly excludes from the definition “individuals or groups who simply rent land and housing from professional squatters or squatting syndicates.” These laws, in effect, make the process of removing squatters from one’s property a long and convoluted one.
There are different causes to why squatting exist in the Philippines. These mainly are the following: unemployment, overpopulation, governance concern, lack of education, problems in the agriculture section and other social issues. These things have an inter-relationship with each other.
There are also several effects that squatting lead us to. A few we could mention is that it usually brings about different harm and deaths caused by arguments between the squatters and the owners of the lands they settle at, overpopulation once again, more pollution and waste in a certain places, more beggars, more child labor, lesser job opportunities in the rural, and higher crime rate.
However, squatting has been tolerated mainly because of two reasons, one is the humanitarian side, and the other is the political side.
Humanitarian because we wouldn’t want to be branded as oppressors of the poor. Unfortunately for the hapless landowner, our country is a society that likes to play the humanitarian card when it comes to squatters. We would support or give in to requests to provide resettlement areas when the landowners or the government decides to claim the land again.
Most politicians also favor having squatters around because more squatters would equal to more votes during elections.
This eventually leads to more poverty as more people from the provinces are encouraged to squat.
Many relate poverty to the absence of money.
I would like to correct that.
Poverty is the absence of the Rule of Law.
The Rule of Law ideally applies to everything and all people — from the smallest ordinance and from the most ordinary people – from the very start.
Final Note/Huling Hirit:
The problem with the way things are done in our country is that small misdemeanors get routinely tolerated. And then more and more of them get tolerated until the pile of little misdemeanors gets bigger and bigger. We no longer see the small misdemeanors but behold the big pile of “impunity” looming tall before us and wonder, how this came to be.