A Philippine law that rewards an illegal act
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-09-30
Ron Gotcher is a prominent lawyer in the Greater Los Angeles Area whom your Chair Wrecker had the pleasure of meeting during the early 1980s.

In one of my trips to attend the Annual Los Angeles Television Screenings, Ron treated me to a superb repast at one of LA’s rated top three barbecue restaurants — Texas Tyler’s Dr. Hogly Wogly, located in the San Fernando Valley. While inhaling generous portions of beef ribs, pork ribs and Texas links (sausages), marinated to perfection and then barbecued, our conversation shifted to a very interesting discussion.

Ron being a lawyer, I asked him that how come in the US — known for its adherence to democratic principles — the National Guard will shoot looters on sight during a time of disaster. Somehow, that did not jibe with the concept of due process.

What Ron told me was quite a revelation. Ron said that in the US the concept of property is considered very sacred because it is believed that respect for the other person’s property is the foundation of society. Ron further explained that anarchy sets in when people lose their respect for the property rights of others. The violation of property rights can easily segue to violation of other human rights. Thus, Ron added that the US National Guard is mandated to shoot looters on sight during disasters, when the looting situation gets out of hand, in order to preserve the very fabric that welds society together.

Somehow, this discussion reverberates in your Chair Wrecker’s mind whenever the ugly episodes of squatter evictions are flashed on our television screens. Just recently, we saw two such ugly incidents — one was the demolition of a squatter colony in New Manila and last week there was the failed demolition of another squatter colony in North Triangle, Quezon City, on the 29-hectare NHA (National Housing Authority) property.

It was understandable for President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) to have intervened in the NHA squatter row and ordered the demolition to be postponed until an acceptable plan can be worked out. Public order was the immediate order of the day when the street battle which resulted from the NHA eviction stopped North EDSA vehicular traffic and posed a danger to the lives of nearby residents.

However, P-Noy’s intervention has its downside — the squatters have been emboldened to take a tougher stance after sensing that they’ve succeeded in attracting presidential attention. By unwittingly pushing the squatters to take a tougher stance, there is now the danger that things could get uglier and the fallout could be worse.

It is therefore important that the P-Noy administration clarify the dimensions of the postponement order lest the wrong impressions lead the squatters to provoke a more violent outcome. Foremost of what has to be clarified is that the presidential postponement order is not an endorsement of the squatters’ intentions to continue residing on the NHA property. The squatters must be made to understand that they are doing something illegal and that the government has the mandate to enforce the law and to protect the rights of the property owners.

This undertaking cannot be overlooked, especially when one considers how some of the resisting squatters expressed their sentiments during the media coverage of the North EDSA street battle. We can live with complaints regarding the added cost burden of relocating to a place that is farther from their present sources of incomes.

What is worrisome is the attitude of those squatters who are under the false impression that:

1. They have a right to the NHA property after having resided there for decades. These people have to realize that getting away with an illegal act for decades does not make it legal.

2. The government owes them a replacement domicile which provides them the same conveniences of proximity to livelihood sources and availability of community services. These false impressions may have been promoted by grandstanding politicians but there is no such obligation of the government to provide them those benefits.

Your Chair Wrecker is one of those who were dismayed by the passing of that so-called Lina Law which mandates that squatter evictions must provide for a replacement domicile. That Lina Law is a distortion of Christian as well as Socialist principles.  

Providing a replacement domicile may be a function that the State may opt to assume but the victims of squatting should not be made to undergo further suffering by being compelled to provide replacement domiciles to those who have violated their property rights. A person should be entitled to his property rights without any conditions. The Lina Law was tantamount to rewarding an illegal act. It sends a message to all Filipinos without a domicile to squat on somebody’s property so that when evicted, they will thus get their long coveted house.

Laws are supposed to be crafted in order to promote social justice and public order. The Lina Law provokes the opposite in that it promotes the violation of somebody’s property rights and encourages a dangerous blatant disregard of the law against squatting.

With such laws that reward illegal acts — we should not be surprised that we have such lawlessness in our communities.  

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