Coddling squatters only encourages lawlessness
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-09-08
Last August 31st, two demolitions of squatter colonies in Quezon City — one in Old Balara and the other in North Triangle — were the staple of the TV evening newscasts. The sight has become all too familiar to us. The owner of the property, at times the government, finally wins a court order to evict the squatters, or now called informal settlers. Violence ensues as the squatters refuse to follow the court order.

The infamous punching by Mayor Sara Duterte of a Davao City sheriff had emanated from an eviction of squatters. Like many other local government officials, Duterte was out to gain points from her constituents by stopping the eviction order, even if only temporary. By protecting the squatters, these squatter colonies have become the political bases of some local government officials — their so-called command votes.

The squatter-local government executive relationship had become symbiotic. The lawbreaker finds refuge in the office of the person tasked to administer the rule of law in the local area. It’s a classic breakdown of the rule of law except that politicians here have opted to look the other way.

In the US, during times of calamities when the National Guard is deployed, looters can be shot on site and this is considered legal. They do this because they believe that the entire concept of the rule of law is pegged on respect for the other person’s property. When people lose their respect for the property of others, anarchy will set in.

John Davies, a 17th century Attorney General of Ireland, said: “The first and principal cause for making kings was to maintain property and contracts, and traffic and commerce among men.” A contemporary of Adam Smith (Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations and conceived the Laissez Faire Doctrine) named Jeremy Bentham had asserted that: “Property and law are born together, and die together. Before laws were made, there was no property.”

During the August 31st TV news reports on the two Quezon City demolitions, we heard the reasons that the evicted squatters had offered to justify their stiff resistance. One squatter argued that they’ve been on the property for more than a decade and thus earned the right to stay on. Another squatter said that they should not be evicted because they have not been provided a replacement site. Another said that the replacement site being offered did not provide them the means to earn a living.

These reasons for refusing to yield the illegally occupied land are simply revolting. Squatting on somebody’s land does not grant the squatter ownership or user’s rights after a period of time. Inability to evict a squatter because of the lack of an alternative domicile is tantamount to rewarding the act of breaking the law. 

Tolerate this way of thinking and other people will be influenced to similarly disregard the rule of law. Of even greater concern is that some local government officials allow this flagrant violation of the law. This is consistent with the rot in our system of governance where personal interests of the public official are held above the public interest.

Over the years, both the legislative and executive branches of government turned a blind eye to the squatting problem. With Congressmen and Senators afraid to lose votes if they created laws that made squatting more difficult and where violators paid a stiffer price, the only legislation we saw that was passed after martial law was the Lina Law — which even became the refuge of the squatters against evictions.

There is so much of this bovine ordure to revise the Constitution in order to allow foreigner investors to own land here. Foreigners who will want do business here are not as much concerned about owning land. They thrive in many other countries where they are not also allowed to own land. Foreign investors are more concerned with the pathetic state of the rule of law here.

Foreign investors are disturbed by our uneven and inconsistent application of the law. Foreign investors want to operate only in areas where they can quantify the risk factors. They’re frightened when they hear of our inability to protect property, especially when local government executives are coddling the law violators. They cannot accept a situation when an established norm of law is suddenly reversed by what they suspect to be a situation where judges or justices have been bribed.

The big multinational firms that we want to attract would normally abide by a strict code of ethics. They realize that to do otherwise would be to risk creating detrimental situations for the company. Expect them to seek the same adherence to the rule of law when they consider our country for investment. Expecting a level playing field, the padrino (godfather) system and our notoriety for inconsistent court case decisions are big disincentives to them.

A consistent supporter of Gawad Kalinga and the Focolare’s Bukas Palad, your Chair Wrecker would love to see every Filipino family finally own a house. However, the process for owning one must conform to the rule of law — otherwise we will merely promote anarchy and destroy the very communities we want to build.

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