Even as the Philippines marches on towards development, many Filipinos remain poor. In 2016, a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations revealed that 10.5 million Filipinos identify themselves as poor.
With general lack of livelihood opportunities, inflation, high unemployment and underemployment rate and low wages for those who find work, a persistent problem among low-income families is lack of housing options.
So it is not unusual to find families living in makeshift shanties built with whatever material is available on hand. Though this illustrates the typical resourcefulness Filipinos are characterized for, building houses on government or private lands gets them in trouble sooner or later, while earning the formal term “informal settlers” or the derogatory “squatters”.
As a means to mitigate the problem of squatting in many urban communities, President Ferdinand Marcos in 1975 signed the Presidential Decree No. 772, otherwise known as Penalizing Squatting and Other Similar Acts. Under the Decree, people found to be occupying or possessing the property of a legitimate owner against the latter’s will were either imprisoned or fined depending on degree of violation.
However, PD 772 was eventually repealed by Republic Act 8368, also known as Anti-Squatting Law Repeal Act of 1997. R.A. 8368 not only ordered that informal settlers cannot be imprisoned, but also dismissed pending cases based on P.D. 772. The Act may have become sympathetic to poor families but many informal settlers have abused this provision, making it harder for rightful property owners to assert their ownership. The proper handling of such situation has been an issue among squatters, landowners, and law enforcers for a long time since both parties involved have rights that should be respected.
“With abusive squatters taking advantage of a tedious and expensive court action, it is sometimes better for property owners to take advantage of the principle of self-defense for new or ongoing intrusions,” according to Philippine Association of Real Estate Boards National Chairman Atty. Rey Cartojano.
According to Cartojano, the principle of self-defense takes place when a property owner uses reasonable force to physically resist intruder, or forcibly evicts them using reasonable amount of effort. However, he warns that this principle “must be used with calculation and much restraint with the advisable participation of barangay officials and police officers.”
Another option for property owners, who don’t want to invoke their right of self-defense which can easily turn violent, is to seek help from the barangay for amicable settlement or hire a lawyer to settle the conflict.
“The legal remedy for property owners for squatters and informal settlers are detailed under Republic Act No. 7279, otherwise known as the Urban and Development Housing Act,” Atty Cartojano said. He suggested the following steps for a property owner involved in a situation with an informal settler squatting his property.
- Establish the identify of involved informal settlers. Notify and seek help from barangay officials who are expected to mediate and initiate contact with the other party.
- Document instances of intrusion incidents in writing or video. Report incident to a police station that has jurisdiction over the property and record a police blotter relating to the incident.
- Seek the help of the barangay to arrange a possible settlement if a peaceful negotiation does not produce good progress.
- If barangay intervention proves to be unsuccessful, the property owner must then hire a lawyer who will handle the matter of evicting the squatters. The lawyer will be handling tasks such as serving the demand letters and filing the necessary court cases.
How long does the process take?
Once the designated lawyer issues demand for the informal settler to vacate the property the clock starts ticking in the legal remedy to settle the issue of occupying property against the owner’s will. Once the informal settler does not heed the demand, the case will have to be filed in court. Cartojano explained that depending on the caseload of the court, skills of the handling lawyers and the disposing ability of the handling judge, the entire process may take years to be completed.