Last month’s unexpected eruption of Taal Volcano disrupted virtually everything in the vicinity of the volcano and its surrounding lake. Ashfall from the eruption reached as far as Metropolitan Manila.
In Batangas province, Laurel and Agoncillo towns in particular, residents had to evacuate in a hurry. Homes and livelihoods dependent on agriculture were destroyed. Once productive farmlands were covered with ashfall. It was like experiencing winter in a tropical location.
Even the tourism industry in Tagaytay City ground to a halt.
In the areas heavily hit by ashfall, it is impossible to identify where property boundaries begin and end because most of the natural landmarks are no longer there. The ashfall is so thick, it will take time and money to complete a major cleanup.
Now that Taal Volcano has cooled down a bit, and with the government assuring permanently displaced residents of assistance in their relocation, professional squatters have been trooping to Batangas almost unnoticed. Their destination — evacuation centers and hitherto unoccupied land covered by ashfall. Easily, they pretend and claim to be victims of the volcanic eruption.
After making that bogus claim, they craftily work their way into getting included in the list of people to be assisted in the relocation program of the government. That’s tantamount to being given free real estate.
Professional squatters are not really people in need, and are in most cases comfortable financially. Many of their illegal dwellings even have the comforts of air-conditioning and cable television. Late model vehicles are parked outside many of such dwellings. The perpetual squatter colonies in Quezon City provide an example.
Truth to tell, professional squatters are clever opportunists who exploit situations for their personal benefit. They are called “professional” because they have made the illegal occupation of land, both public and private, a very lucrative source of living.
For the record, not all illegal settlers are professional squatters. There are those who are really so poor that they have no choice but to live in shanties built on someone else’s land.
Unfortunately, syndicates have infiltrated the squatter colonies and today, many illegal settlers are actually professional squatters.
Squatters occupying another person’s land actually deprive the registered owner of the land the beneficial use of his property. Worse, the registered owner must pay the real estate tax on the property, even if he is unable to make use of the same. Under such inequitable circumstances, the squatters easily become a nuisance to the lawful owner of the land.
Just by being a nuisance, professional squatters can expect the landowner, whether it be the government or a private person, to eventually find them a relocation site, which takes time, or pay them big money to vacate the place. The professional squatters prefer being paid so they undermine any attempt at relocation.
Because professional squatters provide command votes during elections, corrupt politicians protect them from ejection suits and hire lawyers for them.
Some squatter colonies provide a for-hire sanctuary for drug dealers and other criminal elements. Many policemen fear entering a squatter colony without sufficient back-up policemen with them.
What a racket!
During his authoritarian administration, President Ferdinand Marcos issued a decree making squatting unlawful. Marcos found it unfair for a registered owner of land to pay real estate taxes on his property which he is unable to utilize because it is occupied by squatters. That decree effectively stopped the professional squatter racket in Metropolitan Manila, at least for the duration of the strongman’s regime.
Unfortunately, that anti-squatting decree was repealed by Congress. Today, the registered owner of the land is obligated by law to find a relocation site for the squatters occupying his land, and to pay for the expenses of relocation, and real estate taxes. That’s unconstitutional because it deprives the property owner of his property without due process of law.
The local government in Batangas must ensure that professional squatters do not exploit the situation in the province. For every professional squatter given a relocation site, a genuinely needy Batangas resident gets displaced. Such manifest injustice should not be allowed or tolerated.