A friend lamented how she couldn’t understand how “squatters” stubbornly refuse to move out of their communities. Another friend commented that “squatters” should know they should move out because it’s not their land to begin with, and they should not be choosy about relocation sites to boot. I didn’t reply to the (Facebook) thread because I don’t want my friend to be defensive on her own wall. Whatever their class consciousness or political orientation, I am always a civilized debater with friends or foes. But I cannot be silent on things that I feel passionately about. After all, it’s human rights and urban poor week!
I will divide this response to that post into three questions, which I will answer one by one.
1. Do we have a right to decent housing?
2. What are the factors that gave rise to “squatting”?
3. Who owns the land?
Okay, now. First off, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to decent shelter, a.k.a housing. Unless we aren’t humans, then this is a basic right. But apparently, government doesn’t think all of us are humans. The poor are subhumans except on election campaign period. Government chooses to overlook the fact that it is their duty and responsibility to ensure that EACH of their constituents has a decent life.
Am I saying that government should ensure all squatters should have a house? Yes. EACH one of its constituents. No exemptions. No favorites. HUMAN RIGHT remember?
Some sputter back: But, but, price for urban land is sky-high, government can’t afford it! So who sets the price in the first place? Who establishes how much land is worth and what it should be used for? Should it be used for malls and office buildings for capitalists to earn more money off the sweat and tears of the poor? Do you know that we have more malls than parks in urban areas in this country?!
But before I start on the evil consequences of mall-sprouting consumerism in the Philippines such as disappearing vistas and heavier solid waste generation, let me go to the second question. How did “squatters” come to be?
Let’s go back 300+ years for the answer. Historically, our country was an agriculture-based economy. But with colonialism, rural and agricultural lands started going to the wealthy and politically powerful. First it was the Spanish friars grabbing the land from the natives. Then came in the American capitalists who wanted to exploit our natural resources. Land is required to produce more capital. Land is required for mining, monocropping, and other capitalist ventures that milk out our people for more profits. Thus our people lost their rights to the land.
After hundreds of years of feudal exploitation and capitalist glamorization of urban living, the rural folk dreamed of greener pastures in the cities. To their dismay, life was harder in the city. Again, more intensely, they realized that land still belonged to the rich. And life, from the countrysides to the cities, is hard for the poor. They still cannot claim the right to a decent life. Much more to own land of their own. So they squat. Get demolished. And if they protest, they get a bullet in the head. No, they aren’t victims. They’re criminals. Illegal settlers. The term “illegal” gives me goosebumps. But hell, unfortunately, there are people who own the land and the law protects them.
SO WHO OWNS THE LAND? The answer is obvious: THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD IT! Who dares to demolish and kill people to evict them from their ancestral lands? Those who can afford it! Can the poor afford to contest this fact? No. They cant pay for lawyers and worse, they get killed to contest it. Hacienda Luisita. Zamboanga, Mindoro, Surigao commercial mining interests. What do they have in common? Capitalists who can AFFORD to kill protesters and PAINT BLACK whoever who opposes them!
Seen from a sociological perspective, urban migration is a complicated phenomenon. It is influenced by economic, political, and psychological factors, which a truly humane and pro-people government should study with gravity. While its true that the urban poor DON’T own the land (which is questionable by itself considering that only 1% own the land in this country), resorting to demolition is, at the very least, a band-aid solution, and at the most, a violation of human rights. Provision of a relocation site is just a basic requirement. There are more: housing, livelihood, and accessibility to health and other social services. The poor is “choosy”? And why shouldn’t they be? When the relocations sites don’t take into consideration their livelihood opportunities?
Unfortunately, in a capitalist world order where the interests of the rich and powerful weigh heavier than gold that the poor can only dream about, it’s all about private property. At the economic level, makes me want to ask, with skewed distribution of wealth, can the poor buy land when they eat only once daily? At the political level, why is fighting for basic human rights answered by violence? At the species level, who gave humans the right to claim land as their own? Furthermore, what right to we have to assign values to land? To say which land is pricier than another? God or self-serving men? Lastly, who gave humans the right to denigrate their fellow human beings and label them as illegal settlers? How just is it for Filipinos to be called as “squatters” in their own land?
I come from the upper middle class. My parents own land. But I denounce my claim to land that my family cannot work on. I denounce my claim to land that generates more income that we need to live comfortably. I denounce my class and the rest of the upper class’ claim to own land that we don’t till and yet still get the bulk of the income from.
Many of us are misled by the propaganda of the capitalists. We think that the poor are lazy. That farmer families who rush to the cities and become impoverished squatters are too lazy to till the land. Who wants to till the land when they only get a pittance for it? When they’ve been tilling it for generations and they still get a pittance for it?
Meanwhile, the landowners stubbornly refuse to let go of their land or justly compensate their tenant farmers. They say that they PAID for their rights. LEGALLY. What a sham/e.
I challenge all my readers, especially the youth, to read more. Read on land ownership in the Philippines. Overcome centuries of mind-conditioning against the poor. Unlearn. Let our lost generation find its way home to the earth and the masses. Our true and only home.