But of course. Perhaps there is some merit in what a “human rights regional official” and the “officers of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines” assert in siding with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte on the grounds that taking “the humanitarian point of view” is called for in this situation. This situation, relates to Duterte’s punching court sheriff Abe Andres after he acted on oders to proceed with a demoliton of illegally-built structures that were home to 500 families — squatters — in Barangay Kapitan Tomas Monteverde Sr. Suliman, Agdao.
Squatting is a huge social and economic problem in the Philippines, more so because squatters are protected by laws that make it difficult to remove them from properties they infest. Presidential Decree 772 (PD 772) effected by former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1975 made prosecuting “squatting and other criminal acts” relatively easy. Squatting under PD 772 was clearly a criminal undertaking as Section 1 of the decree states…
Any person who, with the use of force, intimidation or threat, or taking advantage of the absence or tolerance of the landowner, succeeds in occupying or possessing the property of the latter against his will for residential commercial or any other purposes, shall be punished by an imprisonment ranging from six months to one year or a fine of not less than one thousand nor more than five thousand pesos at the discretion of the court, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.
And so, under Marcos’s administration, thousands of squatters were successfully evicted from land they illegally inhabited and jailed for their offense.
Unfortunately PD 772 was repealed when Republic Act No. 8368, the “Anti-Squatting Law Repeal Act of 1997” took effect. RA 8368 also authorised dismissal of all pending cases that drew upon the provisions of the now repealed PD 772. It also directed criminal cases against squatters to defer to the broader “Comprehensive and Continuing Urban Development Program” described by Republic Act 7279, which stipulated sanctions that are applicable only to “professional squatters” which are defined to be…
[…] individuals or groups who occupy lands without the express consent of the landowner and who have sufficient income for legitimate housing. The term shall also apply to persons who have previously been awarded homelots or housing units by the Government but who sold, leased or transferred the same to settle illegally in the same place or in another urban area, and non-bona fide occupants and intruders of lands reserved for socialized housing.
RA 7279 however explicitly excludes from the definition “individuals or groups who simply rent land and housing from professional squatters or squatting syndicates.” These laws, in effect, make the process of removing squatters from one’s property a long and convoluted one.
Unfortunately for the hapless landowner, the Philippines is a society that likes to play the “humanitarian” card when it comes to squatters. Even the use of the word “squatter” has for some time been routinely dropped in “polite” conversation in favour of the euphemism “informal settler.” Indeed, “human rights” activists have been quick to side with Duterte, in the process becoming apologists for a mayor who, in front of TV cameras, launched into an unprovoked assault against Andres, an officer of the Judiciary who, apparently, was just out to implement a court order. That, plus the convenient downplaying of what was clearly criminal behaviour on the part of the “informal settlers” affected by the demolition order who were throwing rocks and sharp objects at Andres’s team and the police officers who were escorting them, is typical of a society where impunity rules.
Bottom line is that the issue of evicting squatters from land they have no right to inhabit will not have been muddled into idiotic debates that invoke “humanitarian” appeal had laws on squatting and legal use of both public and private property been observed from the very start. The problem with the way things are done in the Philippines is that small misdemeanors get routinely tolerated. And then more and more of them get tolerated until the pile of little misdemeanors gets bigger and bigger. We no longer see the small misdemeanors but behold the big pile of impunity looming tall before us and wonder, how this came to be.
It’s simple, really when one considers how the Rule of Law ideally applies to everything and all people — from the smallest ordinance and from the most ordinary people from the very start.