Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 29 November 2017

Squatting on urban land is a common occurrence in the country. Once encroached upon, any land becomes easy prey for the inflow of more settlers.

Last week, my topic dealt with the historical roots of urban squatting. If only to emphasize the true nature of the problem for what it is, I focus on giving a still picture of existing squatter settlements in Quezon City where the widest open land of prime value for the nation has been devalued by squatter settlements.

I will use such a background for the future discussion of the problem of low cost housing and employment issues in this column.

“Public land squatting starts openly.” In the case of public lands, encroachment by informal settlers is easy to do, especially in the absence of a strong public vigilance against those who squat on land illegally.

To begin with, public spaces designated and identified by land laws and regulations (easements for roads, open creeks, public parks, government agency properties) are generally more accessible to the general public.

Thus, any one person if left unnoticed can set up temporary structures. When tolerated by lack of enforcement or rules, the construction becomes long term. The first is a test. Then the next ones follow soon enough if unchecked. This is how squatter communities grow. The squatter just constructs on open spaces.

To understand the magnitude of the squatter problem of the general metropolis, it is essential to go “micro,” I do today, focused mainly on squatting in the national government center. Of course, it is possible to do this kind of description wherever the problem occurs.

“Squatting in the government center in Quezon City.”  The government center area in Quezon City has been badly encroached. The main aggravation came after the late 1980s although there were pockets of informal settlements even before that time.

The freedom and license gained following the euphoria of EDSA People Power led to a high rate of squatting in the government area. In the short period of time when the government was either completely taken up by other problems, the squatting in the Quezon City center was quickly unleashed.

A large swath of prime public land along the EDSA route occupied by the government center and park areas (both the national and the city governments) became the primary victim of this intrusion. Along with it, private properties and private lots were also settled in by squatters.

The area near the Batasang Pambansa is heavily squatted upon. Much of it was originally slated to be a part and a site for government offices. The park has disappeared from view. It is mainly full of squatter colonies.

“A most depressing sight.” Both the national and city governments have been trying to slowly reclaim these lands. The Quezon City government has been able to lease part of its reclaimed lands to private developers. This has led to the forcible removal of communities of squatters, making it possible to plan the land use.

Most of the squatters were compensated upon being moved out to other locations. But some easily moved back into other dense squatter communities, thus, simply adding to the generalization of the squatter problem in the city.

The most depressing squatter settlement site lies on the stretch of road beginning from across the offices of the National Power Corp. on the corner of Quezon Avenue and the BIR Road. This goes in two directions – along Quezon Avenue, checked only by the boundary of the Lung Center Hospital.

Along the BIR Road, the the tightly-squeezed squatter shacks continue uninterrupted to the longer NIA Road that runs partly parallel to EDSA within the interior of this area. NIA Road continues to the General Postal Office and the rear of the NIA offices and leads almost to East Avenue. The settlement is checked only where the entrance gate to the regional office area of the Land Registration Commission breaks it.

East Avenue which radiates from the Quezon Memorial Circle (together with EDSA and Quezon Avenue) encircles this piece of residential squalor that is hidden from view of daily commuters. (East Avenue is well-known because that is where the buildings of the Social Security System, the Heart Center and the Kidney Center are located.)

The large community of squatters across the Philippine Science High School has now been mostly cleared in favor of urban redevelopment. The Quezon City government had entered into a long-term lease with a private developer to develop a new commercial center for the city. This is a high rise mixed-use office/ residential complex that surrounds the Trinoma Mall development.

It took a prolonged struggle between government and the squatter groups before the clearing of the squatters was achieved.

Other squatter areas abound in different forms. For instance, the Department of Agriculture corner along the North Drive is full of squatters in the most intrusive way. This is along the turn of the road where the Veterans Memorial Hospital is located. The side and frontage of the Sugar Regulatory Commission Building is blocked by what should have been an open view of these offices on the corner along the Quezon Circle.

The squatters squeeze everywhere it is possible. Crowded along the creek between the Children’s Hospital and the Parks and Wild Life Office is a vibrant community begins a creek along Quezon Avenue into the interiors.

“UP squatting.” The University of the Philippines has a large campus in Diliman, Quezon City. UP has struggled with a continuous intrusion of informal settlers along its boundaries since the campus moved there in the late 1940s. Such communities have proven a challenge to the university in the course of many decades.

The squatter settlements have increased in intensity, especially in the vicinity since the bypass road to Katipunan St. along the C.P. Garcia road was constructed decades ago.

Today, it is most serious. Within the last few years, the area near the official residence of the UP president has been encroached upon by steady construction of illegal dwellings.

Most alarming is the sudden growth of a squatter settlement where the site of the College of Veterinary Medicine used to be. This settlement is now a large community of new squatters. This seems to be the start of something definitely more problematic in the future.