The typhoon “Sendong” story in Cagayan de Oro -- that tragically claimed, as of last count, at least a thousand lives -- has become a cyclical phenomenon throughout the country for the past decade: Ormoc, Aurora, even Marikina, to name a few.
Most of the victims were squatters living along the Cagayan de Oro riverbanks. According to Antonio Montalvan II, a Cagayanon born and bred:
“The alluvial plains—huge swaths of land that lie on the riverbanks—became a magnet for informal settlers over the last 20 years. And what started as a small delta has grown over the years from continuous siltation.
That is the island now known as Isla de Oro, heavily populated for the last 20 years but nothing but a bar of silt and sand.
And yet the city government allowed the informal settlers to mushroom.” (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/116425/we-had-been-warned-of-cagayan-rivers-fury)
On the other hand, reacting to such tragedies, Senator Manny Villar filed recently a bill banning the construction of houses along the waterways, including riverbanks. (Villar files bill banning houses along waterways. Philippine Star, December 23, 2011.)
I suggest that Republic Act (RA) No. 7279, or the “Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992,” be revisited by the good Senator and the concerned local government officials.
RA 7279 contains the following provisions:
Sec. 29. Resettlement. — Within two (2) years from the effectivity of this Act, the local government units, in coordination with the National Housing Authority, shall implement the relocation and resettlement of persons living in danger areas such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways, and in other public places as sidewalks, roads, parks, and playgrounds. The local government unit, in coordination with the National Housing Authority, shall provide relocation or resettlement sites with basic services and facilities and access to employment and livelihood opportunities sufficient to meet the basic needs of the affected families.
Sec. 30. Prohibition Against New Illegal Structures. — It shall be unlawful for any person to construct any structure in areas mentioned in the preceding section.
After the effectivity of this Act, the barangay, municipal or city government units shall prevent the construction of any kind of illegal dwelling units of structures within their respective localities. The head of any local government unit concerned who allows, abets or otherwise tolerates the construction of any structure in violation of this section shall be liable to administrative sanctions under existing laws and to penal sanctions provided for in this Act.
Sec. 45. Penalty Clause. — Any person who violates any provision of this Act shall be imposed the penalty of not more than six (6) years of imprisonment or a fine of not less than Five thousand pesos (P5,000) but not more than One hundred thousand pesos (P100,000), or both, at the discretion of the court: Provided, That, if the offender is a corporation, partnership, association or other juridical entity, the penalty shall be imposed on the officer or officers of said corporation, partnership, association or juridical entity who caused the violation.
Moreover, Section 2 of the “Implementing Rules and Regulations Governing Summary Eviction” of RA 7279, states:
Section 2. Coverage. – the following shall be subject for summary eviction:
1.0 New squatter families whose structures were built after the effectivity of RA 7279; and
2.0 Squatter families identified by the LGU in cooperation with Presidential Commission of the Urban Poor (PCUP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and accredited Urban Poor Organization as professional squatters or members of squatting syndicates as defined in the Act.
Applying the Implementing Rules, the appellate court, in the case of Hinacay, et. al. vs. Muntinlupa, et. al (CA-G.R. SP No. 80496) -- a case that appears not to have been elevated to the Supreme Court -- held, to wit:
“Petitioners failed to show that they are not “new squatters.” All they say is that they are occupants of the property “for a long period of time,” but fail to state the exact date of the start of their occupation.
Hence, they fall under the category of “new squatters”. As such, they are not entitled to the protection of RA 7279 and in fact should be subjected to summary eviction.
Petitioners’ houses may be demolished and they may be evicted from the land without need of an ejectment case.”
Thus, all it takes, perhaps, is sheer political will coupled with social justice, to prevent the unnecessary loss of lives of the poor and the downtrodden – and not an additional bill.