(This entry is meant partly as an answer to Peter Anglionto's comment in a previous post and also as an expansion of the ideas from the last entry. Get a cup of coffee, this is a long one.)
The national government declared the other day that it would spend US$ 1.1 billion to resettle squatters in Metro Manila. The government plans to construct 265,955 housing units with each housing unit costing an estimated $4,200 (about PhP 185,000 per).
That news came right on the heels of the MMDA vowing to eliminate squatters from the Metro within 3 years.
All of this might be part of the posturing for the ASEAN Ministers Meeting next month but they are, nevertheless, the latest in a long, long history of attempts to remove and relocate informal dwellers (most precipitated by impending international conferences) and part of the long history of informal settlers in the metropolis.
So why are there squatters? This is, of course a multi-faceted problem, but the usual quick answers are:
- because of poverty
- because of lax law enforcement
Although poverty does explain the economic choice of the poor in the city (to find housing in the black market for shelter) you still have to ask, why do the poor choose to be in the city in the first place? Why don't they opt to stay in the rural areas? Why the extreme concentrations in the metropolis? Wouldn't the poor be slightly more comfortable in the countryside where there would at least be land to till for subsistence farming?
As to lack of enforcement, many (like Peter) blame the Lina Law (the Urban Development and Housing Act -R.A. 7279) which decriminalized squatting and imposed requirements for relocation before eviction. The provisions, they say, are onerous (at least to the landlords) and abet squatting.
But we must remember that squatting and squatter colonies existed in the metro prior to the passage of RA 7279. There were squatters back when it was still
You can argue that our feudal, patronage politics encourages large squatter populations, keeping them as voting bailiwicks. As true as that may be, it still doesn't answer the question of why people opt to move into the city and into squatter colonies rather than, as above, staying in the countryside (where, apparently, fewer people go hungry).
So, why are there squatters? Why do the poor choose to huddle into our urbanized areas? The answer to that question also answers why the metropolis experienced explosive growth (in urbanized area and population) in the last half century.
(I couldn't track down any relevant figures in the 2000 census, but in 1958, more than half of the residents in the NCR were migrants from the rural areas. I would venture that the current percentage would be larger given the metro's average population growth rate of 12% since 1948.)
The answer, I venture, is about the relative economic productivity of each square meter of land in the metropolis. The 639 square kilometers of Metro Manila account for a fifth of the nation's GDP. Each square kilometer in the metropolis produces US$ 158,000 per year while the rest of the country's land (and here, I am assuming all other land is flat and arable) produces $1,720 (barely one percent vs. the metro). Which means, in theory, that living on a square meter of land in the metropolis provides the potential of making an average of more than PhP 7,000 per year, while the equivalent in the countryside offers a measly PhP 77.
Of course, these are all gross numbers and averages but the numbers do point to the relative opportunities provided by Metro Manila vs. the rest of the country.
In network terms, the metropolis is a highly connected (economic) hub in a scale-free network. A condition we have to consider if we are to find effective solutions.
Why are there squatters? Because an individual has better chance of earning a living in the city than in the countryside, even if that means living in makeshift shanties on illegally occupied land.
Which then points us to the problem that has plagued our endless squatter relocation programs -taking people out of squatter colonies and moving them back to the provinces (the "balik-probinsya" programs so popular among our local governments) -will not work because the economic logic (the opportunity to make money) will always trump the logic of moving away from the city, even if you provide a shortcut to land or home ownership.
The national government gave no specifics about how it would effect the PhP 50 billion relocation program, but it did specify that the allocation was for building homes. Given our stubborn track record, it would be no stretch to imagine that this means finding building relocation sites outside of or at the periphery of the city. Which is, to say, it will probably also fail.
The squatter problem is intertwined with the challenge of managing and coping with the rapid growth of the metropolis. Which brings me to Peter's question in his latest comment, who exactly in government is in charge of or is planning for this growth?
Apparently, no one directly. I know of no subcommittee of the cabinet that integrates the key issues that characterize urban growth: land use, transportation, housing and economic development.
Ideally it should be the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council* -but they seem to be focused only on making housing affordable and providing affordable housing. There seems to be no coordination with the DPWH, that builds highways, or the DOT that manages transportation, and of course, land use is the purview of local governments who report to the DILG.
So, no one apparently. Which is probably why we got into this mess in the first place.
Oh, one more thing to keep in mind. We are not alone. The images above are of squatter colonies from megacities all over the globe. The UN estimates that there will be 2 billion slum dwellers in the world by the end of the decade. We share the problem, and quite possibly the solutions, with the rest of the world.
For further reading, I highly recommend Robert Neurwith's "Shadow Cities." Neurwith lived for two years in four of the biggest slums in the planet (Rocinha, in Rio, Brazil; Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya; Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, in Mumbai, India; and Sultanbeyli, in Istanbul, Turkey). He spends the first part of his book reporting on the daily life in these neighborhoods then discusses the issue of squatting from the questions and theories of land ownership.
You can catch excerpts and reviews of Neurwith's book from the Global Business Network, from Boingboing, and from WorldChanging.
*I believe the name puts the cart before the horse. If I had my druthers, that acronym should be UDHCC.
Kibera, Nairobi from the Kawi Photo Gallery
Dharavi, Mumbai, India by David Levene
Slum outside Mexico City by Suviko
Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro by Austin
P.S. -I'd like to express my appreciation to Peter, Eugene and Fred (my "regulars") who take precious time out of their day to read and react to my kilometric and often dense posts. It makes the time I spend researching and writing these entries all the more worthwhile. Thank you, gentlemen.