Property rights of the urban poor

Posted: August 8, 2012 in Evictions, Informal settlers, Property rights, Right to life, Squatters, State-owned land, Urban poor

What property rights?

Previously, the urban poor were called ‘squatters’ supposedly because they ‘squat’ on land they do not own.  The verb ‘squat’ does not give you a nice picture.  

Thus, the urban poor usurp the property rights of others and do not actually have property rights of their own.  This is especially true if the land in question is owned by a private citizen.

Nowadays, the urban poor are called ‘informal settlers’ for political correctness.  The new term implies that they ‘informally settle’ on land they do not own.

In my opinion, the term ‘informal settler’ is nothing but a euphemism.  It indicates that the informal settlers, formerly known as  squatters are doing something wrong, like violating the property rights of others.  In that sense, it does not represent any improvement over the older ‘squatter’.

One has a straightforward case if the aggrieved party is a private citizen.

The situation is more complicated when the land is owned by the state.

It is a truism that the most basic human right is the right to life.  The right to life is concretized through subsidiary rights such as rights to livelihood, domicile, etc.

Urban poor dwellings on both sides of estero (estuary)

The urban poor are rational individuals.  If state-owned land is idle (and this is true in Quezon City), they will occupy the land and build their dwellings.  Population growth and building booms, among others, have restricted the supply of ‘squattable’ land and pushed them to the frontiers including estuaries, river banks, and hill slopes.  The poor do so to be near jobs and other sources of income such as vending, hawking, and low-value added jobs (construction, service jobs) all over the city.

Charcoal making by urban poor workers

Sampaguita vendor

Should the state assert its property rights and evict the squatters?

Forcible demolition of urban poor dwellings

Or should it fulfill its obligations as duty bearer to its citizens, specially its less fortunate constituents, and ensure that the latter be afforded all the opportunities to ensure their right to life?  The city poor do not need land titles; certificates of occupancy will suffice.

It may be that the state leaders are apparently faced with a basic dilemma here.  However, it is clear that evictions are the trend.

Urban poor awaiting rescue atop their shanties

The urban poor face twin threats to the tenure over the land upon which they have built their dwellings.  When the weather is unruly, they have to deal with calamitous floods and landslides.  During sunny weather, forcible evictions may be their fare.

In the evacuation center

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