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The Anatomy of Squatting in Summer Capital
by Gabriel Pawid Keith

A backgrounder
Squatter is one who settles on a new land or on government land without right or title. The term has acquired a mongrel connotation nowadays as referring likewise to those who construct their houses without permit.

Definitely, when one talks of squatting in Baguio, one does not mean sitting down upon the hams or heels.

There were 1,959 squatter-families in the city who built their dwellings on public lands and reservations without building permits from the city and permits from the Bureau of Lands before the 1963 elections. Of the number, 371 were in prohibited areas and off-limit zones, 580 in government reservations and public subdivisions, and 1,008 in both disposable and non-disposable public lands.

The population density per hectare in the city then was nine persons, there being 50,436 hectares. Comparatively speaking, there was still sufficient land area to accommodate future population explosions. But even in 1963, the squatter-family ratio to the population was already quite high compared to other cities in the country. The ratio was four per cent or one squatter for every 25 residents. In Quezon City, the ratio was only 0.3 percent or one squatter for every 400 residents.

The figures were taken from the findings of the Committee on Site Selection created by the Baguio Coordination Committee to make a study of the squatter problem during the administration of mayor Luis L. Lardizabal.

Historically, the squatter problem has been plaguing city administrations since the Liberation. While past administrations had virtually tolerated the problem as an incurable malady, the Lardizabal administration chose to lock horns with the growing menace. But an honest-to-goodness solution to the problem found rough sailing because mayor Lardizabal was a Nacionalista and the city council headed by then vice mayor Norberto F. de Guzman was Liberal. The general rule before the 1963 election in the city government had been; what the council passes, the mayor vetoes; what the mayor vigorously recommends, the council ignores.

Observed the Courier then “…the politicians in the local government should not make all the while until the next election, footballing this issue for their own edification. Fact is, the city mayor, the vice-mayor and the city councilors have been loafing during the three-fourths of their term on this ‘squatter problem’.”

It will be unfair, of course, to say that the executive and legislative branches of the city government have done nothing before the 1963 election.
Recommendations and proposed resolutions have been voluminous, practically all begging for leniency towards the squatters.

Out of the string of proposals, the so-called “Squatter Ordinance,” City Ordinance 386, fathered by then vice mayor de Guzman was passed and became effective Feb. 13, 1962 over mayor Lardizabal’s veto after three months of marathon deliberations and public hearings.

Intended to solve the squatter problem once and for all, the measure called squatters into bona fide occupants of the lots they were on and would turn all such lands into a city housing project. De Guzman said the ordinance was designed to extend all the necessary government assistance to city squatters and qualified lot applicants for them to overcome the onerous and stringent operation of the Public Land Act.

It was also pointed out that the ordinance would keep the squatters problem away from the influence and incursions of politics, and thus give to all squatters a feeling of security in their abode and dwelling.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The “Squatter Ordinance”
“This ordinance is primarily designed to extend a helping hand to the numerous landless city residents and the so-called ‘squatters’ within the Baguio townsite in their desire to acquire residential lots which they may rightly call their own.”

Thus, eloquently and beautifully commenced the explanatory note of City Ordinance 386, otherwise referred to and more popularly known as the “Squatters Ordinance.”

City officials meeting in regular session on Dec. 19, 1962 also noted that the squatter problem dates back from early Liberation and has aggravated into its thorny and confused situation. Fatherly, the officials continued:

“The reported 2,000 people who have violated the city’s building ordinances were not so goaded by any criminal perversity, but were driven to it more by circumstances of necessity and that they are, therefore, entitled to a more human treatment, more of understanding and more of pity, rather than be herded before the courts, likened to hardened criminals and deliberate violators of our laws and ordinances.”

And so the passage of City Ordinance 386, the “Squatters Ordinance” by the city council composed of vice mayor De Guzman, presiding officer; and councilors Jose S. Fernando, Gaudencio N. Floresca, Francisco G. Mayo, Braulio D. Yaranon, Eugene P. Pucay, and Sinforso Fangonil.

The enacting clause reads:
“Upon strong recommendation of the vice mayor and presiding officer, on motion of all the councilors, seconded by the same, be it ordained by the city council assembled.”

The provisions are as follows:
“Section 1 – All public lands within the Baguio townsite which are occupied by squatters who are duly registered as such at the time of the promulgation of this ordinance, such public lands not designated by city and national authorities for public use, shall be considered as embraced and comprising a city government Housing Project; Provided however, that areas covered by Executive Order or Presidential Proclamations but the city had made official representation for the lifting of such orders or proclamations shall be deemed to be part of the Baguio Townsite for the purposes of this ordinance;

“Sec. 2 – Building permits shall have been deemed issued to all squatters as contemplated by this ordinance, giving such squatters five years from the approval of this ordinance to satisfactorily comply with city building specifications and payment of the corresponding city building permit fees; (Italics is ours.)

“Sec. 3 – All cases pending in court against squatters be dropped without prejudice to the full prosecution of all subsequent violations in relation to the provisions of existing city building ordinances and/or resolutions; (Italics ours for emphasis.)

“Sec. 4 – All the squatters be given all the necessary and needed protection by the city government against stringent provisions of the Public Land Act, particularly on public bidding, in that the lots occupied by said squatters be awarded to them by direct sale through Presidential Proclamation;

“Sec. 5 – The city government shall not be interested in making financial profit out of the project and that the appraisal and evaluation of the said lots shall be made at minimum cost per square meter, the total cost of the lots made payable within a period of ten years;

“Sec. 6 – The minimum lot area requirement shall be disregarded in cases were it could not be implemented due to existing congestion of houses, and that, if necessary, areas applied for under this ordinance shall be reduced to that which is practical under the circumstances; Provided, however, that squatters in congested areas shall be given preference in the transfer to resettlement areas or government housing projects earmarked as such under the provisions of this ordinance, if and when it becomes necessary to ease congestion or when their lots shall be traversed by the laying of roads or are needed for public use;

“Sec. 7 – The amount of P20,000, or so much as is necessary, for the lot survey of each squatter’s lot be appropriated, such survey of which shall be conducted by licensed private surveyor through public biddings, provided, that said expenses for survey shall be included in the overall cost of each lot;

“Sec. 8 – The three-man control committee for the Quirino-Magsaysay housing project which was previously created under City Ordinance 344, shall exercise administration and supervision of the city government housing projects created under this ordinance shall, furthermore, be entrusted with the duty of: 1) Consolidating a list of all city squatters who shall be benefited in contemplation and under the provisions of this ordinance; 2) To assist and help the squatters in the preparation of all the necessary and required paper work and relative items in connection with their applications over their respective lots; 3) To seek and locate other areas within the Baguio Townsite conveniently situated and which will be earmarked as subsequent housing projects of the city for landless bona fide city residents; and 4) To carry out and implement the provisions of this ordinance without the least possible delay.”
The ordinance was unanimously passed but was vetoed by then mayor Lardizabal on Jan. 2, 1963; re-passed on Feb. 13, 1963 and took effect on Feb. 23, 1963.

* * * * * * * * * *

“We shall elect a ‘Squatter Council’,” was the boast of squatters during the height of the 1963 election campaign, which was marked among other things by the barbed wire “subdivision” of the Forbes Park area along South Drive and Cabinet Hill.

Many of the candidates for the city council were then heard spreading around, “Squatter-rak met ket (I am also a squatter).”

As to whether or not a “Squatter Council,” one inclined to baby or pamper those who invade or build their houses without the necessary building permits, was elected in 1963 is beside the point. What is important is that before the 1963 election, there were only 1,958 squatter-families in the city. A conservative figure of 5,000 squatter-families is expected in 1967, another election year.

Why the upsurge of squatting in Baguio City? Here are some of the reasons:
1. Enactment of City Ordinance 386, otherwise referred to as the “Squatters Ordinance.”

True, the Squatters Ordinance was passed to solve the squatters problem by “legalizing” the acts of those whose names were registered with the Office of the City Assessor as of Dec. 31, 1962. The general impression, however, is that the ordinance legalized squatting. This impression grew as squatters continued to “invade” public lands and reservations and got away with it. The common argument: “If a squatter in 1962 cannot be prosecuted, why should I when I am but following what he did?”

2. Lack of corollary measures and/or actions to prevent additional illegal constructions and occupancies.

Among the recommendations of the Committee on Squatters’ Relocation on March 30, 1964 were: (1) As a corollary to the solution of the squatters problem as envisioned in Ordinance 386 measures, should be taken to prevent additional illegal constructions and occupancies; and (2) Relocation as soon as possible of the squatters on the following recommended relocation sites: Holy Ghost Hill subdivision extension, Hillside (Kennon Road) San Vicente portion of the Bureau of Plant Industry reservation, and portion of the Bureau of Animal Industry reservation.
Time and again, top city officials bared bold policies on squatters in press interviews and press releases, but the problem continued to thrive. There was simply no vigorous follow-up.

It was only in March this year that the city administration through mayor Norberto F. de Guzman and vice mayor Braulio D. Yaranon decided to really enforce a mailed-fist policy against squatting. By this time, however, Quirino Hill has already been overrun, Quezon Hill is starting to fall and few “mushrooms” are already sprouting in hidden portions of John Hay Air Base and that area near the Baguio General Hospital.
The campaign is reaping its own rewards. Because of the concerted action being undertaken against the squatters, those directly concerned in pursuing the anti-squatting drive have been emboldened knowing that they are now being supported in the upper echelons of the city government. The question is: “How long will this intensified campaign last?”

3. The incongruous situation wherein elected officials go to the defense of violators of city ordinances.

Some lawyer members of the city council have been appearing for the squatters hailed to court. Judge Feliciano Belmonte of the Court of First Instance had to put a stop to the practice in an illegal construction case on March 7, 1966. The CFI judge said that his court “shall refuse appearances of councilors as against the city of Baguio.”

The practice of city council members appearing for squatters had decidedly added glamour to squatting. Imagine breaking a city ordinance and be defended in court by an elective official for free. Where in the Philippines had existed such inconsistency? Only in Baguio, the Summer Capital of the Philippines, the Cloud-Kissed City, the Pine’s City.

4. Tedious and oftentimes expensive process of acquiring the necessary permits.

Getting a building permit is certainly not a laughing matter. You must have a building plan to begin with and then see a series of officials at City Hall and the City Health Center. If the officials concerned are in their offices during your visit for their signatures, well and good. Oftentimes, however, it takes a week or more before one can get a building permit.

5. Presence of some glib-tongued “land dealers” and gullible persons who will buy anything – from public to non-existing land.

Vice mayor Yaranon informed in a recent news report that he was aware of several cases of lowlanders selling all they have to be able, to buy a lot in Baguio only to find out that they have been hoodwinked. He cited the case of a family from La Union who lost P1,500 in a fast deal over a “lot” at Quezon Hill.

* * * * * * * * * *

In conclusion, we wish to call attention to previous news reports concerning the problem. The following quoted portions will help refresh residents of Baguio of
the events, pronouncements, actions and promises vis-à-vis squatting:

1. “The data on hand show that the number of squatters increase each year and recently they have occupied mostly restricted areas especially reservations. Concomitantly the further increase in number of squatters poses an additional problem. Let it be said, therefore, that there would be no end to this problem if no immediate measures are instituted to curtail it.

“It has been observed that the majority of these squatters have made illegal constructions brought about by their compelling need to provide shelter for their families and their ignorance as to the true status of the lands occupied by them. As a matter of fact, there are those who have occupied some areas years ago, but unfortunately, standing rules and regulations regarding acquisition thereof prevents them from legally perfecting their occupation.” – Committee Report on Squatters Relocation published in the Courier, April 12, 1964.

2. “Thirty-three squatters were found to be public nuisance who could be summarily abated under the undefined law of necessity in a decision penned May 12, 1964 by Judge Lourdes P. San Diego, Baguio Court of First Instance vacation judge.

“San Diego’s decision on Civil Case No. 1027 for abatement of a public nuisance closed a case filed by the city of Baguio on March 24, 1961 against Agusta Lorenzo and her 32 co-defendants residing in the vicinity of the Idisan and Amsing tanks or water reservoirs which supply about one-half of the city’s water system.” – Baguio Midland Courier, May 24, 1964.

3. “Squatters are moving in again and this time some 17 hectares of Quirino Hill reservation is the target. Latest count by the Bureau of Forestry district office which made the investigation was 230 squatters. Majority of the squatters have started clearing about 750 square meters of land each. Some have started building shacks on their claims…Some of the squatters have filed townsite sales application with the Bureau of Lands, but personnel of the local district office disclaimed any knowledge of townsite sales application filed in their office.” – Baguio Midland Courier, Aug. 9, 1964.

4. “City council members agreed this week that squatting in Baguio must be stopped before it totally gets out of hand as they started drafting a positive solution to the problem.

“According to Telesforo Tangalin of the Bureau of Forestry, there are 270 squatters at Quirino Hill. Dr. Lloren said that the pollution of water at the Buyog spring is caused by the Quirino Hill squatters. He pointed out that some squatters even take their bath in the reservoir.” – Baguio Midland Courier, Sept. 20, 1964.

5. “President Diosdado Macapagal was requested to reserve by presidential proclamation parcels of lands within the Baguio Townsite for housing projects. City dads pointed out that one of the pressing problems of the city of Baguio is the squatter problem, affecting about 5,000 low-salaried employees.” – Baguio Midland Courier, Oct. 31, 1965.

6. “Vice mayor Braulio D. Yaranon expressed this week that the squatters problem is not incapable of solution even as he decried inaction on the part of the city administration to contain squatting in the city.” – Baguio Midland Courier, March 6, 1966.

7. “Mayor Norberto F. de Guzman this week asked the office of the city attorney to double its efforts in the apprehension and prosecution of persons engaged in illegal squatting to belie reports that the city campaign against such cases of illegal entry has been relaxed.” – Baguio Midland Courier, March 13, 1966.
And here we end with quoting history.

The squatters problem is real. There is no quarrel about this. And the city council, in its own way, is trying to solve it. As far as could be gleaned, the plan of the city government calls for the titling of all available public lands in the Baguio townsite in the name of the city of Baguio. A substantial portion will then be subdivided for distribution to qualified landless residents in accordance with existing rules and regulations.

To carry out this plan, a photogrammetry survey was undertaken by the Bureau of Lands in cooperation with the Philippine Air Force. Former President Macapagal has also released in Proclamations 488 and 490 portions of the Government Center and Manila Railroad Company compounds. That DM has also released 169.9202 hectares at Quirino Hill is still the subject of wrangling between the city government prosecutors and the counsel of the about 300 squatters in the area.

It is still vague, however, as to how the city fathers will go about with their housing projects. Who, for example, are the deserving landless residents? Only those covered by City Ordinance 386, otherwise known as the Squatters Ordinance? The question is pertinent because paradoxically while the city administration has placed itself squarely against squatting, the practice continues to flourish.

We believe that vice mayor Yaranon rightly observed that “it is useless to talk about remedial measures to solve squatting unless the city administration undertakes a preliminary move to contain squatting.”

True, squatters are human beings and, therefore, should merit humane treatment or “justice tempered with mercy.” But they must be taught to respect the law for their own sake and that of the community.

In his policy speech on Jan. 7, 1964, mayor de Guzman said that the “envisioned solution entails a myriad of difficulties relative to relocation, zoning, and opening of relocation areas, but we feel assured that this can be done with the help and assistance of everybody concerned.”

One thing is certain at this stage, Baguio City does not deserve its growing reputation of being a Squatter City.

**Published on March 27, April 3, April 10, and April 17, 1966

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