With a general lack of livelihood opportunities, inflation, high unemployment, and underemployment rate, and low wages for those who find work, a persistent problem among low-income families is a lack of housing options.
So it is not unusual to find families living in makeshift huts built with whatever material is available. Although this illustrates the typical resourcefulness Filipinos are known for, building houses on government or private lands gets them in trouble. Sooner or later, they’ll earn the term “informal settlers” or the derogatory “squatters.”
To mitigate the squatting problem in many urban communities, President Ferdinand Marcos 1975 signed Presidential Decree No. 772, otherwise known as Penalizing Squatting and Other Similar Acts. Under the Decree, people found to be occupying or possessing the property of a legitimate owner against the latter’s will were either imprisoned or fined, depending on the degree of violation.
However, PD 772 was eventually repealed by the Republic Act 8368, also known as the Anti-Squatting Law Repeal Act of 1997. R.A. 8368 ordered that informal settlers could not be imprisoned and dismissed pending cases based on P.D. 772. The Act may be sympathetic to needy families, but many informal settlers have abused this provision, making it harder for rightful property owners to assert ownership.
Properly handling such a situation has been an issue among squatters, landowners, and law enforcers for a long time since the parties involved have rights that should be respected.
“With abusive squatters taking advantage of tedious and expensive court action, it is sometimes better for property owners to take advantage of the principle of self-defense for new or ongoing intrusions,” according to Philippine Association of Real Estate Boards National Chairman Atty. Rey Cartojano.
According to Cartojano, the principle of self-defense occurs when a property owner uses reasonable force to resist intruders physically or forcibly evicts them using a reasonable amount of effort. However, he warns that this principle “must be used with calculation and much restraint with the advisable participation of barangay officials and police officers.”
Another option for property owners, who don’t want to invoke their right of self-defense, which can quickly turn violent, is to seek help from the barangay for an amicable settlement or hire a lawyer to settle the conflict.
“The legal remedy for property owners for squatters and informal settlers are detailed under Republic Act No. 7279, otherwise known as the Urban and Development Housing Act,” Atty Cartojano said. He suggested the following steps for a property owner involved in a situation with an informal settler squatting his property.
Table of Contents
Main causes of squatting in the Philippines
Squatting in the Philippines is a complex issue with many causes.
The Philippines is one of the most urbanized countries in Southeast Asia, with more than half of its population living in cities. The rapid pace of urbanization has led to a shortage of affordable housing, resulting in many people resorting to squatting.
Poverty is a pervasive problem in the Philippines, with more than 16% of the population living below the poverty line. Many people who are unable to afford decent housing end up squatting in informal settlements.
Lack of affordable housing
The cost of housing in the Philippines is high, and many people are unable to afford to buy or rent a home. This has led to a demand for cheaper housing options, which has resulted in many people resorting to squatting.
Corruption is a major problem in the Philippines, affecting every sector of society, including housing. Corruption in the housing sector can result in misallocating resources and favoring certain groups or individuals, exacerbating the squatting problem.
How to evict informal settlers or squatters in the Philippines
Evicting squatters in the Philippines is a sensitive and challenging process that requires strict adherence to the law and consideration of the human rights of the affected individuals. The process of eviction usually starts with the issuance of a legal notice to the squatters, informing them of the impending eviction and providing them with a timeframe to vacate the premises. After the notice period has expired, the eviction process can begin.
This process typically involves the coordination of law enforcement agencies, local government units, and private security personnel to carry out the eviction. During the eviction process, it is important to ensure that the human rights of the squatters are respected, and that they are not subjected to any form of violence or abuse. Once the eviction is completed, the property can be secured to prevent further squatting or illegal occupation.
Identify the offenders
Establish the identity of involved informal settlers. Notify and seek help from barangay officials who are expected to mediate and initiate contact with the other party.
Document instances of intrusion incidents in writing or video. You may need to take photographs, obtain affidavits from witnesses, and secure any documentation that supports your claim to the property. Report the incident to a police station that has jurisdiction over the property and records a police blotter relating to the incident.
Serve notice to vacate.
Once you have evidence, you must notify the squatters to vacate. The notice should clearly state that they are occupying your property illegally and must vacate within a specified period (usually 15 to 30 days).
Seek help from local authorities.
Seek the help of the barangay to arrange a possible settlement if a peaceful negotiation does not produce good progress.
Get advice from a legal expert.
If barangay intervention proves unsuccessful, the property owner must hire a lawyer to evict the squatters. The lawyer will handle tasks such as serving the demand letters and filing the necessary court cases.
How long does the process take?
Once the designated lawyer demands the informal settler to vacate the property, the clock starts ticking in the legal remedy to settle the question of occupying property against the owner’s will.
Once the informal settler does not heed the demand, the case must be filed in court. Cartojano explained that depending on the court’s caseload, handling lawyers’ skills, and the handling judge’s disposing of ability, the entire process might take years to be completed.
Relevant laws and regulations
Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA)
The UDHA is the primary law governing housing and urban development in the Philippines. It provides guidelines for developing and managing urban areas and the protection of the rights of both the property owner and the informal settler. It also establishes the legal process for ejecting informal settlers from private lands.
Local Government Code (LGC)
The LGC is a law that provides for the organization and functioning of local governments in the Philippines. It allows local government units (LGUs) to regulate land use within their respective jurisdictions, including the ability to regulate squatting and other forms of illegal occupancy.
Presidential Decree No. 772
This decree penalizes squatting and other forms of illegal occupancy of lands intended for public use or private purposes such as residential, commercial, or industrial.
Republic Act No. 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (UDHA)
This law seeks low-cost housing through government programs for the homeless, underprivileged, and informal settlers. It also provides guidelines for the disposition of government lands and the resettlement of informal settlers.
Republic Act No. 10023 or the Residential Free Patent Act
This law allows qualified individuals to apply for a free patent on residential land they occupy openly and continuously for at least ten (10) years. The law allows informal settlers to own the land they occupy legally.
Informal settlers vs. professional squatters
Informal settlers and professional squatters are two distinct groups occupying lands without legal rights. Here’s an explanation of the difference between them and how it affects the legal process:
Informal settlers are people who occupy lands without legal rights, but they do not necessarily do so for commercial gain. They are usually poor families who cannot afford to house or are displaced due to natural disasters or social conflicts. Informal settlers may temporarily or permanently occupy lands and build their homes on the land.
The UDHA governs the legal process for evicting informal settlers. Under the UDHA, the government is required to provide alternative housing to informal settlers before eviction can be carried out. Providing alternative housing can be time-consuming and complex, and it can delay the eviction process.
Professional squatters are individuals or groups who occupy lands without legal rights and do so for commercial gain. They may build structures on the land and rent them out to others or extort money from the rightful owner in exchange for leaving the land.
Professional squatters are more likely to be involved in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, and prostitution.
The legal process for evicting professional squatters is similar to that of informal settlers but with some key differences. Since professional squatters are involved in illegal activities, law enforcement agencies are likelier to be involved in eviction. In addition, the government is not required to provide alternative housing to professional squatters before eviction can be carried out.
In summary, the main difference between informal settlers and professional squatters is their motive for occupying the land. Informal settlers occupy lands out of necessity, while professional squatters do so for commercial gain. This difference affects the legal process for evicting them, particularly about the requirement to provide alternative housing and the involvement of law enforcement agencies.
The legal process of evicting squatters
Here is a step-by-step guide to the legal process for evicting squatters in the Philippines.
Notify the barangay
The first step in the eviction process is to notify the barangay (local government unit) where the property is located of the settlers’ presence on your property. You can file a complaint with the barangay office and provide evidence of your property ownership.
Conduct a barangay conciliation.
After receiving your complaint, the barangay will schedule a conciliation meeting between you and the settlers to discuss the situation and explore possible solutions. If the conciliation fails, the barangay will issue a Certificate to File Action (CFA), which authorizes you to pursue legal action against the settlers.
File a complaint with the court.
With the CFA, you can file a complaint with the court requesting a writ of demolition or ejectment. You need to provide evidence that you are the lawful owner of the property and the occupants are illegally occupying it. You may also need to prove that you have offered alternative housing to the squatters.
Secure a writ of demolition or ejectment.
The court will schedule a hearing to determine whether to issue a writ of demolition or ejectment. Suppose the court finds that you have a legal claim to the property and the occupants illegally occupy it. In that case, it will issue a writ of demolition or ejectment authorizing you to evict the squatters.
Coordinate with law enforcement agencies.
After securing a writ of demolition or ejectment, you must coordinate with law enforcement agencies, such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), to ensure a safe and orderly eviction process. You must provide the writ of demolition or ejectment to the law enforcement agencies to enforce the eviction.
Carry out the eviction.
With the assistance of law enforcement agencies, you can now carry out eviction. During the removal, you must ensure the safety and security of all parties involved, including the settlers, your workers, and law enforcement agencies.
In summary, the legal process for evicting squatters in the Philippines involves notifying the barangay, conducting a barangay conciliation, filing a complaint with the court, securing a writ of demolition or ejectment, coordinating with law enforcement agencies, and carrying out the eviction. It is essential to follow the legal process to avoid legal complications and ensure a successful eviction process.
Rights of property owners and illegal settlers/squatters
Legal Rights of the Property Owner
- Right to ownership: The property owner has the legal right to own and possess the property.
- Right to evict: The property owner has the legal right to evict illegal occupants or squatters.
- Right to compensation: The property owner can claim compensation for damages caused by the settlers or unpaid rent.
Legal Rights of Squatters
- Right to due process: Squatters have the right to due process, including the right to be notified of the eviction and a fair hearing before a court.
- Right to adequate housing: Squatters have the right to fair housing, meaning the government must provide alternative accommodation or relocation sites.
- Right to human dignity: Squatters have the right to human dignity, meaning they should not be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment during the eviction.
To avoid legal pitfalls, property owners should follow the legal process for evicting squatters, including notifying the barangay, conducting a barangay conciliation, and coordinating with law enforcement agencies.
Property owners should also ensure they have the necessary documents to prove their property ownership and offer alternative housing to the settlers.
Property owners should also be aware of the possible legal consequences of illegally evicting squatters, including criminal charges for violation of the UDHA or the LGC and civil liability for damages caused to the settlers or their properties. Therefore, it is essential to follow the legal process and seek legal advice if necessary.
Tips on preventing future squatting incidents
Secure your property.
One of the best ways to prevent squatting is by securing your property. This includes putting up fences, walls, and gates and installing security cameras or hiring security guards. By making your property difficult to access, you can discourage potential squatters.
Maintain good relationships with the community.
Building good relationships with the community can help prevent squatting incidents. This can include participating in community activities, supporting local initiatives, and being a responsible and considerate neighbor. By building a positive reputation in the community, you may discourage people from squatting on your property.
Regularly inspect and maintain your property.
Regularly inspecting and maintaining your property can also help prevent squatting incidents. This includes repairing any damage, cleaning up the property, and ensuring that the property is not vacant for long periods. An unkempt property can attract squatters and other unwanted activities.
Staying informed about local laws and regulations related to squatting can help you take preventive measures. It can also help you recognize any law changes affecting your property rights.
Finally, be vigilant and watch for any signs of squatting on your property. This can include noticing unauthorized people on your property or changes in the appearance of your property. Being proactive and addressing any potential issues early on can prevent squatting from becoming a bigger problem.