informal settlers

The Problem with Informal Settlers and Public Opinion

The problem of informal settlers has been growing for quite a while. In no small part looking for jobs in the city, while it dried up from wherever they’ve come. And so generations have settled on land. Sometimes it is government. Sometimes on private land. Always, based on the Lina Law, resettlement has to be paid for by the owner of said land if he wants those tenants removed.

The basis of the law is…compassion. You have a strata of people who live in poverty or very near so. It doesn’t take much to understand the situation. The same can be said of people living along the river banks. The same can be said of people living along train tracks. And in fact, a Dolphy show once featured a family living “along the riles”, or along the train tracks to capture the milieu.

Taxpayers of all stripe of course resent the massive use of taxpayer money to relocate people who, for some, are of the opinion that these people are professional squatters. In other people’s opinion, you ought to sink and swim. Either you work hard, and succeed just as they did, or you don’t. It is hard to justify to people the expense of relocation when they spend day in and day out paying their mortgages. Sending kids to school, and things like that.

In both cases the problem is the absence of concrete data to support the case. The poor like everyone else require varying degrees of solution. The taxpayer would perhaps appreciate the situation better if there was a way to validate and weed out the professionals. If there was some way that taxpayer money can be proven to deliver appropriate solutions, perhaps there wouldn’t have to be this clash.

There is without a doubt that for some families they really do need some assistance. What form, how deep, how wide, how long— is the question. Not all families may require resettlement outside the city, which would make it harder for those with jobs already to move. Would the move make it better for these families? Some perhaps. Others? Maybe not. In some cases, relocation may not be the only thing needed. Perhaps the father is a drunken deadbeat and the kids, hardly go to school. How do keep those kids going to school and cut a generation from poverty? Relocation doesn’t solve that, but the situation is captured, nontheless.

Is CCT the answer for one family? Is providing a job for one member of the family enough? How about following up the situation on a per family, and per individual basis to make sure that the money being invested in these people actually push them towards out of poverty? The point is, on a case per case basis the same solution applied across everyone may not be the best way to solve the problem of poverty.

The simplest answer to the question of “how do you solve poverty”, is jobs. Across Asia, the solution of our neighbors have always been to create factories, to build industries. The complex reality is that each family has a different situation— jobs may not apply. Skills may not match. Drugs could be involved. Perhaps education is needed first, before finding jobs for these people. How do you provide complex services to different sorts of people?

And perhaps depending on the case, these people once out of poverty ought to be required to pay it forward. Somehow or perhaps this should come naturally as well.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development are doing something. There is a crisis intervention unit, a “safety net to provide assistance and social protection to individuals in dire economic situations.”

What’s more, it would be nice to know how much is the success rate. It would also be nice to know the success rate of communities who first incite violence versus communities who were successfully relocated. It would be nice to know if the Lina Law was effective.

We have a government that pays for a lot of social services. We have a President who says we should pay taxes because now we have a government that works. We also have a nation with a lot of great and honest people willing to help the poor. We have a lot of poor people who do work hard. Who do honest work. Foundations and social enterprises all over the country, if you can hear them, see them in action— gives you hope because they are solving the problem of poverty. Yellow Boat projects that bring kids to school. Pencil projects. Shoes. And so many more. We are a nation that does have compassion.

The problem with informal settlers is that we don’t have enough information to see how big a change we’ve done to their lives, or lack there of. As taxpayers we get abstract numbers. How has it made a difference is a story that has yet to be told. The problem with public opinion is that too readily we count the beans and sometimes the cost is beyond mere coinage, but there is truth to the simplicity that the only way to solve poverty is through jobs. History is repeat with examples of that. The problem with either is the question of how effective. If knowing is power, where is the analytics?

Why we should let our taxes go fund moving informal settlers

Much has been discussed lately about the government funding moving informal settlers from danger zones like river banks to some other spot where their lives will be much safer, and our rivers, less polluted. The move of course comes from the flooding that sunk Manila (again) these past few days as the first onslaught of the monsoon season came.

The problem with informal settlers is nothing new. The problem compounded by the need of these informal settlers to find livelihood in the city. Some even get relocated, only to go back to the city to rent out land so they can be close to work. They keep the land they were resettled in. They improve it. Others are trapped in the vicious cycle, are one of the millions unemployed. We see their kids everyday for example, peddling wares, or offering to clean the windshield of your car, only to come out even more dirty than before and expecting to be paid in change. Perish the thought that you would only give a Peso.

The problem of flooding in Manila is also nothing new, as my Mom put it: worst when she was in school, and the waters would not subside so fast as they do today. Long after my mother and father graduated from University, my mother and I were likewise trapped in one of those habagat floods, and we’ve spent our fair share trapped in our car waiting for the water to subside.

Of course, neither problem is an excuse.

And both problems compound each other. The informal settlers along river banks for instance help clog the water ways. The Pasig River is virtually dead. This is, but part of the complex web of problems. Some of these rivers and waterways have died because commerce and industry have settled on top of them. Without care to the design or flow of water.

So why should our taxes go to resettling informal settlers? We each too have bills to pay. Mortgages, and taxes, smartphones and Macbooks to pay off, and for those parentals, the high cost of tuition fees to keep kids in air conditioned private schools. We each have our own little problem, and often, quite often the money you make doesn’t seem to be enough.

So imagine the rage of a taxpayer, whose well-earned peso goes to funding the move of informal settlers? Jobless. With so many kids. How can one expect to help fund moving them off those private lands, and public spaces to somewhere better? What happens to us who pay and work so hard?

You’ve never been poor until you’ve known what it’s like to have no money and have a loved one in the hospital, or cheat to have food to eat. You’ve never been rich or well-off until you can spend a million in a second, and neither blink nor care about the cost of anything.

Of course this is all a grey area. One can understand the no-dole out mentality. We worked hard for this! Everyone should. My father used to tell me that you can’t live alone. I never really got that lesson, until quite recently. I mean, how many of us, were given a break by someone? Someone hired us to do a job. Someone who loaned us money when we come up short some days. Or gave us a free pass, and a second chance to do better. Maybe someone helped us when we were sick and dying. Some advice, perhaps that led you to be a better person. Yeah, we worked hard to make pesos, and sometimes, we too make ends meet. Not everyone of those informal settlers do deserve that second chance; that helping hand; that makes their world, just a bit more livable.

There is another thing we need to think about. By helping move these informal settlers, perhaps we too are helping ourselves. Can you stomach the untold human suffering should a crisis prevail? To wipe them out? To see them sick and dying? What does that do to our soul? Knowing we could avoid the human suffering? Never mind the cost? And for another, isn’t nearly everyone in the Philippines, a taxpayer, courtesy of Value Added Tax?

Bill Clinton once talked about the Clinton Foundation’s initiative to rebuild Rwanda. He said something that struck home, thinking about legacies, nation-building, and what we leave behind: “When I think about the world I would like to leave to my daughter and the grandchildren I hope to have, it is a world that moves away from unequal, unstable, unsustainable interdependence to integrated communities — locally, nationally and globally — that share the characteristics of all successful communities: a broadly shared, accessible set of opportunities, a shared sense of responsibility for the success of the common enterprise and a genuine sense of belonging. All easier said than done.”

Then he went on. “Into this mix, people like us, who are not in public office, have more power to do good than at any time in history, because more than half the world’s people live under governments they voted in and can vote out. And even non-democratic governments are more sensitive to public opinion. Because primarily of the power of the Internet, people of modest means can band together and amass vast sums of money that can change the world for some public good if they all agree.”

This isn’t to say the situation doesn’t merit a review of the Lina Law. This isn’t to say, that the longer term solution is to build more factories, and more agriculture zones. We’ve seen that was the answer by our neighbors in Asia to the problem of poverty, and for us, that’s the same route. This isn’t to say that Metro Manila shouldn’t consider having just one government, so we can effect a single, unified Urban Design or that architects and designers shouldn’t now be required to account for flooding to avoid flooding; to study the effect of water flow; to consider earthquakes and other environmental factors as we rebuild Manila. Why we should let our taxes go fund moving informal settlers? As a Michael Jackson song said, “If You Care Enough For The Living. Make A Better Place. For You And For Me.” Isn’t that enough?