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SALIGAN denounces House Bills 1696 & 1087

There is no doubt that traditional property laws give landowners the right to protect and preserve their property. This right given to them however is not absolute. Like all rights and privileges, it too has its limitations. Thus, when faced with a legal issue as to which right must prevail, whether the traditional property rights of the landowner or the basic human rights of the occupant, the FORMER MUST FAIL. This is not to say however that by advocating for the basic human rights of the occupant one is supporting squatting on private lands. To look at it that way would be too simplistic. Such are these House Bills reviewed by the SALIGAN Urban Poor Unit.

A. H.B. 1696 (AN ACT TO DEFINE ENFORCEABLE JURIDICAL RELATIONS ON OCCUPANCY ON OR POSSESSION OF PRIVATE LANDS IN THE PHILIPPINES) is one-sided as it sees squatting on private lands merely as a possessory action and not as a manifestation of grinding urban poverty. It is for this reason that SALIGAN does not favor the enactment of said bill, to wit:

I . SALIGAN humbly maintains that H.B. 1696 is unconstitutional for being violative of the Social Justice provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

SALIGAN recognizes that squatting is a perennial problem of this country, SALIGAN however does not support the recommendations posed in H.B. 1696 in addressing squatting on private lands, a problem, as mentioned in the explanatory note of said bill, which usually leads to social unrest, disorder, and even to violence. While H.B. 1696 draws its mandate from the protection of private ownership preserved by the Constitution it forgets the Social Justice provision in the Constitution which limits and defines such right to private ownership, to wit:

 

Sec. 10, ART XIII: Urban or rural poor dwellers shall not be evicted nor their dwellings demolished, except in accordance with law and in a just and humane manner.

No resettlement of urban or rural dwellers shall be undertaken without adequate consultation with them and the communities where they are to be relocated

The term urban or rural poor dwellers mentioned in this Constitutional provision principally refer to squatters who may or may not have valid claims to stay on the land. H.B. 1696 qualifies such term to refer only to who can prove a juridical relation between the possessor/occupant and the landowner, to wit:

 

Sec. 1. Every possessor or occupant if a private land owned by another has a right to be respected in his possession provided his possession is supported by any of the following juridical relations:

a.   Where possessor or occupant of a private land owned by another has a right to be respected in his possession provided that written receipts of payment of the rentals or other compensation to the owner, be it in cash or in kind are available to the possessor or occupant

b.   A letter of the owner of the private land confirming the right of the possessor to possess or occupy the same

c.    A letter written by the possessor to the owner showing his right to possess or occupy which is not disputed in writing by the owner within thirty (30) working days upon receipt of such letter; and

d.   Lease or other written contracts or agreements permitting the use, occupancy or possession of the private land.

Moreover, said bill provides that failure to prove any juridical relation via the manner stated above would result in an unlawful possession or occupancy, to wit:

 

Sec. 2. Any possessor or occupant of a private land who does not have any of the proof enumerated in Section 1 hereof is deemed to be occupying or possessing the same merely by the tolerance or magnanimity of the owner, in which event, the owner, upon sixty (60) days written notice to said occupant or possessor shall have the right to demand that the occupant or possessor thereof vacate the land and said occupant or possessor shall be deemed acting in gross bad faith if he/she fails or refuses to do so, and such possession or occupancy shall be deemed unlawfuab initio

While eviction is not prohibited by the Constitution (in fact its manner of conduct is laid down in Rule 70 of The Revised Rules of Court), it expressly stipulates that it must be done in a just and humane manner and in accordance with law. Section 2 of H.B. 1696 on the other hand, is silent on the manner of eviction and merely gives the landowner the right to demand from the possessor/occupant to vacate the premises upon the lapse of the sixty (60) days written notice. Furthermore, failure to comply with such demand will make the possessor/occupant in gross bad faith and his possession/occupancy unlawful ab initio.

 

II SALIGAN questions the absence of existing legal remedies available to the landowner (Rule 70 of the Rules of Court)

The legal remedy available to the landowner in cases of squatting is stipulated in Rule 70 of the Revised Rules of Court – Forcible Entry and Illegal Detainer. Nowhere is it stated in the said bill that the landowner should observe the existing legal remedies available to him/her as the proposed legislation simply places the possessor/occupant in gross bad faith and committing an unlawful act. This is contrary to the procedure laid down in Rule 70 where the status quo is maintained pending the determination as to who has the right of possession over the disputed land. As said procedure is summary in nature SALIGAN favors said ejectment proceeding over the proposed proviso that possession will only be respected as long as it is supported by an enforceable juridical relation. The latter puts at a great disadvantage the Urban Poor communities by threatening them of being deprived of their Constitutional right to be evicted in a just and humane manner.

III SALIGAN maintains that the UDHA (R.A. 7279) should be observed.

The proposed legislation likewise seeks to a have a fast track demolition clause. By implication, if possession is void ab initio, the act can fall as another definition of professional squattersThe bill impliedly provides a swift demolition scheme that disregards the filing of ejectment proceedings. Section 28 of the UDHA provides for an eight-step demolition process and protocol that reflects the general proscription against demolition in the Constitution. The scheme will likely not follow said procedure but opt to use Sec. 27 of the UDHA to effect a summary demolition. Such action is frowned upon by the UDHA, the Constitution and International Human Rights covenants. SALIGAN maintains that the set legal mechanism (i.e. Ejectment, Rule 70) for evicting and demolishing underprivileged and homeless citizens should be respected.

IV SALIGAN upholds the decriminalization of squatting.

Lastly, the proposed legislation makes the act of possession or occupancyunlawful ab initio which reverts back to the abolished legal policy criminalizing squatting contrary to R.A. 8368 (An Act Repealing P.D. 772). SALIGAN emphasizes that the root of urban squatting is not a blatant disrespect of the possessor/occupant or the generosity and magnanimity of the landowner but simply, urban poverty. Therefore, to address squatting on private lands, one need not strengthen the hold of the landowner over its lands. What one needs to do is to widen his/her perspective and see the bigger picture that squatting exists because of poverty. It is poverty therefore that needs to be addressed in order to eliminate squatting on private lands.


Property rights are already amply protected or safeguarded by the ejectment proceedings. SALIGAN sees no need to criminalize the act again, when the weight of present realities: legal, moral, ethical and social renege against the very essence of this bill.


B. H.B. 1087 (AN ACT AMENDING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 8368, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE “ANTI-SQUATTING LAW REPEAL ACT OF 1997”) underhandedly amends the definition of professional squatters in Republic Act No. 7279 (UDHA) and does not answer the problem of grinding urban poverty, which is the main reason why people resort to squatting in urban areas. It is for this reason that SALIGAN does not favor the enactment of said bill, to wit:

I SALIGAN humbly maintains that H.B. 1087 is unconstitutional for being violative of the Social Justice provision of the 1987 Constitution and blatantly disregards the existing laws on Ejectment.

Just like the previous house bill discussed above, H.B. 1087 also forgets the Social Justice provision in the Constitution, which limits and defines one’s right to private ownership. Moreover, while seemingly trying to amend RA 8368 (which doesn’t need any amending), it’s more of RA 7279 that H.B. 1087 is trying to revise – by trying to expand the definition of “professional squatters”. As can be seen in its wording, what the bill is trying to punish as a “professional squatter” is practically anyone who falls under the ejectment provisions of the Rules of Court.


Given this premise, it is respectfully submitted that the bill is not presenting anything new, save for the fact that it is underhandedly trying to amend section 3[m] of the UDHA, which defines what professional squatters are. The house billunlawfully expands the definition of professional squatters as found in the UDHA by adding the following definition:

Provided, that any person or group of persons who with the use of force, intimidation or threat, or taking advantage of the absence or tolerance of the landowner, succeeds in occupying or possessing the property of the latter against his will, and having received a written demand to either vacate or pay rent from said landowner, shall refuse to do so within a period of ninety (90) days, shall be considered a professional squatter within the purview of Republic Act No. 7279.

After a careful examination of the above provision, immediately noticeable is its suspicious similarity to what constitutes an action for Forceable Entry or Unlawful Detainer under Rule 70 of the Rules of Court.

 

II SALIGAN questions the absence of existing legal remedies available to the landowner (RULE 70 of the Rules of Court)


Just like H.B. 1696, H.B. 1087 is ambiguous as to what sort of legal remedy a landowner is to take when faced with these so-called “professional squatters”. The bill merely provides that upon failure or refusal to abide by the written demand of the landowner within ninety (90) days, such occupants are considered as “professional squatters” within the purview of the UDHA. Under the UDHA, the prescribed remedy against professional squatters can be found in the summary demolition procedures of the implementing rules of section 27 of the UDHA.

Thus, it is humbly submitted that H.B. 1087 becomes highly suspect because it circumvents Rule 70 of the Revised Rules of Court by providing a shortcut for landowners who want to avoid the clearly laid down process of filing an ejectment case in court.

III SALIGAN submits that in trying to amend R.A. 8368, H.B. 1087 is actually amending R.A. 7279 by expanding the definition of professional squatters as found in the UDHA.

Section 3[m] of the UDHA provides:

Professional squatters refer to individuals or groups who occupy lands without the express consent of the landowner and who have sufficient income for legitimate housing. The term shall also apply to persons who have previously been awarded homelots or housing units by the Government but who sold, leased or transferred the same to settle illegally in the same place or in another urban area, and non-bona fide occupants and intruders of lands reserved for socialized housing. The term shall not apply to individuals or groups who simply rent land and housing from professional squatters or squatting syndicates.

As can be seen in the UDHA definition, there are specific badges which pertain to professional squatters (i.e. can afford legitimate housing, previous government awardees of homelots/housing units who have transferred the same to illegally reside elsewhere, intruders upon lands reserved for socialized housing). Thus, it is submitted that the bill is trying to create a blanket definition of “professional squatters” by using the basic definitions found in the provisions on Ejectment.


As was previously argued, if the amendment is allowed, it practically rendersRule 70 of the Rules of Court useless. For if this expansion of the definition of professional squatters (as per the proposed amendment) is allowed, the provisions on Summary Demolitions are to be used against those occupants who clearly fall within the ejectment provisions of Forceable Entry and Unlawful Detainer. Furthermore, through this unwarranted expansion by H.B. 1087 of the definition of professional squatters, the criminalization aspect is likewise applied to them – thus effectively blurring the distinction from who is a professional squatter and who is not. Thus, it is submitted that the house bill is trying to revive Presidential Decree 772, which criminalizes all squatters indiscriminately.


Furthermore, economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to adequate housing are considered by international law as transcendent over proprietary rights. The right to property is and should be tempered by the option for the marginalized. Thus, it is humbly submitted that aside from violating the Constitution and basic local laws, the house bill also contravenes international covenants to which the Philippines is a signatory to.