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COMMENTS ON HOUSE BILL No. 2145


It is SALIGAN’s view that H.B. 2145 (AN ACT AMENDING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 8368, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE “ANTI-SQUATTING LAW REPEAL ACT OF 1997”) seeks to underhandedly amend 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 that people resort to squatting in urban areas. As such, SALIGAN does not favor the enactment of said bill, to wit:

  

I SALIGAN humbly maintains that H.B. 2145 is unconstitutional for being violative of the Social Justice provision of the 1987 Constitution, and blatantly disregards the existing laws on Ejectment


H.B. 2145 forgets the Social Justice provision in the Constitution, which limits and defines a person’s right to private ownership. While seemingly an amendment of RA 8368, it is really RA 7279 that H.B. 2145 seeks 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 its underhanded attempt to amend section 3[m] of the UDHA, which defines “professional squatters.” The house bill unlawfully 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 an 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) 


Furthermore, H.B. 2145 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 by occupants to abide by the written demand of the landowner within ninety (90) days, they are considered “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.


It is humbly submitted that H.B. 2145 is 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. 2145 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 with which to identify professional squatters (i.e., they can afford legitimate housing; they are previous government awardees of homelots/housing units who have transferred the same to illegally reside elsewhere; they are 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 will practically render Rule 70 of the Rules of Court useless. This is because the provisions on Summary Demolitions will to be used against those occupants who clearly fall within the ejectment provisions of Forceable Entry and Unlawful Detainer. Also, through this unwarranted expansion by H.B. 2145 of the definition of professional squatters, the criminalization aspect will likewise apply to them, effectively blurring the distinction between 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.


To show such underhanded revival, one only needs to examine the relevant provisions of both House Bill 2145 and Presidential Decree 772. After a cursory reading, it’s quite apparent the former got its “inspiration” from the latter. To wit:


House Bill 2145 reads:

Section 2.  Section 4 of Republic Act No. 8368 is hereby amended to read as follows:

Section 4.  Effect on Republic Act No. 7279 – Nothing herein shall be construed to nullify, eliminate or diminish in any way Section 27 of Republic Act No. 7279 or any of its provisions relative to sanctions against professional squatters and squatting syndicates.  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 the 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.


Presidential Decree 772 reads:

Section 1.    Any person 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 for residential commercial or any other purposes, shall be punished by an imprisonment ranging from six months to one year or a fine of not less than one thousand nor more than five thousand pesos at the discretion of the court, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.


As a sector, the urban poor have long rallied for the repeal of PD 772. Even with the passage of the UDHA in 1992, PD 772 was still in effect and was only repealed via RA 8368 in 1997. If HB 2145 gets enacted, then the sector’s hard work in advocating for their rights will only be rendered inutile. Thus, all the more we oppose this grave affront to basic human rights and social justice.


Finally, economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to adequate housing are considered in international law as transcendent over proprietary rights. The right to property is and should be tempered by a preference for the marginalized. 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. We strongly decry the Bill and its passage.