Dealing With Informal Settlements (Part 1)

More than 50 years later, the Philippines remains enslaved to the harrowing effects of World War II.

Having lost their houses to the war, refugees initially settled in Intramuros and Tondo Foreshore Land, where the latter was earmarked as the expansion of a port district. Subsequently, more refugees continued to arrive in the City of Manila which, by then, started opening factories and offices and reviving the commercial industry.

“The proliferation of informal settlements in the Philippines has become a phenomenon associated with big cities and expanding centers,” the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) reported. “From the early 1970s to more recent years, estimates of the number of informal settlers in the country have varied, ranging from as low as 470,000 families to as high as 2.5 million families.”

In a study entitled, “Squatter Access to Land in Metro Manila,” Ton van Naerssen of the Ateneo de Manila University found that urban land is either unutilized or insufficiently utilized to address the growing number of informal settlers or “squatters”—people who settle on the land of another without a title or the right.

According to the study, “the ownership of land in Manila is concentrated in the hands of a few families. Land speculation plays an important role in urban land use… Squatting on land and building a shelter on it is not easy. By consequence, many poor families try to find a place in already established spontaneous settlements, where the population density steadily increases.”

“Depending on the economic standing of families illegally occupying government and private lands without tacit approval of the owners, squatting is a social problem that is also rooted on distorted moral values,” Federation of Philippine Industries chair Jesus Lim Arranza earlier said in an article. “It is about time…for legitimate property owners like us to have our voice heard by political and business leaders, if only to send the message that we also have our rights as legitimate property owners.”

While the property owners’ voices remain to be heard by the proper authorities, they may still resort to court action to reclaim their lands from illegal settlers. Rule 70 of the Rules of Court (RoC) authorizes a person deprived of the possession of his land or building by force, intimidation, threat, strategy, or stealth, to file an action for forcible entry against the informal settlers with the proper Municipal Trial Court (MTC).

This action must be filed at any time within one year from the informal settlers’ forcible entry into the land.

In Zacarias v. Anacay, the Supreme Court held that a person is deemed to have waived his right to seek relief in the proper MTC when he fails to file the action for forcible entry within the one-year period.

The complaint and compulsory counterclaim and/or cross-claim pleaded in the answer, which are the only allowable pleadings to be filed in forcible entry cases, shall be verified.

In forcible entry cases, the MTC may, from an examination of the allegations in the complaint and the attached evidence, dismiss the case outright if it finds the same to either be patently without merit or manifestly intended for delay, or the issues raised are too unsubstantial to require consideration.

Otherwise, the defendant shall file his answer, which contains his affirmative and negative defenses and compulsory and/or cross-claim, where proper, within 10 days from service of summons, to which the complaint is attached. Failure to plead said defenses shall be deemed waived, except lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.

Meanwhile, the compulsory counterclaims and cross-claims not asserted in the answer shall be deemed barred.

If the defendant would fail to file his answer within the 10-day period, the court, on its own or upon the plaintiff’s motion, shall render judgment as may be warranted by the facts alleged in the complaint and limited to the relief sought therein. The court may likewise reduce the amount of damages and attorney’s fees claimed for being excessive or otherwise unconscionable.

The court shall set a preliminary conference within 30 days after the answer or, in the case of multiple defendants, the last answer, has been filed. The plaintiff’s failure to appear at the preliminary conference shall be a cause for the dismissal of his complaint. Meanwhile, the defendant’s failure to appear therein has the same effect as his failure to file an answer.

( by Sara Mae D. Mawis)