Facilitating the lawful ejectment of illegal settlers
The power of expropriation, which allows a government to acquire private property for public use upon payment of just compensation, is inherent and indispensable in the Philippine State. In PNOC Alternative Fuels Corp. v. National Grid Corp., the Supreme Court referred to this power as “necessarily in derogation of private rights” and “is considered to be one of the harshest proceedings known to the law.”
While the power of expropriation is lodged in the Congress, the legislative branch of the government, it may delegate the same by law to government agencies, public officials and quasi-public entities. Necessarily, the delegate may only exercise this power strictly within the terms of the delegating law.
Among these limitations is the manner of evicting informal settlers from expropriated land.
In this regard, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 8974, which sought to facilitate the acquisition of right-of-way, site, or location for government infrastructure projects. It also reinforces the constitutional requirement that urban or rural poor dwellers may only be evicted or their dwellings demolished in accordance with the law and in a just and humane manner.
Under this law, the National Housing Authority (NHA) shall coordinate with the applicable local government units and implementing agencies in establishing and developing for informal settlers relocation sites with adequate services and utilities.
The settlers’ structures on the expropriated property may only be demolished in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Urban Development and Housing Act. Thus, persons or groups identified as professional squatters or squatting syndicates shall be summarily evicted and their dwellings and structures demolished.
In this regard, professional squatters refer to: (a) individuals or groups who occupy lands without their owners’ express consent and who have sufficient income for legitimate housing; (b) persons who sold, leased or transferred home lots or housing units previously awarded to them to settle illegally in the same place or another urban area; and (c) non-bona fide occupants and intruders of lands reserved for socialized housing. They do not include individuals or groups renting land and housing from professional squatters or squatting syndicates.
Meanwhile, squatting syndicates refer to groups of persons engaged in the business of squatter housing for profit or gain.
Moreover, eviction or demolition may only be allowed when: (a) persons or entities occupy danger areas, such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways and other public places; (b) government infrastructure projects with available funding are about to implemented; or (c) the court issues the corresponding order.
In Department of Public Works and Highways v. Manalo, et al., the Supreme Court held that eviction or demolition orders involving underprivileged and homeless citizens may be implemented after certain measures are complied with, including: (a) notice at least 30 days before the date of eviction or demolition; (b) adequate consultations on the matter of settlement with the designated representatives of the families to be resettled and the affected communities in the areas where they are to be relocated; (c) presence of local government officials or their representatives during eviction or demolition; (d) use of heavy equipment only on structures that are permanent and made of concrete materials; and (e) adequate relocation, whether permanent or temporary.
Relocation of these citizens shall be undertaken by the concerned local government unit and the NHA, with the assistance of proper government agencies, within 45 days from the court’s issuance of a notice of final judgment, after which period the order shall be executed. If relocation were not possible within this period, then said unit shall extend to the affected families financial assistance in the amount equivalent to the prevailing minimum daily wage multiplied by 60 days.
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