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November 14, 2005



One could write volumes really on the reasons for the shocking poverty you see 'along the riles'. All i know is the current state of the local rail system is yet one more argument in support of those who believe that some sort of authoritarian regime replace the most superficial and ineffective 'democracy' in the world.


Sorry, Gonzo, we've done the "authoritarian regime" thing already, and it sucked. Please don't tell me that all we need to do is find a GOOD dictator. Yeah, right, and if we could just rescind the law of gravity, pigs could fly.

I hope T&F can tell me what is "good" about Bulatlat's coverage of the railway squatter issue. I think their stuff is deceptive, inaccurate, and generally useless. The insinuation that the railway squatters are people who have been evicted to make way for the northrail project is absurd: these communities have been there for decades, since long before the northrail project was even conceived. And where did they get this bizarre notion that the northrail project is some sort of conspiracy by the Chinese to penetrate Philippine markets? I'm used to paranoid fantasies from the Philippine left, but that one is totally outside the picture.

Manila's squatter problem cannot be solved in Manila. The only long-term answer is to stimulate investment and business activity in the provinces, creating jobs and reducing the incentive for people to migrate to the city. In order to do that, the government has to build the infrastructure needed to move people and products between the city and the provinces, and the northrail project is part of that effort. It won't decongest the city and develop northern Luzon all by itself, but it's a step in the right direction.

Let's not forget that a major reason for the squatter problem is that local politicians actively encourage it. Those people in the shanties along the tracks didn't build the houses they live in, regardless of what they might tell you. That's not how squatting in Manila works. The shanties are built by slumlords with close ties to local government and police. The people living there pay rent. The rents are very low, but they pack in a lot of people, and the money involved is quite substantial. There's also a political motive. Squatter votes are cheap: all a local politico has to do is pass out some cheap rice and sardines now and then, throw some pesos at a funeral when in the mood, and promise no demolition, and the squatters will vote as they are told to vote. Manila's traditional politicians pack their districts with squatters to overwhelm the votes of the politically aware middle class, which would love to get rid of them. Of course they know that if they pack the rails, people will be run over, but they are getting money and votes out of it, so why should they care?

What to do? Only one thing, really. Remove the people from the rails, fence them in, and upgrade them to provide efficient movement of people and goods between Manila and provincial areas to the north and south. The squatters and the left will scream about it, but what's the alternative? Tear up the rails altogether and turn the area over to the squatters?

Hey, there's an idea. Why don't we give the squatters the rails. Then we can give them EDSA and C5. Then we can toss all those bad corporations out and give them Ayala Ave. Close all the factories and let squatters live there.

Then we can have the equality that the left wants so badly. Equal poverty, equal misery. No food, no power, no transport, no nothing, but at least nobody will be exploiting us.

What fun...


Dahyuhan — Thanks for those comments. As for the Bulatlat article, I thought the author was trying to see things from the squatters’ point of view that’s all. That’s not the only point of view that should be considered, but it is an important one.

What you say about squatter settlements being used by politicians is of course exactly right. Another class that benefits from the current situation is the criminal gangs who “rent” or “sell” land that doesn’t belong to them.

I also agree that the problems of Manila can only be solved by regenerating the countryside.

The issue of the railway tracks highlights the absence of any concept of “public goods” in the Philippines. Instead of coherent policy making we have an endless succession of small compromises; none of them are catastrophic in themselves, but the cumulative effect is disastrous. Life along the tracks (where housing, recreation, sanitation, and public transport collide over a few meters of space) is a graphic metaphor for the city as a whole. Public goods in the Philippines are corrupted by private interests at every level, whether that is officials making money from selling overpriced pharmaceuticals in the health system, or teachers demanding baon in exchange for good grades.

I think a variation on the the answer you suggest (with the squatters offered decent alternative housing) is probably the only way to go. It But who is going to have the political will to thrash out a deal with thousands of angry squatters? I think that probably what Gonzo meant—if you want something to be “done” rather than just “managed”, if hard decisions are to be made they can only be made by a leader in some way “above” the system and not beholden to the thousands of “special interests” that have to be accommodated at every turn.

What I am unclear about is the legal rights of squatters. As far as I can understand, the so-called “Lina law” makes eviction very difficult, even impossible. Sassy wrote about this a couple of years ago:


Still it can be done, as Atienza showed a couple of years ago when he cleared the sizeable community by Roxas a few years ago (next to Carmen apartments). Wonder how he managed that?


dayuhan, the issues that you raise in your rant, as well as the solutions you propose have all been brought up countless times by many people, myself included. you said it yourself, the whole riles/squatter thing is firmly entrenched in our system, there's big money involved, so HOW do we change things? this is the real point of contention. What, you think our self serving politicos are going to do something about it?

unless there's some sort of radical overhaul of the present political setup, it's these same politicos who get to decide on how to fix things. In short, hell will freeze over before any progress is made if it's left to the slimy worms.

I'm sick and tired of whingeing about all the ills of this unfortunate country. We KNOW what the problems are. we're faced with them daily. How do we get out of this debilitating morass? Let's face it, in general, there's really only two ways out of it-- a left wing revolution or a right wing takeover. Of the two the current moribund Left is not in any sort of position of power, so that's out.

The Right, while technically capable of a coup, still needs the approval of Uncle Sam to make a go of it. Since the Americans (and that includes the moronic, rightwing fundamentalist Bush govt)seem to have lost their taste for directly supporting dictatorships lately, that's out too.

I don't know what the #^$#@! solution is but Dayuhan, you might want to use up that rant&rave energy more productively--like maybe trying to think of a way out of this crappy reality we're in. Like I said, we've all been complaining for years, even decades. So now what?


The other thing of course is that Manila's urban blight situation is not unique in the Third World. Indeed it is the norm.

Because of poor or shortsighted economic policies (usually instigated by the West's favourite economic tools: the IMF & the World Bank) coupled with governmental corruption, the national capital cities in many 'developing nations' in asia and africa, well, can be described as not unlike the swollen head of a sickly infant. the result of course is total congestion, pollution and misery. Everyone ends up in the cities because there is no work and only hunger in the still (and i'm reluctant to use Left terminology) semi-feudal provinces.

We could go on about this but yes, we all know the provincial economies need development asap in order to decongest the cities. A discussion on how to go about it will require more room than torn's blog allows. The thing is, at the end of the day, we're still just talking...no action.

Maybe I'll move to australia. hahaha


I don't agree with the notion that the only ways out would be a revolution from the left or a coup from the right; those are alleys as blind as the status quo. I do think there are alternatives. I wrote about problems and possible solutions here:


some months back, and at somewhat greater length in the October 2004 issue of the Journal of Democracy. That one's not online, but I could e-mail a .pdf.

Offering squatters "decent alternative housing" is a lovely idea that is not possible. Squatters always claim that relocation sites are too far from the city. That's true, because there simply isn't enough vacant land available in the city center to build decent new housing for that number of people, and even if there was, the government couldn't afford to buy it, givent he value of land in the city center.

Even if you do have a relocation site, you come up against the great relocation racket. Remember, these squatter areas do not have steady populations: people come and go constantly. There is no record of who has lived where for how long,and no way of making one; the bulk of the population doesn't even have identification. Once you announce the relocation, the population in the area explodes, as squatters from other areas pile in with hopes of getting compensation. The local bosses who have to make up lists of residents (who else will you turn to to do it?) pad the rolls with their own favorites and paying outsiders. People who get units sell them off to someone else and run back to the squatter colony, using a new name and hoping to get a new unit. That's only a fraction of the scams that set in, and at the end of the day you've spent a huge sum of money, the housing you built is occupied by opportunists, and the squatters are right back squatting somewhere else.

Aside from that, does it really make sense to reward lawbreaking? What message does that send to the poor who are not squatting?

So at the end of the day, what do you do with the railways? Remove the squatters, by force if necessary. Cash compensation, nothing too extravagant, but enough to let them set up somewhere else: probably in another squatter area, yes, but that's what will happen anyway. Rebuild the railroad and make it work.

That won't solve the squatter problem, but it would solve the railway problem. One step at a time.

Gonzo, regarding this comment: "Because of poor or shortsighted economic policies (usually instigated by the West's favourite economic tools: the IMF & the World Bank)", what specific policies are you talking about here? I know it's fashionable to blame the problems of the developing world generically on "the west", "globalization", or "the corporations", but I'm not sure how well those claims stand up under critical examination.

I could also say, from personal experience, that the fastest way to lose sympathy for Manila's squatters is to spend some time with them, but that would be another story.

As far as what "we" can do about it, the answer is simple: nothing. I'm a foreigner here, I suspect that you are too. Solutions are not going to come from us. I've put some effort into trying to explain the problems, as well as I can, to other foreigners, in the probably vain hope that even if they can't help, they will at least do less harm than they otherwise might. A small contribution, but what else, aside from our small person-to-person ways of helping, can we do?

Not much.


Cash compensation might be easier to manage than relocation, but wouldn’t it involve the same problems without any of the advantages of relocation? Local bosses would still pad the rolls, so their people can get the cash. If squatters are to be offered anything meaningful, this would put a strain on scarce government finances. There would also be the additional security problem of homeless people wandering around a clearly defined area with pockets bulging with pesos.

And what would it achieve in the end? The railway land would be free, but, once it is taken over by the displaced squatters, some other land would not. The problem would just be shunted around Metro Manila destroying people’s lives in the process.

This has to be addressed in a holistic way. We all seem to be in agreement that economic regeneration in the provinces has to be a major part of the solution. Companies have to be offered incentives to set up facilities outside Metro Manila. The government can then offer squatters the option of land nearby, with the possibility of a job.

That might sound ambitious, but it’s not impossible. The problem would not be lack of money; there is a lot of liquidity sloshing around in the international development banks, but in the past most of it has been funneled through corrupt governments and then funneled straight out again into the SUVs and swanky houses that government officials enjoy all over the developing world. However, the development banks have recently started to by-pass governments and invest directly in private companies that carrying out work that is in line with the banks’ development goals. The idea is that if the IFC (the private financing arm of the World Bank) invests in a project, this will give confidence to private investors and then a virtuous circle will be created. It’s a high-risk strategy for the banks (since if a company goes belly up, bang goes your investment, whereas with sovereign debt there is always someone around to pick up the tab) but from the Philippines’ point of view it offers a chance to address several problems at once; squatters, urban overcrowding, poor economic performance, stimulating regional economies.

Dayuhan – you ask the question “Aside from that, does it really make sense to reward lawbreaking?”. Er, what country are we talking about here? If we are talking about a country where politicians do not cheat in elections, where everyone pays their taxes, where generals do not sell bullets to their opponents that are used to kill their own men, or where mayors do not amass enormous wealth from construction kick-backs, then sure let’s not reward the poor for lawbreaking. However, that argument is a bit hard to sustain when everyone else is blatantly profiting from criminal activities.

Thanks for the link to your article – I’ll check it out.

I am not sure that an intervention from the extreme right or extreme left is particularly desirable, but whether it is inevitable or not is another question.


If you're going to try to address the problem of urban squatting as a whole, then yes, you need a holistic soultion. Sometimes it's useful to deal with one segment of the problem at a time: too larege a perspective often leaves you running in circles. Part of a holistic solution to the squatter problem is economic development in the provinces. To do this you need infrastructure linking the city and the provinces, and to build the infrastructure you need to move some squatters. It's fine to discuss holistic strategies, but you also can't let that paralyze you when immediate measures need to be taken as part of that holistric strategy.

The advantage of cash compensation is that the amount can be relatively small. Yes, you will have a certain amount of churning as people displaced from the rails move into other squatter communities, but these communities are constantly churning in any event. "Destroying lives" is a bit of an overstatement: these families move constantly already; it's just one more jump, and with a bit of cash in hand to boot. Of course the system won't be perfect, of course some will steal money and some will lose out, but if you don't do anything you can't do perfectly, you end up doing nothing, and at least at the end of it you have a functioning railroad. You also have a process that can be undertaken reasonably quickly, as opposed to acquiring land, building housing units, trying to distribute them, trying to develop some sort of system for providing employment, etc., etc., etc.

I remember when this same hue and cry was raised over the demolition of squatter colonies to make way for the C5 road. Eventually the people involved moved elsewhere, the road went through - and has made a significant impact on congestion in manila - and very few people even remember the furor. The left is not really concerned with the impact on the lives of the squatters, which is really not that enormous. They make an issue of it so that they have one more thing to wave at the government.

A holistic solution is needed, but it will take years to implement, and the railway right of ways need to be cleared a lot sooner than that.

You argue, esentially, that since everyone else is gaining from breaking the law, the squatters should be able to do it too. That's a nice equation in the abstract, but what do you think would be the practical effect of establishing a policy of giving free homes to squatters occupying government lands in Manila? The reulting human tsunami would almost certainly be unmanageable.

There's another, fairly un-PC aspect to all this. It's tempting to see squatters purely as victims, but that perception doesn't quite hold water. If you talk to the guys hanging around the tracks, you'll hear a chorus of self-serving sob stories. Find a few of the women, the ones who look like they do all the work, and you here a different story. You'll hear that most of those guys have had work, and have lost it, generally for drinking, drug use, thieving, fighting, etc. If you keep track of trade at the sari sari stores, both formal and informal, you'll see that enough money goes into gin, cigarettes, gambling, and shabu to feed most of the hungry children.

I could go on at some length along that vein, but suffice it to say that the image of squatter as victim is a bit one dimensional. At the very least, some experience of squatter behaviour argues against trying to relocate communities en masse, where the same habits are likely to replicate (and where potential employers are likely to shy away from hiring the type of people they are likely to find). Wouldn't it be better to spread the relocatees out, trying to integrate them into functioning communities where these habits - and tolerance of these habits - is less entrenched?

Hard to find solutions to problems on the large scale.

I'd also have to point out that if the government ever wants to create enough jobs to employ the swelling population, it will have to adopt the sort of pro-business policies and incentives that the left abhors, and it will have to repeal or revise some of the restrictive "pro labor" legislation that poses an overwhelming disincentive to new hiring.

And as a last word, I'd call violent intervention from the left or right anything but inevitable, in fact extremely unlikely. The left doesn't have anything even remotely approaching the popular support it would need. The right hasn't got much either, and as you pointed out earlier, they aren't likely to get much help from the US. One might even hold that as a credit to the US government, except that crediting anything to the US government is of course a level to which none will now stoop.

Seems to me there are certain clarifications in order on the mechanisms of borrowing, but that will have to wait. It's a subject on which I've been known to run on, and on, and this isn't the time or place...


I spent some time in Manila/Makati this summer and was terribly moved by the plight of so many young beggars and the squatter camps.

I am retired, married, Christian, 73, in good health, and far from wealthy. In fact, by US standards I am at the low end of the economic spectrum.

All that aside, I feel a great calling to do something to help in whatever way I am able. I could donate through one of the charitable organizations but too much is skimmed off for "administrative" costs and it lacks the personal satisfaction of a more hands-on approach.

Because I would be entirely self-financed, I could not attend to very many, but I would like to help a "few" young people -- perhaps tutor them to improve their conversational English, or help with some other area of learning.

In addition to offering tutoring, I could possibly offer support to house them in better conditions, get them more presentable, and possibly motivate them to find work and eventually become self supporting.

I have already worked with one young mother from Mindanao, who I met through a mutual friend. FOr two years I supported her, paid to put her through care-giver school, and tutored her to improve her English. She has since graduated at the top of her class, gotten her TESDA certification, is gainfully employed in Manila and has now been offered a position as a nanny for a well-to-do family in Los Angeles, California.

I would like to do the same for others who would like to escape the "prison of poverty", but I am totally unfamiliar with the situation in the squatter camps, the potential hazards, the needs, and the attitudes of the people when offered such help. In some areas of the world, the offer of help is taken as a condemnation of their unfortunate situation and cause for anger rather than gratitude.

Can someone please contact me privately with any information that might be helpful?

Thank you



I'm really in a deep grief when this railway's camp has in halfway home for the less fortunate and worth-dying Filipino People. A terrible story after Marcos regime strikes back against Marcos detractors Cory Aquino shake hands and apologize to Erap while Erap doesn't know that he's ensue to enter, form and join massive detraction movement against HM, King Anthony S. Martin, who born at Malabon Maternity Clinic on June 6, 1974 and a Real Martial Law Baby, Spiritual Wonder Boy, White Spiritual Boy, Morning Star and Spiritual King David and married to Lyn Grace Hernandez Medina - Martin. Whenever HM, King Anthony S. Martin be surfaced in the media agencies in the world then an Immediate Massive Rallies will launch not against to GMA their ally but to the 34 year-old Innocent King living in Hagonoy, Bulacan.


I ashamed sometimes to be a Filipino when I watched here in Illinois about this railways camp which termed as the most dangerous railways in the world. People residing nearby Railways Camp doesn't care about halfway danger stalled in that area and how could this people removed from that area. We are thinking here in US who could be resolved to eliminate problem in this camp. Ah, the Filipino Communities here in the US knew already that there's a Filipino King who could solve this long term problem and that is HM, King Anthony S. Martin in Hagonoy, Bulacan and Chairman of ASBLP Group of Companies and Bank of ASBLP. When we read blog posted about HM, King Anthony in the Wall Street Journal, mostly all Americans and Europeans here know news and information about this good King and he's the sole hope for the Filipino People. We're hoping and praying that someday HM, King Anthony will be revealed in the local media in Manila.

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