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Aquino plans massive relocation of squatters

by Joyce Pangco Pañares
[ ] May 7-8, 2011
JAKARTA—President Benigno Aquino III said late Saturday more than half a million squatter families in Metro Manila will be relocated and receive two hectares of farm land each under his administration’s program on illegal settlers.
He said the government had identified some 1.5 million hectares of farm land that could be distributed to an initial 560,000 squatter families in Metro Manila in a bid to decongest the capital and improve agricultural production nationwide.
“One out of four families in Metro Manila are informal settlers [squatters],” Mr. Aquino told reporters at the Four Seasons Jakarta hotel.
“The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment inventory shows we can lend, lease or give two hectares of land per indigent family provided they cultivate agricultural crops, develop, and earn from the land they will live on.
“If they fail to stick to these conditions, the land will be taken from them.”
Mr. Aquino said there were about 1.4 million squatter families nationwide, and of those more than a third were in Metro Manila.
He said initial studies showed the government could match the specific provinces where the indigent families would want to move to nationwide that had some 1.5 million hectares of state-owned land.
“We have to give these families a reason to go back where they came from. It will be a complete package, including support [for farming],” Mr. Aquino said.
“You will need political will and coordination of credit.”
Earlier, Mr. Aquino said relocating the squatters would cost at least P100 billion or P200,000 per household.
He said his approach was better than the traditional method of giving houses to relocated squatters, noting that if a family built a 30-square-meter house on a 45-square-meter property, it would have only 15 square meters left to cultivate, hardly enough to make a living.
Although the law requires the government to provide alternative housing to those who are evicted, efforts to relocate squatters often end in violence.
Last month, squatters battled police and demolition teams trying to evict them from a burned-out shantytown in the Laperal compound, a stone’s throw away from the country’s financial and commercial center. The street battles tied up traffic on Epifanio delos Santos Avenue for at least an hour.

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