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[dropcap letter="E"]very time "informal settlers" and "slum dwellers" in Metro Manila become a hot topic, the debate splits into two. One side thinks informal settlers are an entitled group of parasites, who suck the lifeblood out of meaningful government projects and hardworking people. The other thinks the settlers are a downtrodden underclass who are just trying to get ahead in a society that favors the rich at the expense of everyone else.
The truth is somewhere in between, and there are lot of things about the situation that doesn't make front-page headlines or become the topic of chismis. Realities like...
[text_image img="http://8list.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/8-Mind-Blowing-Realities-No-One-Told-You-About-Informal-Settlers-8t.jpg" type="subheading"]8. Informal Settlers Pay for Where They Live[/text_image]
Some people in Metro Manila are more illegal landlords than informal settlers, renting out property they don't own. So a shanty becomes a mini-condo for multiple households, while a house serves as a bedspacer dorm for students and employees.
This means a significant number are less squatters and more paying tenants. In fact, they get less for their rent money. While a studio along Dela Rosa St. in Makati's Central Business District goes for P12,000 a month, bunking with other people and using a shared bathroom will set you back P3,500 during the same period.
Why do people pay so much for so little? A few thousand pesos more a month gets them a much better place. For minimum wage earners though, every peso counts.
[text_image img="http://8list.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/8-Mind-Blowing-Realities-No-One-Told-You-About-Informal-Settlers-7t.jpg" type="subheading"]7. Informal Settlers Hold Legitimate Jobs[/text_image]
Even if where they live is illegal, at least half of informal settlers hold legit jobs. They clock in from 9 to 5 for employers, just like the most of us. Those who can't find something in the "formal" employment sector earn a living as domestic help, PUV drivers, per diem factory and construction workers, and even small-scale entrepreneurs.
In other words, the majority of people who live in Metro Manila's slums rely on jobs to pay for their living expenses. It's not like they live only on government handouts, if at all.
[text_image img="http://8list.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/8-Mind-Blowing-Realities-No-One-Told-You-About-Informal-Settlers-6t.jpg" type="subheading"]6. Informal Settlers Do Pay Taxes[/text_image]
Even if many informal settlers have jobs, as minimum wage earners they are exempt from income tax. At the same time, they still buy supplies from legitimate businesses so they pay VAT. Those who buy from "informal" sellers like sari-sari stores still pay taxes indirectly, by providing these sellers with money to buy from wholesale suppliers who add VAT to their prices.
[text_image img="http://8list.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/8-Mind-Blowing-Realities-No-One-Told-You-About-Informal-Settlers-5t.jpg" type="subheading"]5. Affordable and Accessible Public Housing Gets Rid of Slums[/text_image]
Why do so many people live on land they don't own, or rent from a squatter (as detailed in #8)? It has less to do with freeloading and more with living close to where they study or work. People move into cities because they think there are more opportunities. Even if they find a job however, where can they stay?
In the Philippines, most public housing projects are built in remote locations, and are hard to commute from. They do not address the common need to be close to offices and schools, a need so important it makes people OK with living near garbage and excrement-lined pathways. So it's no surprise that when informal settlers are forcibly relocated to these tenements, they find their way back into the city.
Singapore is the perfect example of how affordable and accessible housing eliminates slums as an "appealing" living option for the less fortunate. Even poor Filipinos are willing to pay for living space. It's just needs to be within their reach and right where the action is. That's what happened when Marikina City implemented its Squatter-Free Program.
[text_image img="http://8list.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/8-Mind-Blowing-Realities-No-One-Told-You-About-Informal-Settlers-4t.jpg" type="subheading"]4. Squatting is Older Than You Think[/text_image]
Check out this old oil painting of Intramuros, from around 1640-1650:
Right in the middle is the famous walled city that represented the start of Metro Manila as we know it today. Outside it are informal settlements, built by people who were attracted by the promise of the Spanish colony capital. These areas look a lot neater than the slums in Metro Manila today, but that's because there were a lot less people.
The drive behind these historical suburbs was the same as modern day squats: the city has a lot of opportunity, so let's live near it to take advantage. Never mind about who owns what land, since we can't pay for a house and lot anyway.
Even the greatest cities even started as squatter colonies. Early settlers would set up shop in the most accessible areas, regardless of the land's ownership status. In Ancient Rome, soldiers would burn down slums, only to find it rebuilt or moved within weeks.
No, you shouldn't do something just because people have done it before. But informal settlers are driven more by apparent opportunities, not a wish for a free ride, no matter the times.
[text_image img="http://8list.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/8-Mind-Blowing-Realities-No-One-Told-You-About-Informal-Settlers-3tb.jpg" type="subheading"]3. Barangays Attract Informal Settlers for Votes[/text_image]
In this case, it's less about these settlers holding on to "their" land, and more about certain corrupt barangay officials protecting themselves so that they can become city councilor or even mayor.
Tell people they can live in your area for free, and they will give you enough votes for the next election. Once in power, you can block attempts to remove slums and protect your voter base, because the law lets you do so.
[text_image img="http://8list.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/8-Mind-Blowing-Realities-No-One-Told-You-About-Informal-Settlers-2t.jpg" type="subheading"]2. Informal Settlers are Messy But Efficient[/text_image]
There are no rich people in slums (except in Pinoy teleseryes of course). Since they just can't get everything they want, they maximize everything they use and love recycling. That old worn-out tire is a great way to keep the roof from flying off, while the neighbor's old tablecloth would be a wonderful curtain. In slums one man's garbage really is another man's treasure.
At the same time, informal settlers walk, bike, or take public transit, because they already live near work or school. They also set carpooling records that put circus clowns to shame, overloading vehicles but turning them into more efficient transportation machines.
There are exceptions to this efficiency of course. In some slums where syndicates steal electricity and water and sell them as "unli" utilities, many residents leave their lights on the whole day. But that's because it's very dark inside their makeshift homes.
A lot of informal settlers also clog creeks and rivers with their garbage. But ultimately, they consume less resources per person and get more out of each square-kilometer, compared to the middle- and upper-class residents in a city. Which is why...
[text_image img="http://8list.com.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/8-Mind-Blowing-Realities-No-One-Told-You-About-Informal-Settlers-1t.jpg" type="subheading"]1. Informal Settlers Are the Future of Urban Living[/text_image]
Yes, they are a major cause of flooding in Metro Manila. And the slums aren't the best places to live in by far. But a growing movement of urban planners think slums are the future of cities.
That's because slums are "organic" communities that adapt based on the needs of its members. Do people need a place to eat? Let's build a second floor and move the bedrooms up there, so that the ground floor can be converted into a carinderia. That barangay basketball league is starting soon, perhaps the living room can be turned into a jersey tailor shop? In many ways, slums provide for the people in a much better way than anyone else can. That's because the people who actually live there know what's needed.
On top of that, as cities increase in population and become more dense, slums are actually a template for future compact communities. Even big real-estate developers in the Philippines are pushing "mixed-use developments," which pack everything into one area. Just like slums, but in a more orderly and better-planned way.
No doubt slums are terrible in many ways. They are breeding grounds for disease, they place a larger strain on public services, and create law and order difficulties. Yet what the urban planners emphasize is that governments who work with, not against, informal settlers can solve many of the problems slums create. The prime example is Curitiba, Brazil. Innovative programs rewarded the poor for public service with education, while many slum dwellers willingly bought the land they lived on.
Thoughts? Violent reactions? Check out the comments section.
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Thanks to Benjamin de la Peña for helping me find the sources used in this 8List!
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