Have squatters or informal settlers taken hold of your property? Here is how you can peacefully handle the situation
Q: How do I handle squatters on my property?
A: The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) announced in 2016 that the Philippines had a poverty rate of 21.6 percent in 2015 21.6 percent. During the first quarter of the same year, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) announced that 10.5 million Filipino families identified as poor based on survey that it conducted. Aside from poverty incidence, rapid population growth, unemployment and underemployment, and inflation, another persistent problem that affect many poor families is the lack of housing.
As the issue of the availability of affordable housing has yet to be solved, many underprivileged families are forced to do with practically free makeshift homes built with whatever material is on hand. As resourceful as this may be, the problem arises when said homes are built on land that is not rightfully owned by these families, giving birth to the term “informal settlers” or, in a derogatory tone, “squatters.”
What does the law say?
Back in 1975, President Ferdinand Marcos signed Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 772, also known as Penalizing Squatting and Other Similar Acts, as a solution to the increasing problem of squatting in many urban communities. Under that law, people who were found to be occupying or possessing the property of a landowner against the latter’s will were either imprisoned or fined in varying degrees.
But P.D. 772 was eventually repealed by Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8368, also known as the Anti-Squatting Law Repeal Act of 1997. R.A. 8368 not only ordered that informal settlers cannot be imprisoned, but also dismissed pending cases based on P.D. 772.
While it is easy to sympathize with the plight of poor families, many informal settlers tend to be abusive, becoming a larger and more difficult issue to deal with for the rightful owner of the property. The proper handling of such situation has been an issue among squatters, landowners, and law enforcers for a long time since both parties involved have rights that should be respected.
What can you do?
"With abusive squatters taking advantage of a tedious and expensive court action, it is sometimes better for property owners to take advantage of the principle of self-defense for new or ongoing intrusions," according to Philippine Association of Real Estate Boards (PAREB) National Chairman Atty. Rey Cartojano.
The principle of self-defense, he explained, is when a property owner uses reasonable force to physically resist intruder, or forcibly evicts them using reasonable force, especially if the intrusion is ongoing. He warns, though, that this principle “must be used with calculation and much restraint with the advisable participation of barangay officials and police officers.”
However, if the property owner does not want to invoke his right of self-defense, they can seek help from the barangay for an amicable settlement or hire a lawyer. “The legal remedy for property owners for squatters and informal settlers are detailed under Republic Act No. 7279, otherwise known as the Urban and Development Housing Act (UDHA),” he said.
Cartojano outlined the steps to be taken in the event that a property owner finds himself involved in such a situation:
1. Ascertain the identity of the informal settlers. To avoid endangering themselves, they can enlist the barangay officials, who will establish direct contact with the settlers.
2. Record the incident of intrusion. Proceed to the police station with jurisdiction over the property to have a police blotter created regarding the incident.
3. If peaceful negotiation is not effective, the property owner can seek help from the barangay to arrange a possible settlement.
4. If barangay intervention proves to be unsuccessful, the property owner must then hire a lawyer who will handle the matter of evicting the squatters. The lawyer will be handling tasks such as serving the demand letters and filing the necessary court cases.
How long will the whole process take?
The lawyer’s demand for the informal settler to vacate the property signals the beginning of the formal legal remedy. If the informal settler does not heed the demand, forcible entry or unlawful detainer cases will have to be filed in court. Cartojano explained that depending on the caseload of the court, skills of the handling lawyers and the disposing ability of the handling judge, the entire process may take years to be completed.
This article was written in collaboration with Atty. Rey D. Cartojano, Senior Vice President of PAREB and Managing Partner in Cartojano Law Office and Cartojano Realty.
Main photo via Shutterstock