Wanted in Philippine cities: Better solutions to the problem of slums

Planting fires in squatter areas – the pattern of fire occurrences suggests that – are apparently among the creative solutions these days, here. To begin with, squatters have only so much property and to set these on fire with premeditation it’s godawful. How the problem is being handled, it’s wrong on all levels. Let me cite an analogy, only to demonstrate a point: what’s more evil than squatting? Killing? OK. How come government has not, say, set fire to a community of, say, rebels? Because it’d be like disturbing a massive colony of red ants. The government can count on the rebels to fight back, madly and ruthlessly. They’re armed and backed. They’re a power to contend with. Whereas the squatter colonies — when they do fight back, well, do excrement count as weapon?

I’m imagining urban planners in city halls as perhaps the most heartbroken of all in this. To have gone through years of Banfield, Jacobs, Habermas, and the many urban planner-greats only to be stared at in practice with allegedly-creative-urban planning solutions-but-are-actually-criminal acts is understandably way beyond expectation.

There are some articles here about the failure of decentralization and I’m not sure if I’ve already mentioned this but there is this Mayor-centricity within many Local Government Units. It is a fact known to persons, organizations, and offices doing business with LGUs. The Mayor is practically also the urban planner, the chief of police, the city engineer, the agricultural officer, etc. What the Mayor wants done, everyone in the Unit will create the plan for it. Quirky planning it is. Equally-bizarre results, too.

When the good Mayor of QC, Herbert Bautista, said that he holds intelligence report of who the backers are of the squatters in the contested QC lot, in other words, get lost people or else, that is not the speech and stance of an effective urban planner.

I’m sure urban planners won’t recommend, ever, setting squatter areas on fire, my point being, the city is assured of good solutions when its urban planners (working with the other experts) are given, as they should, the space and freedom to use their expertise. Listening to a UN-Habitat conference on housing alone provides one with a plethora of good and inspiring ideas. Imagine this passion and creativity inside the halls of LGUs. Imagine these spilling outside of the halls into actual city projects. The Mayors should pave the way for it; step back a bit to let their people do their jobs. One word from them is all it takes.

Of course, the above applies to slums that were not put up as a result of an LCE’s or elected official’s approval (well, in exchange for votes). Otherwise, when public officials are the crux of the squatting problem…this is another subject altogether.

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