Quality of life in resettlement sites

Resettlement is fine. It is in fact among the solutions to squatting. The concern then is not whether or not to go for resettlement in this case but the location and the development plan of the site. Clearly, the immediate or short term plan is to relocate the squatters from the ‘estero’ to an alternative site. But what of the medium term, what is the plan? The long term?

But first, why should citizens concern themselves with the resettlement of squatters? Because the money that will be distributed to the squatters and which will be used in the purchase and development of the resettlement site is taxpayers money. Taxpayers would want that the PHP18,000 to be given to each of the family will be used to some good – not spent by the families on DVDs perhaps? – because these days it gets harder to work for even PHP0.25. There should be a clear resettlement plan laid out as for instance in the range of activities – monitored as well – that the resettling families could do with the PHP18,000. Perhaps a sanitary toilet in their new place?

I’ve seen a good many resettlement sites, including those for families affected by natural disasters. I’ve been in ghost towns that were the inevitable result of mining companies going away. I’ve also seen socialized housing sites. A particular socialized housing site that remains vividly ingrained in my mind is one somewhere in the Visayas. We were on the road and somebody pointed at somewhere off the path. A socialized housing project. That an actress contributed considerably to the housing project has reached the stature of local Legend.

But I wondered if the donor has visited the place and what her impression of it was, because the place is really off the grid. From the promontory where we were, the hundred or so plywood houses looked like they’re huddling for safety…from the big bad wolf?…because they’re quite by themselves out there, on a cleared spot, in a forest. I had to blink several times scanning its surroundings — was I hallucinating? But, no, the community is like Red Riding Hood’s grandma’s cottage, alone and exposed, in the middle of the forest. On the periphery, where we were, is the national highway, also bounded on the other side by a forest. The nearest town was a hundred or more kilometers, either way.

Where does the community get its water? How is it plugged into a sewerage? Is it? School? Health center? Do they have electricity? Communication? Transportation? How far to their place of work? What’s their livelihood out there — tree cutting? How and where do they get their food — foraging?

What the f.

We need to clarify the qualities in ‘resettlement’. The site in Visayas is more or less similar with many resettlement sites across the country, even in sites resettled by families affected by disasters. That is not decent living. And it is why people, squatters and citizen-observers alike, are apprehensive about the term as practiced by the government — that resettlement is merely a change in location, everything else is the same or even worse (I’ve come across resettlement communities in Laguna and their status there is still ‘informal settlers’ – they haven’t been awarded titles to the lots. They are perennially flooded because the sites are, well, along the Lake hence flood prone and nothing has been done to mitigate the risk. In essence, they were just dumped there.). Will I willingly live in such a place for the rest of my life?. Anyone will resist. But when plans are clear and laid out and indicative of an upgrade of quality of life, squatters will be more than happy to leave the ‘estero’.

If the (amateur?) squatters sue the mastermind(s), those who preyed on them on all levels (i.e. sweet-talked them into squatting, welcomed them to squat in exchange for votes, milked them of squatting fee, and benefitted directly and indirectly from the amount), these professionals could be compelled to pay for a portion of their victims’ resettlement. This is fair and eases the resentment felt by law-abiding citizens.

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