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Binay taps LGUs in fight vs. squatter syndicates

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Vice President Jejomar Binay has launched a `best practices' award this year to encourage local government units to actively join a Philippine government campaign against squatting syndicates and `professional squatters.'

The long-pestering problem has drawn public attention again in recent days due to accidents and dislocation of large numbers of shanty dwellers in squatter colonies in Manila and elsewhere at the height of Typhoon Gener.

The typhoon blew out of the country Friday after leaving at least 37 dead and damage worth millions of pesos in agricultural products and road networks in Luzon and parts of the Visayas.

In one incident, two wayward barges from a Manila pier slammed into a squatter settlement in Manila's waterfront district of Tondo, destroying dozens of shanties on stilts but causing no injuries.

The residents evacuated hours before the two empty barges smashed into their homes due to strong waves and winds, officials said.

Gener affected more than half a million people in 117 towns, 25 cities and 32 provinces, including more than 213,000 residents who were displaced and had to seek shelter in government evacuation centers and houses of relatives and friends, according to a report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Friday.

At least 37 people died, 33 injured and four remain missing from the latest weather disturbance to batter the Philippines, the disaster-response agency said.

Many of those affected were squatters in slum colonies, officials said.

Powerful and squatting syndicates, some of which claim connections to local politicians and law enforcement authorities, have flourished since the 1980s, according to officials.

These syndicates, they said, have illegally and brazenly taken over government and private land and allocating lots for a fee mostly to poor urban settlers in search of jobs and opportunities in the metropolis.

The problem has persisted for decades and occasionally led to violence and deaths when police-backed demolition squads clashed with residents of squatter colonies, which teem with residents despite the squalor, frequency of crime and unsanitary conditions.

Tapping local officials in the campaign against squatting syndicates and `professional squatters' is crucial because LGUs "can immediately identify and stop these criminal elements at the first sign of illegal activity," Binay said in a statement.

To encourage local officials to actively participate in the anti-squatting campaign, Binay, chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, launched the National Drive Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates’ Best Practices Award for 2012.

Winners will receive plaques and cash that may be used to strengthen anti-squatting programs of local officials nationwide.

Participants can contact the HUDCC Legal Services Group and Anti-squatting Group at telephone numbers (02)812-0735 and (02)817-6995 for details of the anti-squatting campaign and awards, the vice president said.

Established under Executive Order 153 in 2002, the NDAPSSS is an inter-agency task force composed of 11 national government agencies with HUDCC as the lead agency.

The awards are intended for LGUs with existing departments or groups tasked to address the housing concerns in their localities.

Since its establishment, the NDAPSSS has worked on capacity-building programs aimed at increasing the awareness of LGUs and government housing project beneficiaries on their role in combating squatting syndicates and professional squatters.

"We conduct seminar-trainings and community dialogues that help the participants detect the modus operandi of squatting syndicates and their cohorts, including detection of fake and spurious land titles," Binay said.

The Vice President'a office, meanwhile, continued to provide assistance to those affected by Gener by distributing relief goods in the towns of Abucay, Hermosa, Bagac, Morong and Orani in Bataan, Binay said.

Binay's office is also set to conduct relief operations in typhoon-affected towns in the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite and Nueva Ecija, he said.

"We are coordinating with local offices on where and when we could provide the relief assistance,” he said.

Several areas in Cavite have been placed under a state of calamity after being lashed by heavy rains and flood in recent days.

Several towns in Bulacan and Nueva Ecija were also flooded, leaving a wide swathe of damage, knocking out power and forcing school and office closures.

Binay said his office had delivered 3,000 bags of relief goods to the residents of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, which was hit by landslides and massive flooding.

Relief goods have also been distributed in the towns of Rosales and Bugallon in Pangasinan and in Rodriguez, Rizal.

Binay said through his 2012 Priority Development Assistance Fund, funds have been allocated funds for relief operations as well as other urgent social services, including the provision of school supplies and burial assistance.

By PNA




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