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  • Writer's pictureZiggurat Realestatecorp

Dealing with informal settlements

“The proliferation of informal settlements in the Philippines has become a phenomenon associated with big cities and expanding centers,” the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) reported.

“From the early 1970s to more recent years, estimates of the number of informal settlers in the country have varied, ranging from as low as 470,000 families to as high as 3.7 million families.”

In a study entitled, “Squatter Access to Land in Metro Manila,” Ton van Naerssen of the Ateneo de Manila University found that urban land is either unutilized or insufficiently utilized to address the growing number of informal settlers or “squatters”—people who settle on the land of another without a title or the right.

According to the study, “the ownership of land in Manila is concentrated in the hands of a few families. Land speculation plays an important role in urban land use… Squatting on land and building a shelter on it is not easy.

By consequence, many poor families try to find a place in already established spontaneous settlements, where the population density steadily increases.”

“Depending on the economic standing of families illegally occupying government and private lands without tacit approval of the owners, squatting is a social problem that is also rooted on distorted moral values,” Federation of Philippine Industries chair Jesus Lim Arranza earlier said in an article. “It is about time…for legitimate property owners like us to have our voice heard by political and business leaders, if only to send the message that we also have our rights as legitimate property owners.”

While the property owners’ voices remain to be heard by the proper authorities, they may still resort to court action to reclaim their lands from illegal settlers. Rule 70 of the Rules of Court (RoC) authorizes a person deprived of the possession of his land or building by force, intimidation, threat, strategy, or stealth, to file an action for forcible entry against the informal settlers with the proper Municipal Trial Court (MTC).

This action must be filed at any time within one year from the informal settlers’ forcible entry into the land.

In Zacarias v. Anacay, the Supreme Court held that a person is deemed to have waived his right to seek relief in the proper MTC when he fails to file the action for forcible entry within the one-year period.

The complaint and compulsory counterclaim and/or cross-claim pleaded in the answer, which are the only allowable pleadings to be filed in forcible entry cases, shall be verified.

In forcible entry cases, the MTC may, from an examination of the allegations in the complaint and the attached evidence, dismiss the case outright if it finds the same to either be patently without merit or manifestly intended for delay, or the issues raised are too unsubstantial to require consideration.

Otherwise, the defendant shall file his answer, which contains his affirmative and negative defenses and compulsory and/or cross-claim, where proper, within 10 days from service of summons, to which the complaint is attached.

Failure to plead said defenses shall be deemed waived, except lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.

Meanwhile, the compulsory counterclaims and cross-claims not asserted in the answer shall be deemed barred.

If the defendant would fail to file his answer within the 10-day period, the court, on its own or upon the plaintiff’s motion, shall render judgment as may be warranted by the facts alleged in the complaint and limited to the relief sought therein. The court may likewise reduce the amount of damages and attorney’s fees claimed for being excessive or otherwise unconscionable.

The court shall set a preliminary conference within 30 days after the answer or, in the case of multiple defendants, the last answer, has been filed. The plaintiff’s failure to appear at the preliminary conference shall be a cause for the dismissal of his complaint. Meanwhile, the defendant’s failure to appear therein has the same effect as his failure to file an answer.

Within five days after the termination of the preliminary conference, the court shall issue an order, stating, among others: whether the parties have arrived at an amicable settlement, and if so, the terms thereof; the stipulations or admissions entered into by the parties; whether, on the basis of the pleadings and the stipulations and admissions made by the parties, judgment may be rendered without the need of further proceedings; a clear specification of the material facts that remain controverted; and

such other matters intended to expedite disposition of case.

If the court would find that further proceedings were unnecessary, it shall render judgment on said pleadings, stipulations, and admissions within 30 days from issuance of the order.

Otherwise, within 10 days from receipt of said order, the parties shall submit the affidavits of their witnesses and other evidence on the factual issues defined in said order.

Said affidavits shall only state facts personally known by the witnesses-affiants which are admissible in evidence, and shall show their competence to testify on the matters stated therein. Failure to comply with the requirement on affidavits may subject the party or the counsel who submitted the same to disciplinary action, and shall be cause to expunge the inadmissible affidavit or portion thereof from the record.

They shall submit their position papers, stating the law and the facts relied upon by them.

Within 30 days after receipt of the affidavits and position papers, or the expiration of the period for filing the same, the court shall render judgment.

When necessary to clarify certain facts, however, the court may issue an order specifying the matters to be clarified, and require the parties to submit affidavits or other evidence on the said matters within 10 days from receipt of such order. Judgment shall be rendered within 15 days after the receipt of the last affidavit or expiration of the period for filing the same.

In the meantime, the plaintiff may file a motion for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction to restore him in his possession of the subject lot, which the court shall decide on within 30 days from filing thereof.

If, after trial, the court would find that the allegations in the complaint are true, it shall rule in favor of the plaintiff for the restitution of the premises, the sum justly due as arrears of rent or as reasonable compensation for use and occupation of the premises, attorney’s fees and costs. If a counterclaim were established, the court shall rule on the sum found in arrears from either party and award costs as justice requires.

The judgment rendered in an action for forcible entry shall be conclusive with respect to the plaintiff’s possession of the land, and shall not bar an action between the parties respecting the ownership of the building or land.

Thus, the Supreme Court consistently held that the sole question for resolution in an action for forcible entry is the physical or material possession of subject land. Even if the question of ownership were raised in the proceedings, the court may pass upon such issue but only to determine the question of possession, especially if the question of ownership is inseparably linked to the question of possession.

Upon motion, the court’s judgment in an action for forcible entry shall be immediately executory. If such judgment were rendered against the defendant, he may stay its execution by timely filing an appeal in accordance with the Rules of Court and filing a supersedeas bond to be executed in favor of the plaintiff. The supersedeas bond shall pay the rent, damages and costs due the plaintiff, accruing down to the time of the judgment appealed therefrom.

Considering that the parties never executed any lease contract, the defendant may be required to deposit rent equivalent to the reasonable value of the use and occupation of the subject land for the preceding month or period at the rate determined by the judgment of the lower trial court on or before the 10th day of each succeeding month or period.

The supersedeas bond shall be transmitted by the lower trial court, with the papers, to the clerk of the Regional Trial Court to which the action is appealed.

After the RTC decides the case on appeal, any money paid to the trial court for purposes of stay of execution shall be disposed in accordance with the provisions of the RTC’s judgment.

Squatter Access to Land in Metro Manila
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