SQUATTING, LIKE other social malaise, will be with us for as long as the right prescriptions and lasting solutions are not in sight. Trapped in a quicksand, the more furious we struggle out of it, the more we find ourselves being immersed deeper and deeper.

The situation is magnified in a bigger frame if we take into account that the country's urban poor population is placed at twenty-four (24) million. This represents roughly fifty-five percent (55%) of the total urban population and about twenty-four percent (24%) of the national population according to the latest census.

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Of the about 9.4 million urban poor households, 3.8 million or about forty percent (40%) live in absolute poverty. This means that the households income of these families is less than P5.800.00 a month, barely enough to provide for a family's nutritional needs. Along this scenario, how would these marginal urban families provide for their shelter needs? In several studies conducted on the squatting problem, it was noted that high population growth rate, poverty and limited space in urban centers have led to the invasion of idle and unguarded properties by squatter families.

In our backyard, the recent intrusion of squatter groups over a piece of land at the Busol Watershed, Ambiong Barangay and the consequent demolition of their structures is one of the latest spectacle on the squatting malady. The involvement of military and police personnel in other places particularly in Metro Manila all the more adds to our current headaches.

In several studies conducted, researchers have identified several major causes of squatting: poverty, prohibitive cost of rent and shelter, lack of government land and housing programs, proliferation of squatting syndicates and professional squatters, laxity of landowners and local government units (LGUs) and lack of clear policies and planning.

Of the mentioned major causes, one which has to be acted swiftly, decisively and with dispatch is the proliferation of squatting syndicates and professional squatters. The Urban Development and Housing Act or Republic Act. No. 7279 penalizes squatting syndicates with six years imprisonment and a fine of P60.000.00 to P100.000.00, or both, at the court's discretion. With the Urban Development and Housing Law, government is well armed with a legal weapon to combat and meet head-on the continuing proliferation of squatting syndicates and professional squatter groups.

Despite the passage of the laws of squatting however, very few squatting syndicates are prosecuted and even convicted. It was pointed out that prosecution is often hampered by the reluctance and unavailability of witnesses among the urban poor who will stand against these syndicates, among many reasons.

Eventually, property owners lose their land, and the victimized squatter families, deceived into paying for a property of doubtful ownership are consequently ejected under the anti-squatting laws. The syndicates meanwhile, having collected their money, disappear and continue their nefarious schemes elsewhere.

The solution then to partly untangle the mess created by the tentacles of squatting, is to sharply distinguish squatter groups into legitimate claimants and syndicated groups who prey on innocent victims as part of their devious activities to enrich themselves at the expense of others. The former have to be fully assisted and protected while the latter would have to be prosecuted under the full force of the law.

While the issue is comprehensively addressed at the national level with the establishment of a housing and urban development council and task force against squatting syndicates and professional squatters, the bigger task lies at the level of the local government units. The full implementation of the measures against squatting obviously rest heavier with the LGUs, thus it is imperative that it must not suffer the same fate as the failures of the campaign against gambling syndicates.

Problems related to squatting is among the most persistent factors that contribute to the housing problem, and that obstruct and negate the housing program that both the government and private sectors jointly undertake to alleviate poverty related to housing. Our task is to tackle the problem and address the issue squarely on a continuous and consistent basis. The root causes of the squatting malady must be solved one at a time until the stage is set in unveiling the real packages involved in housing. And this has something to do with financing, technical considerations and social implications in the total housing program.

The recent pronouncement of the new dispensation under the Aquino presidency that housing shall occupy a central role in the poverty alleviation program is a welcome development The crucial point is to start with the most fundamental solution and obviously it has something to do with ensuring the success in the current campaign against syndicated squatting and professional squatters. Anything short of eliminating this cause would only make the problem as complicated and complex as ever.

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Under the Consultative Draft of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Real Estate Service Act (RESA), the following real estate service practitioners have to undergo a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) and comply with the required CPE credit hours prior to their registration with PRC: a) Active licensees and those who passed the May 2008 licensure examinations but failed to secure their license on 30 July 2009 - have to secure or earn 15 CPE credit units; b) For those who passed the May 2009 licensure examination but failed to secure their license as of 30 July 2009 - have to secure or earn 12 CPE credit hours and c) Practitioners who failed to renew their license as of 31 July 2009 - have to secure or earn 24 CPE credit hours. This advance information is for the purpose of forewarning practitioners of this new requirement so that they will not be at a loss on how they will be recognized as legitimate practitioners under the new real estate law. The IRR, hopefully, will be out any time these coming days.

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(The writer is a Certified Public Accountant and the president of the Baguio Realtors Board. Apart from being a Real Estate Practitioner as a Real Estate Broker and Educator, Lecturer and Resource Person; he is likewise a Business Management/NCO/Cooperative Consultant, Project Development Consultant and Financial Advisor/Loan Broker. For comments and more information of Real Estate Updates and Studies, you may get in touch with him at Unit 303 3/F Otek Square, Otek Street, Baguio City, Tel. Nos. 427-1971 or 442-1176, Mobile Phone No. 0909-404-8863 or email: bert_capili@uahoo.com or bertcapili65&hotmail.com