President Corazon Aquino's administration scored a victory of sorts today when squatters ended a 24-hour occupation of a government housing project reserved for members of the country's legislature.
But with urban squatting elsewhere on the rise since the departure of Ferdinand Marcos three weeks ago, Aquino is faced with unresolved conflicts that go to the heart of her government.
Aquino's essentially middle-class "revolution," with its innate respect for the law, is confronted with an urban problem -- the forceful takeover of decent housing -- that is as much a core issue in the cities as is land reform in the countryside.
In a departure from the squatting in slums during the Marcos era, the urban poor have invoked a kind of moral credo in moving into unoccupied housing, claiming they are acting in keeping with Aquino's slogan of "people power."
The recommendations of government housing officials that she lay down a tough policy before squatting gets out of hand could put Aquino in conflict with the theme of her campaign, which called for drastic changes in a society known for inequitable distribution of wealth.
At another public housing development, in the mixed industrial and residential Manila suburb of Pasig, only the presence of uniformed private guards preserves the outward semblance of law and order. The occupation of this unfinished, 300-unit, government low-cost housing project is now in its second week.
A few miles away, nearer the city, other squatters have taken over a large plot of undeveloped land, planting tents and lean-tos. Elsewhere in and around Manila, squatters have occupied about half a dozen government housing projects since the fall of Marcos government.
At the Pasig housing development, men were digging ditches for septic tanks; open air stores were selling their wares and the ubiquitous "jeepneys," the communal transportation of the poor, were operating from the project entrance.
The occupation was conducted under cover of darkness, according to squatters. In less than two hours, about one thousand urban poor from a dozen urban and suburban slums pushed aside the concrete drainage pipe blocking the gate and took over, shouting "Cory, Cory," Aquino's nickname.
"We earned our right to be here when we demonstrated last month for Cory outside Camp Aguinaldo," Ricardo Uvas said earlier this week. Uvas was referring to the tens of thousands of Filipinos who blocked the troops and tanks that Marcos sent to dislodge the pro-Aquino rebels during the mutiny that led to his ouster and Aquino's installation as president.
On an unpainted wall of one of the 240-square-foot, two-story units, someone had scribbled, "I love you, Cory." Another squatter, Enrique Pilota, said, "We do, you know."
Pilota, a former truck driver in Saudi Arabia, added, "But I do not plan to vacate unless forced."
Pilota said all the squatters were prepared to make down payments and pay mortgage installments on the units "if the government gives us a chance."