Manila, Philippines

by Junio M Ragragio


Segregation has a long history in Metro Manila. As a Spanish enclave during the Spanish colonial period, native inhabitants lived in the suburbs of what are now the districts of Tondo, Sta Cruz, Quiapo and Sampaloc. The Chinese lived in the parian, a district that became part of the present Binondo.

Slums are now scattered over 526 communities in all cities and municipalities of Metro Manila, housing 2.5 million people on vacant private or public lands, usually along rivers, near garbage dumps, along railroad tracks, under bridges and beside industrial establishments. Slums alongside mansions in affluent residential areas are also not uncommon. Although there are relatively large slum communities, the settlement pattern of the Metro Manila urban poor is generally dispersed, located wherever there is space and opportunity.

Slums are defined as buildings or areas that are deteriorated, hazardous, unsanitary or lacking in standard conveniences. These are also defined as the squalid, crowded or unsanitary conditions under which people live, irrespective of the physical state of the building or area. Under such definitions, slum dwellers are identified as the urban poor: individuals or families residing in urban and urbanizable areas whose income or combined household income falls below the poverty threshold.

Slums cannot be clearly classified by location as they are so dispersed over Metro Manila; but they can broadly be classified by construction type:

Temporary shelter made from salvaged materials.
Semi-permanent shelter.
Permanent shelter.

There is an additional category that is referred to as ‘professional squatters’ and is defined as individuals or groups who occupy lands without the owner’s consent and who have sufficient income for legitimate housing. The term also applies to those previously awarded lots or housing by the government, but who sold, leased or transferred the same and settled illegally in the same place or in another urban area as non-bona fide occupants and intruders on land for social housing. The term does not apply to individuals or groups who rent land and housing from ‘professional squatting syndicates’. Professional squatting syndicates are the informal and illegal organizations that covertly coordinate the activities of professional squatters.

Expenses on housing primarily involve mortgages or rents; but ‘squatters’ typically spend nothing on a regular basis on housing. However, most squatters incur initial housing investments to pay for ‘land rights’ and to build their house.

On average, three-quarters of the households in Manila’s slums are long-term (more than five years) residents of the area. The settlements average 19.2 years in age and often are 40 years’ old, or older. The majority of the households migrated to these areas from other cities within the metro or the city. The majority of the urban poor households have been living in Metro Manila for nearly two decades. Half of the population in slums are employed in the formal sector. Informal employment largely consists of domestic help, tricycle driving, construction labour, selfemployment, factory labour and vending.

Metro Manila consists of 12 cities, 5 municipalities and 1694 barangays, governed by their respective local government units (LGUs). The Local Government Code (LGC) mandates the LGUs to provide efficient and effective governance and to promote general welfare within their respective territorial jurisdictions. The LGUs are relatively autonomous. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) was created in order to ensure the effective delivery of metro-wide services; the adoption and implementation of policies, standards, rules and regulations, as well as programmes and projects, to rationalize and optimize land use and provide direction to urban growth and expansion; the rehabilitation and development of slum and blighted areas; the development of shelter and housing facilities; and the provision of necessary social services.

With increased decentralization, the participation of NGOs and people’s organizations (POs) in the planning, implementation and monitoring of LGU-led projects has increased. The LGC prescribed the formation of local development councils (LDCs) or special bodies to serve as venues for representing communities, through their organizations, to express their views on issues affecting them.

The 1987 Bill of Rights grants all citizens the right of access to affordable housing. In 1986, the government was turned into ‘enabler’ and ‘facilitator’, and the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) was passed. The UDHA provides for comprehensive and integrated urban development and housing, while, under the communal upgrading scheme – the Zonal Improvement Programme – the government can expropriate land for resale to the residents after developing the site and introducing basic services and facilities. The government established a viable home financing system through the revival of home financing institutions, while funding for long-term mortgages that would be affordable even to those below the poverty line was sourced from insurance funds administered by the social security system.

The strength of Metro Manila’s approaches lies in the holistic character of metro-wide action for slum improvement, regularization, housing finance, poverty alleviation and partnerships with NGOs and CBOs The longterm effectiveness of this approach is, despite the enormity of Manila’s slum issues, likely to show that persistent adherence to urban-wide policy will lead to satisfactory results.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.

top page

To read the full report, choose & click on one of the pdf icons below.

Document size: 2.5 MB

Document size: 1.5 MB (b&w)




2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh