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Volume 3,  Number 25              July 27 - August 2, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Davao’s Urban Poor Brace for a Wave of Demolitions, Evictions

The story of Davao City’s urban-poor communities is the “real state of the nation, of the urban poor.” It is a “distressing predicament” that the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has failed to address, in spite of the promises she made in her State of the Nation Address last year and the year before that.

By Gilbert Pacificar
Bulatlat.com Mindanao Bureau

DAVAO CITY – Somewhere along the national highway in Buhangin District this city, some 175 families had lived, literally, on the road. Their houses were built by the roadside, their lives in constant danger from the vehicles and huge cargo trucks. Their homes were called eyesores and an obstruction to the highway.

In spite of all this, these poor Davaoeños managed to keep roof over their heads, no matter that their homes were actually made of trash and discarded wood, cardboards and tin. It’s not much, said Antonio Ramos, 57, but it was all they had since the early ‘80s.

But what the danger along the highway failed to do, the entry of one real-estate company did. In May this year, the shanties were demolished, ostensibly because of the danger the highway posed to the poor residents. As far as the residents are concerned, however, their eviction had something to do with Robinson Highland, a first-class subdivision whose owners had complained to the City Engineer’s Office (CEO) about the “eyesores.” The subdivision’s entrance was built right beside the row shanties.

Last year, the CEO threatened to demolish the shanties. The poor residents had no choice but to leave and transfer to a government-designated relocation site in Tibungco. The problem is, most of the roadside residents were drivers of tricycle, “tricy-boats” and PUJ. Some of them were constructions workers.

But many residents have not transferred to the 2.5-hectare Tibungco relocation site because it is still being negotiated. They are worried that they might not be able to afford the P3,600 advance and P300 amortization per month. “Our daily income is so small we cannot even afford three square meals a day,” Ramos, who has two children, said.

The story of the Buhangin roadside “squatters” is the “real state of the nation, of the urban poor,” said Editha Duterte, vice president for Mindanao of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay). It is a “distressing predicament” that the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has failed to address, in spite of the promises she made in her State of the Nation Address (Sona) last year, she said.

Tumultuous days

Indeed, it is a predicament that the city’s urban poor fear would worsen in the coming months. As President Arroyo prepares for her SONA on Monday, where no doubt she would once again highlight her administration’s achievements, the urban poor are bracing for tumultuous days ahead.

City Administrator Melchor Quitain has said he would pursue the implementation of City Hall’s order for the CEO to demolish about 1,000 houses from 30 residential areas. According to City Engineer Medrano Metran this would mean at least one demolition every day in Davao City in the coming weeks.

In July alone, five urban-poor communities were demolished: in Ecoland (857 houses), Leon Garcia (20 houses), Panacan and Sasa (40 houses), Toril (seven houses) and Bankerohan (40 houses).

Real indicator

“We are sure that she will brag about many things in her SONA,” Kadamay’s Duterte told Bulatlat.com, “but the real test of a strong republic and the real indicator of the state of the nation is the condition of the poor.”

The prices of commodities and utilities, she said, have been going up. This only worsens the condition of the urban poor, many of whom are being driven out of their homes with ferocity.

The recent victims of demolition are the families in Barangay 8-A, Bankerohan, this city. According to Bert Cardeno, an officer of the Upper Hill Neighborhood Association, around 600 families lost their homes during two incidents of demolitions, the latest one on July 17. Armed with steel bars and hatchets, the demolition team stormed the community, supported by members of the police who fired shots in order to frighten the residents, Cardeno said.

Illegal demolition

The demolitions, Cardeno added, were illegal and didn’t follow due process.  He said the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) has the sole authority to order the demolition of homes and the eviction of poor residents. This was indicated in the executive order signed by President Arroyo on Dec. 10, 2002.

Cardeno said his association sought the assistance of PCUP after they were demolished last year, in which 40 houses belonging to Unha members were destroyed, but the commission turned down their plea, saying that its role was only to monitor extra-judicial and court-ordered demolition. The City Engineers Office spearheaded the demolitions, allegedly without coordinating it with the PCUP.

But Kadamay’s Duterte said the demolitions in the city and in other parts of Mindanao “is a manifestation of the state’s denial of a genuine comprehensive housing program for the urban poor.” She pointed out that EO 152 that created PCUP is “inutile” since it cannot ensure that the government’s so-called “no demolition without relocation” policy is implemented.

“The EO is nothing but a deception by government, to make it appear that it is doing something for the urban poor yet the agency is essentially hollow. Its functions do not serve the interest of the poor,” she said.

Just and humane demolition? 

Under EO 152, eviction and demolition are allowed as long as these are “just and humane.” But Duterte laughed off this caveat. “How can you call it just and humane when you are driving people from their homes?” she said.

Besides, she said, the experience of the urban poor is that demolitions are almost always violent. “In our experience, the local government deploys police personnel, members of the Philippine Army and the Regional Mobile Group (RMG) to the squatters’ area to make sure that the demolition is carried out,” she said.

The soldiers and the police, she said, are used as “hound dogs of the big capitalists and landlords in harassing the helpless residents.” In full battle gear, she added, they “enter the urban poor communities as if they were ready to kill unarmed civilians. This is a desperate act of the government in response to the housing problem of the urban poor.”

She cited the case of Davao City, where City Hall tapped the Task Force Davao in the demolition of houses in Barangay 37-D. Members of the task force were not actually on the scene but they were put on stand-by in case a confrontation between the demolition team and the residents broke out. Fortunately, no violence took place in the demolition last April 25. But at least 90 houses were destroyed by the City Engineer’s Office.

The human-rights group Karapatan assailed the tapping of the Task Force Davao for the demolition, saying the move practically made “borderless” the task force’s mandate, which was originally formed to go after terrorists. Bulatlat.com

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