Until the early 1990s, residents living near the Port of Batangas had a decent income, most of them even had enough resources to send their children to college. But twelve years after the port’s expansion and privatization, the residents who were driven out of their homes and relocated in villages far away from the port are gripped by poverty.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
BATANGAS CITY – It was five days before Christmas last year and the rush to the provinces was at its peak. Fully-loaded provincial buses arrived at the port in this city, 111 kms south of Manila, with passengers headed for either Mindoro or Romblon. As bus passengers alighted, porters and vendors scampered toward the bus.
Pinipig! Bukayo! Buko pie! Tubig! Mani! Biskwit! Vendors were virtually thrusting their goods to the faces of passengers. Porters grabbed the bags and boxes of passengers. “Ate, kuya, buhat po?” (Big sister, brother, do you need help to carry your bags?), they asked.
The porters followed the passengers until they reached the entrance to the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) building that led to the ticketing office, the waiting area and the dock.
“Hanggang dito lang kami sa gate” (We are allowed to sell only up to the gate), an exhausted 54-year-old woman told this reporter. She is Lita Claring, or Aling Lita, a port vendor since 1978.
Aling (older woman) Lita, who sells bread, fruits and biscuits, shared the sentiments of most vendors in the Port of Batangas. “Napakahina ng kita namin ngayon kumpara dati” (Our income is way below what we used to earn before), she said. Until the early 1990’s, Aling Lita said, she earned a minimum of P300 ($6.21 at an exchange rate of $1=P48.305) by 9 a.m. especially during peak seasons. Her earnings, she said, amounted to P1,000 ($20.70) by six in the evening.
That was when the Port of Batangas was still a domestic port catering to inter-island shipping and trade. Vendors and porters lived in Barangay Sta. Clara, a village just beside the port. They ran their stores in front of their houses by the shores near the port. Aling Lita said the villagers had small businesses that gave them enough income to live by and send their children to school.
On Oct. 19, 1990 then President Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order No. 431 which called for the privatization, expansion and delineation of the territorial jurisdiction of the port. Phases I-IV of the expansion project covered the whole of Sta. Clara, the villages of Calicanto, Bolbok, Sta. Rita Kalsada, Sta. Rita Aplaya, Sico and Wawa.
The modernization was in line with the government’s Calabarzon (for Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon provinces) industrial enclave project, according to the official website of the PPA. The P1.21-billion ($25,049,166) first phase started in 1992 and completed in 1997. The second phase, began in 1998, was funded with P27.09 million ($560,811).
The port’s private operator, Asian Terminals, Inc. (ATI), has started a long-term plan to develop the Port of Batangas into a premier hub of international shipping and trade next only to Manila, complete with sophisticated services for container, heavy-lift cargo and supply base operations.*
Thelma Maranan, spokesperson of Claimants 1568, which groups 1,568 port residents, said in an interview with Bulatlat, that the PPA sent them notices to vacate their houses as early as Jan. 20, 1993. But, Maranan said, they are determined to fight for their right to the land and their sources of living.
Before the Regional Trial Court of Batangas, PPA authorities said the government agency owned the disputed land under EO No. 431. Residents who faced eviction, said Maranan, filed a reply stating that they are the rightful owners of the land. Some residents showed the court titles to their land while others showed receipts of real estate tax payments.
Maranan’s maternal grandmother, Nicolasa Comilla, had paid P40 as land tax in 1940. Comilla had lived in the area since the early 1800’s and died in 1941, at the age of 112. Government authorities stopped the collection of land taxes in the area during the 1960’s, Maranan said.
Court records showed that the PPA even stepped up its expansion operations while the “ejectment” (sic) case was pending in court, prompting the residents to file for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO).
Without a court order, however, the PPA forcibly evicted 1,568 families from Sta. Clara on June 26 and 27, 1994.
“We were militarized,” Maranan recalled. Fresh from her election as barangay captain (village head) of Sta. Clara at that time, she vividly remembered two battalions of soldiers deployed in their area aside from the demolition crew numbering 553. They were beefed up by hundreds of soldiers from the Marines, Air Force, and Philippine Coast Guard, as well as policemen from the Regional Special Action Force and the Philippine National Police.
“Parang nakakatakot,” Maranan said, “malaki ang budget nila para sa demolition team.” (It was scary, and it showed that they had a big budget for the demolition team.)
Months before the demolition, the PPA ordered all passenger and cargo ships to dock at the Mabini Port, also in Batangas province.
“Duon dinala ang hanapbuhay sa Mabini Port. Ginutom ang mga tao, nawalan kami ng hanapbuhay. Nabawasan ang lumalaban kasi nagipit” (The passengers who used to be the buyers of our goods were redirected to Mabini Port leaving the residents hungry and deprived of livelihood. Only a few were left to fight.), Maranan recalled.
Finally, 831 families of the 1,568 families were forced to be relocated to Barangay Balete with 192 other to Barangay Sico. The remaining 545 temporarily transferred to a nearby village called Villa Anita. The hold-outs, led by Maranan, sued the PPA for moral and actual damages amounting to more than P65 million ($1,345,616) before the Batangas Regional Trial Court (RTC).
On April 19, 1996, the Batangas RTC ruled in favor of the 545 affected families. The PPA appealed the RTC decision, but the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the decision of the RTC declaring the demolition as illegal. The PPA brought the case before the Supreme Court (SC) but the two parties agreed to settle later for P34.9 million ($722,492).
The residents then bought a two-hectare private land in front of the Batangas International Port Phase II. The 545 families called their relocation site the People’s Coalition for Alternative Development (PCAD).
Agrarian lawyer David Ero, who is counsel for the 1,568 families affected by the 1994 demolition in Sta. Clara, clarified however that the settlement was only for the case of illegal demolition and not the original ejection case filed by the PPA.
Ero cited the SC decision: “…It is only the Order dated April 19, 1996 of the Regional Trial Court of Batangas City, Branch 84, which became the subject of further proceedings before the Court of Appeals and this Court.”
In the Memorandum of Authorities with Reply submitted by Ero to the Batangas City RTC, Branch 84, dated Feb. 20, 2006, the plaintiffs said, “the subject of a Compromise Agreement approved by the Supreme Court was the damages for the demolition of the houses and other structures of respondents notwithstanding the pendency of its action for ejectment.”
Ero said the high court has not issued any comment on this latest reply. “It seems the ejection case will still go a long way and the original Sta. Clara residents will have to wait longer until the court rules on the ownership of the land,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the port continues to operate, Aling Lita and most of the vendors, porters and former residents of the Port of Batangas would have to live in abject poverty, far from their simple yet productive life before. Bulatlat
* The Batangas port expansion project has a long history which started in 1974 with the issuance of Presidential Decree No. 857 by then President Ferdinand Marcos. Executive Order No. 431, which was issued in 1990, was a continuation of the expansion project. In 1992, former Pres. Fidel Ramos made the modernization of the port as one of the flagship programs of the Medium Term Philippine Development Program (MTPDP or better known as Philippines 2000), the centerpiece of his administration’s bid for a globally-competitive economy. The MTPDP also included the development of the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon provinces).