By RONALYN V. OLEA
SAN JOSE DEL MONTE, Bulacan – Hilaria “Violy” San Jose, 44, brought with her some of their fresh produce—rambutan, balimbing, guyabano, kamoteng kahoy and saba.
“If the MRT 7 project pushes through, we could no longer have fresh fruits and vegetables,” Violy told an assembly of farmers, urban poor and church workers, Sept. 26, at the St. Peter Apostol Church, Tungkong Mangga village.
For decades, Violy and 100 other peasant families have cultivated a 200-hectare land in Dalandanan subvillage, San Roque village. Farming is their only livelihood.
Violy is one of the thousands of peasant families that would be evicted with the construction of MRT-7, a 22-kilometer mostly elevated rail track from North Ave. in Quezon City to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan and a 22-km six-lane access road from San Jose del Monte to the North Expressway Tollgate in Bocaue, Bulacan.
The rail line will have 14 stations: North Edsa, Quezon Memorial Circle, University Avenue, Tandang Sora, Don Antonio, Batasan, Manggahan, Doña Carmen, Regalado, Mindanao Avenue, Quirino, Sacred Heart, Tala in Caloocan and Araneta avenue in San Jose Del Monte. The intermodal terminal component will be able to accommodate 60 buses and also feature passenger facilities and amenities.
Melecio “Ka Miling” Cañete shares the same fear. Cañete, along with other settlers from various provinces in the Visayas, cleared some 300 hectares of land in San Isidro subvillage in Tungkong Mangga.
His hair already graying, Cañete, a member of San isidro Sandigang Samahan ng Magsasaka (Sasamag) recalled how they have been fighting attempts to dislocate them. “The Aranetas are claiming the land. We were charged with illegal squatting. Security guards prevented us from going to our farm. There were times when they pointed guns at us.”
The charges were eventually dismissed, with the prosecutor stating that there are no “squatters” in agriculture. Cañete and his fellow farmers learned to fight back. More than a thousand of them removed the gates put up by the Aranetas.
“If we go away, we would die of hunger. In our condition, we have nowhere to go but death,” Cañete said.
The Aranetas have been claiming ownership to hundreds of hectares of agricultural land in Tungkong Mangga and and the Pangarap Village in Caloocan City, sites where the MRT-7 railways will be built.
Roger Aragones, 69, is one of the 40,000 residents of Pangarap Village who are in danger of losing their homes.
The 156-hectare village was awarded to the residents in 1973 through Marcos’s Presidential Decree 293. In 1998, a Supreme Court decision declared PD 293 null and void. The struggle of the residents has been going on through the years. On July 23, residents holding a vigil to protest the impending demolition of their homes were fired at by drunken security guards of the Aranetas, killing two residents.
“Until now, the battle in court is not yet over,” Aragones who has been living at the Pangarap village for more than 35 years, said.
“Who would benefit from the MRT-7? The Aranetas and their relative Mar Roxas. Why would they not use the national road and not the property being claimed by the Aranetas?” Aragones asked.
The Aranetas, along with other investors, are also reportedly involved in the $2.2 billion-real estate development and commercial component of the MRT-7 project.
Profit for foreign, local business
Seventy-five percent of the $1.235 billion MRT-7 project will be funded through loans from Japan International Cooperation Agency. The other 25 percent worth $308.75 million will represent equity of the Universal LRT Corporation Limited (ULC).
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) approved the project in 2008. The DOTC is the government agency assigned to implement the project.
At the forum, Gian Mariano, education officer of Center for Environment and Development Studies, a Malolos-based research institute, said investors are assured of high profits while the Filipino people will be burdened with loan payments and high MRT fares.
Mariano said investors will have 70 percent share in net passenger revenue and 80 percent share in advertisements and commercial development over the stations and real estate development income. The government will only get a 30-percent share of net passenger revenues and a 20-percent share of other earnings.
Mariano said the government, through the DOTC, shall pay ULC fixed amortization of $108 million annually for 15 years, $107.9 million for the next five years and $0.1 million for the last five years.
“Extraordinary fare adjustment is provided for in the concession agreement,” Mariano said.
The MRT-7 is under a build-operate-transfer scheme. This means that the government will have full control of the facilities and operations only after 25 years.
“At first glance, the project seems to beneficial as it would contribute to solving the traffic jam. After a closer look, however, one would realize that the effects are disadvantageous to the farmers and urban poor who would be pushed out from their land,” Mariano said.
Mariano pointed out that even the jobs that would be generated by the project as well as by the commercial establishments are short-term.
“Yes, we need an efficient means of transportation but not one that would displace thousands of farmers and urban poor,” Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said.
Ramos noted the MRT-7 project is “a reflection of new cronyism” under the Aquino government.
ULC is a consortium of the Tranzen Group, EEI Corporation and SM Prime Holdings and led by former Finance Secretary Roberto de Ocampo. In October last year, San Miguel Holdings Corp (SMHC) of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, uncle of President Benigno Aquino III, acquired up to 51 percent equity interest in ULC.
“We, peasants and urban poor, are the very first to yearn for development if it is for the benefit of the majority and not only for Henry Sy, Cojuangco, Araneta and Mar Roxas,” he added.
Determined to fight
Some 200 farmers, urban poor and church workers who gathered at the forum declared their opposition to the MRT-7 project.
“Land is life. It is for the next generations to come,” Violy, a mother of seven who has sent her children to school through farming, said. “We would not leave our land.”