By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Sodina Baldogo, 48, and her friend Jonila Archangel, 42, live in wooden houses, placed on top of a thick styrofoam board so it would float in Manila Bay. But that did not prevent government authorities from demolishing their houses.
“When water runs high, so is our home. It would almost touch the ground when it is low tide,” Archangel told Bulatlat.com.
These floating houses are tied to the rails of the highway so it would not be carried to the open sea. When asked how it is to live in a “floating house,” she said, “Before, we experienced motion sickness. But as days and years went on, we became used to it so that it feels just like any normal house.”
Baldogo and Archangel’s homes used to float near the Coastal Mall in Parañaque before their houses were demolished on April 20, 2007. “There was a notice that was given to us. But we did not know that they were really going to demolish our houses. At around 9 a.m. that day, guards arrived and demolished our homes. We had no choice but to save our belongings,” Baldogo said.
Residents of the Freedom Island are facing a tough fight against government plans to reclaim the area. There has been offers to relocate them in Antipolo City in Rizal, a province east of Manila. Their community resisted because most families earn from fishing in the Manila Bay.
“How are we going to survive there? If there is going to be a relocation site, then it must be somewhere near our current home. We need our livelihood to survive,” Baldogo said.
Baldogo and Archangel were among the thousands who joined the protest action in front of the Supreme Court and marched to Chino Roces bridge in Manila, a stone’s throw away from Malacañang. Leaders of progressive groups estimate that about 3,000 urban poor dwellers and rights advocates joined the march.
According to urban poor groups, the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) has been used by government officials and big businesses to pave the way for their so-called developmental projects. “But UDHA’s existence for the past 20 years did nothing but to further the attacks on the lives and livelihoods of the poor. The law did not serve the people,” Kadamay National Capital Region said in a statement, “It legalized demolitions and was a policy made according to the dictates of foreign investors and local capitalists, which invested in Public-Private Partnership projects.
Visually impaired persons’ share in the struggle
Just like the residents of Freedom Island in Parañaque, a community of persons with disabilities also had to fight for their homes in Quezon City. Escopa in Quezon City has served as home to persons with disabilities since the National Vocational and Rehabilitation Center, a skills training facility, was established there several decades ago.
But from 1988 to 1989, Alecks Diaz of Bayan-Quezon City, said the community was demolished. Residents were relocated in nearby provinces. But as years went on, more and more people started to return to Escopa. In 2001, then president Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo awarded the land to them.
“But the ‘community upgrading,’ which entailed the reblocking and constructing of new roads, resulted in another demolition of their homes,” Diaz said.
“We are not mere things that can be relegated to the periphery,” Elgene Baustista, a visually-impaired person and member of the Social Justice for the Blinds and Other Disabilities, told Bulatlat.com.
The local government, he added, is reportedly planning to construct a medium-rise building to cater to their community. “I doubt if we could pass the requirements to acquire units in the said building. They are asking for our Pag-ibig (a government housing loan agency) membership cards. We do not have one,” he said.
“Development equates to demolition. We need to scrap UDHA because it does not serve the interest of the marginalized,” Bautista said.
However, the threat of demolition is not the only problem they are confronting. Their livelihood is being threatened by the implementation of Administrative Order 0039 of the Department of Health, which requires all masseurs to be licensed. This, in effect, would no longer recognize the training they earlier received from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), a government agency. The new training and examinations would cost about $279 each, a price they could not afford.
“We might be blind or deaf but we can feel what is happening to us. The government has no plans for our welfare,” Bautista said.
UDHA is meant to fail
Progressive urban poor groups has long demanded for the scrapping of UDHA. On March 23, a day before the 20th anniversary of UDHA’s implementation, Kadamay and its local chapters filed a petition before the Supreme Court to issue a writ of prohibition under Rule 65 to prohibit both national and local governments to implement section 28 (a) and (b) of the Republic Act No. 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 on the ground that it is unconstitutional.
The section 28 (a) and (b) of UDHA stipulates that eviction and demolition shall be discouraged unless the “persons or entities occupy danger areas such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways and other public places such as sidewalks, roads, parks and playgrounds” and if “government infrastructure projects with available funding are to be implemented.”
The section 28 (c), the petition added, stipulates that a demolition or eviction could also take place if there is a court order.
“Using section 28 (a) and (b) of RA 7279 as legal basis, the respondents have been conducting evictions of underprivileged and homeless citizens without any court order to that effect,” the petition read, “The Bill of Rights, however, provides that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.'”
Petitioners cited the Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family including food, clothing, housing and medical care the necessary social services…”
The petition also states that demolitions of homes is usually conducted in a “demolish first hear later” practice. “The portion of Sec. 28 of RA 7279 which allows demolitions without any court order, is therefore violative of the constitutional provision that demolitions shall be conducted in a just and humane manner.”
On these grounds, urban poor dwellers asked the Supreme Court to declare it as unconstitutional. “A writ of mandamus must likewise be issued to compel respondents to observe petitioners’ right to due process in the demolition of the latter’s dwellings.”
Barricades will remain strong
Carlito Badion, co-convenor of the Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon, said the filing of petition before the Supreme Court to declare UDHA as unconstitutional is only one of the means to stop the demolitions and evictions of homes that the urban poor is confronting nationwide. According to the Demolition Watch Network, there are about 16,000 urban poor in Metro Manila alone who are victims of violent demolitions under President Benigno S. Aquino III.
“We remain strong in defending our homes through our barricades,” Badion said. He told Bulatlat.com that they will continue their barricades because they have no illusion that declaring UDHA as unconstitutional will completely stop demolitions. “But it would be of great help in our fight. And we want it scrapped because it serves as a leeway for big corporations to continue committing injustice to the urban poor.”
Joy Lumawod, chairperson of Kadamay-NCR, said, “It is clear that the current government has no plans for development that include the poor.” He added that the government’s development projects have, instead, destroyed the lives and livelihood of Filipinos to promote the interests of foreign investors.
These government projects include the constructions of the North Bay Boulevard Business Park in Navotas, the National Government Center and the Central Business District in Quezon City, the MRT 7 extension in Pangarap Village, among others.
Gloria Arellano, Kadamay national secretary general, said Aquino has no reason to stay in the palace. “President Aquino is highly incapable of leading this nation as his administration remains subservient to the dictates of big foreign and local business men,” she said, “Battered by the chronic crisis, the urban poor do not see any reason for his continued stay in the palace.”