By IGAL JADA SAN ANDRES
MANILA – I remember an article I wrote for one of my Journalism classes way back in September of 2010. An electric post belonging to Meralco caught fire in Pook Ricarte that week because it was overloaded. Residents affected by the widening project in Magsaysay Avenue leading to Katipunan Avenue were displaced from their homes and had no choice but to tap electricity from other posts. Being very old, the post began to produce sparks Sunday night and finally caught fire the next night. Meralco authorities were called to fix it after the fire was put out. Their solution was to remove the tapped wires and transfer them to another electric post in nearby Pook Dagohoy. Residents in that area were enraged, because the same thing might happen to them. And although no lives were lost in the Ricarte fire, who knows what could have happened in Dagohoy?
I was not able to follow-up on their situation afterwards, but I heard no news about a fire starting in Pook Dagohoy, thankfully. However, what if another electric post caught fire in Pook Dagohoy and destroyed property, razed houses to the ground, and claimed lives? Who would most likely take the blame? The authorities, for not providing proper housing projects and effective land appropriation schemes? Meralco, for not fixing the posts right?
More likely than not, the settlers would be blamed. The roads are too narrow, they’d say, so the fire trucks couldn’t get through in time. The houses are built very close to each other, and the fire spread quickly.
It is unfortunate to think that authorities would rather have the settlers bear the inconveniences and the dangers of such projects. Initially, they did very little to provide them with the protection and the services they needed, and when they needed to “improve” the land, they would throw them out like dogs, smashing their houses to bits and not even providing them with proper relocation sites.
Recently, I was able to witness the same problems – demolishing and throwing out residents for the sake of “improvement” – all over again while visiting Silverio Compound and the floating houses along Coastal Road in Parañaque City. I saw how difficult the lives of our fellow Filipinos are, especially in the latter area. Because the government plans to reclaim that piece of land, residents will have to be forced to leave. According to our interviewee, this would be the second time they were sent away; the first one was in Tambo, Parañaque.
With the threat of demolition looming above their heads, their lives are made even more uneasy. Aside from having to worry about their daily bread, they live in fear and uncertainty while the government plots behind their backs on which buildings to put up, which foreign businessmen to get as investors, and how they are going to force the residents out of their only means of livelihood.
Furthermore, the relocation sites being offered them are unsatisfactory. Having worked as fishermen all their lives, these residents will have no means of livelihood in Antipolo, which is where the government plans on relocating them. The provision of basic social services is also glaringly absent.
On the same day, I was also able to listen to the story of a female leader in Silverio Compound and how, for the longest time, they had been residing in that area and how they intend to not lose the fight. Business tycoon Henry Sy had reportedly bought the land to build condominium units, and for the project to push through, houses in Silverio Compound have to be demolished.
Thus, threatened, the residents did their best to stop the local government and businessmen from interfering with their land and livelihoods – filing complaints and appeals left and right, joining rallies, and building barricades against the demolition teams.
Some may see it as a losing battle, but the residents of Silverio Compound will, in no way, give up. The land is theirs. They have built their homes and dreams in that place. It is where they grew up, got married, and had children and grandchildren. They will not let it go. The fight will go on, even to their demise.
Both the local and national government need to step up with concrete solutions to combat these ongoing problems. Plans to keep the economy afloat can push through without having to resort to demolitions and such methods. While it is often true that, legally speaking, these settlers do not have the proper papers to prove their ownership of the land, and yet, this battle should no longer be held in court. It is no longer a matter of law, but a matter of rights and humaneness.
A government can be strong without the need to sacrifice its own people, especially those it should first aim to help: the poor.