Demolition by fire: burning urban poor communities a government tactic?

Urban poor experiences show: “fire is a primary tactic being used by the state” to demolish the urban poor communities.


Urban poor experiences show: “fire is a primary tactic being used by the state” to demolish the urban poor communities.

MANILA — “I just stood there, crying. I can’t speak. We did not think the fire could grow that huge,” said a still shocked Emma Oblipias, 43, resident of Agham Road in Quezon City. A fire razed houses in their area last Friday, April 20, affecting some 150 families. She and the other residents have set up makeshift shelters on the sidewalk.

Oblipias, a mother of ten, only managed to save her children’s birth certificates, her youngest child’s belongings, and two blankets, before fleeing the spreading blaze.

Others had not been as lucky.

“We could have saved more, but our stuff were stolen,” Maritess San Juan, 41, a mother of two, said. “Now we only have our clothes on.”

Maritess’ house was sat behind the house where the fire allegedly started. “Only one wall separated the two,” she explained. “There was no escaping it.”

The source of the fire, however, remains unclear.

“We don’t know. Some say it was a candle,” San Juan said. The fire began in the middle of the day.

The burnt community is part of the areas targeted for the Quezon City Central Business District; it is thus facing threats of demolition. Six villages would be affected if the project pushes through.

“There had been fires here before, but they were easily contained as they happened only in one house,” Clarissa Rodavia, 57, a community leader in the village, explained. “This is the only time it grew that big. We’re wondering why [it happened].”

According to Rodavia, the estimated worth of damages in the incident is P1.5 million.

In spite of the recent tragedy, the residents have started re-building their houses along Agham Road.

“We will stay here,” San Juan said. “We don’t have a notice of demolition yet.”

Government tactics?

Gilbert Tambirao, a member of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) in nearby Sitio San Roque, warned the Agham Rd. residents that the non-issuance of notices of demolition is just a deception.

“That’s their propaganda: tell you there won’t be a demolition in the area. With that, the people will let down their guard. Then the demolition team will surprise them and they won’t have any plan of action to defend their homes.”

“The local government, the barangay, and NHA (National Housing Authority) are raring to demolish the San Roque area, and the easiest way to do that is to burn down the community,” he said. “With fire, it’s possible that all the houses will be burned in an hour or three … So, burning down the community is the most effective way used by the government [to drive out the informal settlers].”

Richard Chong, chairman of Anakbayan-North Triangle, said that the residents affected by the fire will most likely face demolition soon. Similar fires were observed in communities in Brgy. Central and BIR Road, also in Quezon City.

“[When Brgy. Central was affected by fire], NHA authorities fenced the area the next day. But the people resisted so the NHA let them rebuild their houses. A few days later, the people received a notice of demolition… In the community along BIR Road, the same thing happened. Their houses were destroyed in a fire. A few months later, they received a demolition notice… So fire is a primary tactic being used by the state,” Chong said.

Chong said some provisions of Republic Act No. 7279, or the Urban Housing Development Act (UDHA) of 1992, do not support the rights of marginalized groups such as the urban poor.

Law does not support urban poor

“The Urban Housing Development Act was crafted to help speed up the implementation of state’s projects,” Chong said. Here, “the urban poor will automatically be relocated” if they happen to live on lands where government projects would be located.

“While the residents [of the burned houses] were on the street, representatives of NHA came offering them relocation,” Gilbert Tambirao said. “But the residents rejected relocation. They said they would stay there because that is where they earn their living… Relocation is not a long-term solution to poverty. It is only temporary.”

Since the threat of demolition hangs over the heads of all residents of the burned community along Agham Road, Anakbayan and Kadamay have been striving to form chapters of their orgnizations in the affected area.

Chong urged the community to get organized, which is a necessity, he said. “So that, when the threat comes, they will be ready to defend their community, and they will not just be thrown away to relocation sites where, without livelihood and support services, their life would be even more difficult.” (

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