While the investigation into the death of two residents took a year to begin, the fight of the community to prevent the Araneta family from evicting them continues.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – A year after Rommel Fortades and Soliman Gomez were killed, the Department of Justice would finally begin its preliminary investigation.
“There is a sense of relief that the case will finally move again even if I know that after all these hearings they could never bring back my husband’s life. My husband was killed and I would never let it go without a fight,” Teng Sevilla, Fortades’ wife, said.
Fortades and Gomez were killed when an allegedly drunk security guard of the Araneta family’s Carmen Development Inc. opened fire at the protesting residents who were protecting their homes from demolition. Six were injured that day.
Since then, the families they left behind and their supporters have been searching for justice. They are up against Gregorio Araneta, a member of one of the wealthiest and landed clans in the country.
Sevilla said they filed the same affidavits that were used in the preliminary hearing in the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City.
“Even if there is little hope, we are still going to fight in case we get lucky enough to win this case,” Martha, sister of Fortades, said.
Preliminary hearing stalled at local court
The Office of the City Prosecutor in Caloocan City was already conducting a preliminary investigation when the respondents asked to move the case to the Department of Justice. On July 24, the families of the victims appeared before the state prosecutor of the Department of Justice to submit their affidavits.
In a letter of the respondents dated October 14, 2011, they asked the Office of the City Prosecutor in Caloocan City to transfer the preliminary investigation to the Department of Justice “on account of political pressure that could influence this investigation,” referring to the “hostile and abusive behavior of the complainants, their witnesses and their support group.”
In a separate letter to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima dated September 19, 2011, the respondents further defined the supposed political pressure when the complainants and their support group were overheard that they would be asking “Caloocan Mayor Recom Echeverri, Rep. Oca Malapitan and Bayan Muna Representatives, particularly Hon. Satur Ocampo to ensure that all of us respondents would be convicted of charges.
The letter also stipulated that there were too many supporters wearing Bayan Muna shirts during the hearing at the Caloocan City justice department. It added that they were the same Bayan Muna organizers who allegedly fueled the violence.
“It is not part of our orientation to instigate violence. It was part of the people’s decision to fight by forming a barricade. It is not the people’s fault if their efforts were met with violence from the part of the respondents,” Dondon Martelino of Bayan Muna said.
“It feels like we are back to stage one,” Alissa, one of Gomez’s daughters, said.
“The longer this whole process is going to be, the more that we feel helpless. Sometimes I think that this case will not do anything good to us. But I would never lose hope,” Sevilla said.
“We are very sad because of how slow justice is grinding for us. We already commemorated their first death anniversary and yet we are still on the preliminary investigation,” Martha said.
Missing Mel and Sol
Sevilla and her family and friends attended mass on Fortades’ first death anniversary last July 23. She was assigned to read the bible readings and could not help but cry.
“We were crying. All along people thought that we have moved on. But it would never happen. The nature of their death is very hard to accept. Their case is still not moving,” Martha said.
Martha said she misses her “favorite brother” very much.
“He was a bright student. He even received a scholarship when he was in college. He won writing competitions here and there. Our bonding is to watch movies together,” she said, “Even when he got married, he still spends time with me.”
Alissa, for her part, said she was not home when her father Gomez was killed.
“I was at my boarding house at that time. I was deeply hurt when I got the text message that my father is gone. When I reached the hospital, I saw that my mother was crying,” Alissa said, “I decided that I should be strong for them.”
After her father’s death, Alissa said there are people who are harassing their family. “Strangers are roaming near our house even if it is already at the wee hours of the day,” she said, “We are very cautious when it comes to our safety.”
Her mother Catalina started a small cafeteria, which is open on weekends only. “It is papa’s dream to have a cafeteria so we continued it,” she said.
“Our mother is always sad. But she knows she has to be strong for her children. I know that she is the most affected compared to all of us. Me and my siblings and cousins would always cheer her up,” Alissa said.
Alissa vows to remain strong now that there is a progress on her father’s case. “I am very short-tempered person. But I am learning to be more patient now.”
The fight for the people’s claim for the disputed lands of Pangarap Village continues. Martelino of Bayan Muna said residents have recently secured a temporary restraining order against the Araneta’s impending plan to stop public utility vehicles from entering the village.
Pangarap Village was originally distributed under the late president Ferdinand Marcos’ Presidential Decree 293. Among those who benefited from the government’s “land for the landless” project then were government employees working for Malacañang and urban poor families who bought small parcels of land.
The Supreme Court, under former President Corazon Aquino, declared in 1988 P.D. 293 as null and void. Residents have been fighting for their right to the land since then. Their leaders, however, described their struggle as an “on and off” fight with the Araneta family. In 2010, the landed family has renewed their efforts to drive away the residents along side with the news that the government is planning to build an MRT Line 7, a rail system project amounting to $1.12 billion.
The Araneta family is reportedly eyeing Pangarap Village for future investments.
Martelino said efforts to ban public utility vehicles from entering the community are part of the plan to drive away the residents from their homes. But the residents, he said, is determined to fight for their right.
Sevilla, for her part, called on President Aquino to look into their case. “I hope that he would be fair and he would take notice of the struggle that we are in. We are up against a big person. They are no ordinary people.”