Urban poor leader killed to pave way for ‘development project’

“Before her killing, Malou had already been receiving threats to her life. But she set those threats aside. She knew that threats, harassments and death are part of her fight against evil.” – Ecumenical Bishops Forum


MANILA – “We are not okay,” Jomar, 16-year-old son of slain urban poor leader Marilou Valle, said. He misses his mother very much, “My other siblings are afraid. But I am not. My mother is a fighter so we should continue what she has started.”

Valle was killed in front of her house in SitioDamayan in Tondo, Manila on July 22, 2012, a day before President Benigno “Noynoy” C. Aquino III delivered his third state of the nation address. She was 43 years old.

Jeorge de Jesus, her husband, said the killing of Valle is politically motivated as the suspects have long been threatening his wife, her family and members of their organization for their “consistent and very strong opposition in anti urban poor activities which the suspects Ben and RaffyTejas are doing.”

Valle is the president of their local organization Samahan sa Sitio Damayan ng Nananambakan.

“We believe that the killing of my wife Marilou Valle is due to her active leadership in the struggle for the welfare of the urban poor,” De Jesus said, adding that Valle actively opposed anti-poor activities and programs.

“Right now the whole community of sitio Damayan in Tondo is under the martial rule of Ben Tejas and RaffyTejas,” the suspect in Valle’s killing,“as they continue to threaten the whole family and the community,” de Jesus said, adding that the suspect said they are “going to kill and wipe out their family and the members of Anakpawis and Kadamay.

Selfless leader

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum commended Valle for “unselfishly dedicating her life to the least of the Lord’s brothers and sisters at SitioDamayan, Smokey Mountain II, Vitas Tondo, Manila notwithstanding her full knowledge of the dangers of what she was doing.”

“While we laud Malou for her dedication and courage, we condemn the act of killing of this God’s saint. And we call for justice for Malou. Let the perpetrators of this heinous crime suffer the consequences of their criminal acts,” the EBF said in a statement.

The National Housing Authority (NHA) has already conducted a census of families who would be affected by the demolition. As newly elected president of their local organization Samahan sa Sitio Damayang Nanambakan, Valle distributed leaflets in order to explain their impending situation. Village officials, however, denied such news.

But in a letter of NHA General Manager Chito Cruz to Bishop Elmer Bolocon, executive secretary of the EBF, he said that the area occupied by the informal settlers is a portion of the Vitas Reclamation and Industrial Areas in Vitas, Tondo.

“It is covered by a project and loan agreement with the World Bank. NHA was mandated to reclaim and develop the area pursuant to Executive Order 1086 into a port-oriented commercial and industrial area,” the letter read.

The NHA is currently reviewing proposals from interested parties and there is a need to effectively and carefully manage, coordinate and solicit all efforts of stakeholders to ensure the peaceful and orderly relocation and resettlement of the families affected thereat,” the letter added.

Valle, the EBF added, all the more earned the respect of her neighbours when she campaigned for the democratization of dumping of garbage in their area, saying that it should not only be controlled by the few but should be open to all residents who wish to earn a living from gathering scraps.

She also facilitated efforts to have legitimate water and electricity connections available in their community.

Untimely death

Valle’s effort to advance the interests of the people has also made her earn enemies in their community.

“Before her killing, Malou had already been receiving threats to her life. But she set those threats aside. She knew that threats, harassments and death are part of her fight against evil,” the EBF said in a statement.

Members of the Tejas family, whom Jomar said he saw killed his mother, were among those who are not in favor of Valle’s efforts to empower the community. De Jesus said there were several occasions when their local organization “clashed with the self-vested interests of the Tejas family.”

The Tejas family, de Jesus said, were paid by a private company in charge of the garbage dump in their community to drive residents away. “They scared them to death. Members of their family would sometime fire indiscriminately at residents. Some families left because they did not want to risk their lives but we campaigned against it.”

Naturally, de Jesus said, their organization was against the efforts of the Tejas family.

De Jesus said the Tejas family has earned a notorious reputation in the community. So in the last elections, they did not support them. “Why are we going to vote for them? They did not do anything good for our community,” he said, adding that RaffyTejas is allegedly involved in illegal activities such as gambling and heads a group of petty thieves in Metro Manila. But, he said, they were never jailed because there are rumors that police officials are backing them up.

“Who in their right mind would support these people?”

“They lost the elections and they were angry at us. They said we campaigned against them,” de Jesus said.

But the most recent incident involving them and the Tejas family occurred during the build-up activities of their organization in preparation for International Women’s Day on March 8. Members of Kadamay then gave away leaflets inviting residents to come and join them in the street march. Some were allegedly given to residents who were living withinthe Tejas’s family’s stronghold.

On March 4, 2012, Raffy, Conchita, Benjamin and Sonny Tejas went to their homes. Some aimed their guns at Valle and her children. A few days later, Valle filed a case against the Tejas family, some of whom are village watchmen, before the City Hall of Manila.

Since then, when members of the Tejas family are drunk, de Jesus said, they would roam near their house. “But Malou never thought of retreating from the case. She was the kind of person who would finish what she had started, especially when she knew that what she was doing was right.”

On the day that Valle was killed, de Jesus said, his wife was busy going from one house to another to invite their neighbors to join them in the protest action against Aquino’s third state of the nation address. It was their son Jomar who saw her mother killed. He said he also saw Ben and Raffy Tejas, both village officials, as those who killed his mother.

It took the police two hours to respond to the killing. Some of their neighbors wanted to bring Valle to the hospital but Ben Tejas threatened them, saying that he would shoot anyone who would try to get Valle.

“They did not want the people to be organized because the community would surely fight against them,” de Jesus said.

De Jesus said Valle was a very thoughtful wife. “She took care of our children very well. She was always energetic and cheerful.”

Energetic and funny

Joy Lumawod of Kadamay-National Capital Region said Valle was a big loss to the urban poor struggle for homes and livelihood. He regarded her a “mobilizer.”

“Whenever she said that we have to go out on the streets because we have a protest action to hold, people would go out and follow her. Residents have high regards for her,” Lumawod said.

“She is still young and could do so much more in serving her fellow urban poor,” he added.

But above all, Lumawod said, Valle always had a smile on her face, which made it easy for people to get along with her.

“She told people not to worry about things. Residents would go to her to ask for her guidance from their smallest to their biggest problems like where to ask for help when someone is sick or dead,” Lumawod said.

International Women’s Development Agency program manager Cirila Limpangog said Valle was “gentle and friendly in her approach despite the life-threatening and often deprecating issues she and her comrades presented.”

In 2003, Limpangog joined an out-of-school youth-based program in the community. “Her name came up again, as a cherished community ‘parent,’ and as a church volunteer. I stumbled upon her door one day to ask for water. She didn’t only give me water, but coffee, too, to my delight. Although it was a fleeting moment and I didn’t get the chance to know her up close, I will always remember her warmth and genuine hospitality,” she said.

Asked how he felt when his wife was killed, de Jesus said, he was agnry. “We are going to pursue this case because they claimed my wife’s life.”

Search for justice

Valle is the 100th victim of extrajudicial killing under the administration of Aquino, Kadamay-NCR said. “In the National Capital Region, she is the 8th victim of political killings. All of the victims of killings were very active in opposing demolition of homes under the Public Private Partnership Program of Aquino.”

The group added that Valle was one of the urban poor leaders in Tondo who strongly opposed the Manila North Harbor Privatization and the reclamation of Manila Bay.

On August 1, De Jesus and son Jomar formally filed a case before the city prosecutor of Manila. They hope to get justice for the killing of Valle.

As for the community, Lumawod said, there is a seeming martial rule being implemented by the Tejas family. “There are several threats such as killing all members of Valle’s family, killing of new faces in their community,” referring to members of Kadamay and other progressive groups, “and to throw a grenade at the funeral.”

Lumawod said that for security reasons, the family decided not to hold the wake in their homes. Most of them have not even gone back to their home since Valle was killed.

With this, he called on President Aquino to quickly act on the killing of Valle. “Arrest and hold Ben and RaffyTejas accountable for this crime, investigate village officials for their inaction on the case, assign new police to the police station in their community and review policies on accrediting barangay tanods or village watchmen are among our demands,” he said, “Stop the killings.”

If truth be told, de Jesus said, he is running out of patience waiting for “due process.” He added that, “you know how it is in this country. Justice grinds very slowly. But we would never give up.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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