By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The residents of Guatemala St., Brgy. San Isidro, Makati City are up for a showdown with the demolition team of the local government and against elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on September 19.
After failing to convince, harass or pressure the urban poor residents of the 800-square meter street in one of the country’s richest cities earlier in August, the Makati City government has issued an ultimatum that Sept. 19 will be the final deadline for the residents to leave.
According to reports from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in the National Capital Region (NCR), the last few days has seen strangers passing through riding on motorcycles and “casing-out” the community. Last Sept. 5, one such group of men, five of them, passed through on motorcycles, short firearms visibly strapped to their waists.
In preparation for Sept. 19, Bayan-NCR and the residents under the Guatemala Neighborhood Association (GNA), as well as supporters from urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayan Mahihirap (Kadamay-NCR), have prepared a series of activities to help strengthen the community’s resolve to resist the threat of demolition.
Paolo Quiza, Bayan-NCR deputy secretary-general said that on Sept. 16, the Brgy. San Isidro church will sponsor a mass in support of the residents. The following day, Sept. 17, the community will sponsor a solidarity cultural night where various cultural groups in the NCR will perform for the residents and declare their unity for the community’s campaign for decent housing.
“We are doing the best that we can to help the residents. They’re determined to stay and defend their homes, and we can do no less but to help them with this. They see no reason to trust the Makati government’s promise that the housing project in Calauan, Laguna is a good one and will help them make their lives better. After all, they have seen for their own eyes that there is really no housing project there — no actual erected houses, no electricity, no water supply,and worst of all, no employment opportunities. Here in Guatemala St, at least they have houses even if, to the city government, the houses are little more than messy bird cages. At least here, they have jobs, they can send their children to school, and they don’t have to rely on the charity or pity of the government,” said Quiza.
Quiza said they are hoping against hope that the Makati government will reconsider its plans and find a different lot where it can build a new barangay hall and sports complex.
“But if it insists on the demolition operations, it will be met with strong resistance. For the sake of the scores of children here, many of them only a few months old, we hope that the Makati PNP and the demolition team will not resort to violence and instead respect the human rights of the residents. We don’t want any violence to erupt; we are all for a peaceful resolution to this issue. We appeal to whatever sense of humanity the officials of Makati City have and move their project elsewhere where no urban poor community needs to be destroyed and where no urban poor resident will be rendered homeless and jobless,” he said.
GNA president Lito Ojos, in the meantime, has pointed out that the Makati government’s reasons for wanting their houses demolished were “cruel and hypocritical.”
“The Makati government under Mayor Binay considers urban poor residents as eyesores. That is the main reason why it wants all residents like us in Guatemala St to be driven out of Makati and relocated to the provinces. Our community is not even seen by the rest of Makati — we’re hidden behind big warehouses, tucked away in Brgy. San Isidro in an area where there is no major traffic at all. We don’t pose a threat to anyone; we don’t live in a danger zone like a floodway or bridge. The Makati authorities want us removed only because they just don’t like the poor. They’re building a sports complex here, how is that for twisted priorities? They can build low-cost housing projects for the urban poor like us, but they would rather build a new barangay hall and a sports complex,” he said.
An NCR-based urban poor support group Demolition Watch said many human rights violations have already been committed against the residents of Guatemala St. such as the right to adequate housing; to an adequate standard of living; to access to safe drinking water and sanitation; to a safe and healthy environment; to affordability in housing, such that other basic needs are not threatened or compromised; to freedom from discrimination in access to housing and related services based on sex, race and ethnicity, or any other status; to choose one’s residence, to determine where and how to live and to freedom of movement; and the right to protection from forced evictions and the destruction or demolition of one’s home including in situations establishment and construction of alien settlements, population transfer, and development projects.
What went on before
On June 7, 2012, the residents received a notice of demolition and eviction from the City Engineer’s Office led by engineer Nelson B. Morales.
The notice said residents should prepare for demolition and eviction operations that were supposed to take place from July 16-27, 2012. In place of the residents’ shanties, the city wanted to build a multi-million Barangay San Isidro Community Complex. The demolition, it was also stated, was part of the city government’s Zero Informal Settler Program.
On June 15, Guatemala Neighborhood Association (GNA) president Lino Ojos wrote a letter to Vice president Jejomar Binay and his son iMakati City Mayor Jun-Jun Binay asking them to reconsider the project. It was originally the elder Binay’s project that the incumbent mayor is now bent on implementing.
On July 20, 2012, the residents led by their association attempted to secure an audience with the vice president at his office at the Coconut Palace at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CPP) complex, but they were practically turned away.
In the following days, the residents and supporters from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay-NCR) conducted two meetings on July 23 and 25 at the San Isidro Barangay Hall and the Makati City Hall.
Nothing positive came out of the meetings as officials representing the Makati government insisted that the residents immediately vacate the area and instead take part in the relocation program in Calauan, Laguna province.
From August 22 to 24, members of Philippine National Police (PNP) and the city’s demolition team arrived in the community to implement the notice of eviction. The residents stood firm and said defended their houses. They insisted that, as Makati residents and voters of long-standing, they had rights to demand that the local government provide them with either on-site housing or at the least, let them be.
Many of the residents had been living in Guatemala St. since the 1970s. The lot was formerly a private land but later acquired by the government. Since then, the residents are asking the help of the government to develop the area for their housing. However, the residents experienced constant threats of demolition in 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Women’s institution supports Guatemala St.
The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) has issued a letter of concern to President Benigno Aquino III and the National Housing Authority (NHA) and asked them to go to the aid of some 236 urban poor families in Guatemala St, Makati. The international institution advocating women’s rights said urban poor families’ right to decent housing has long been violated.
In its letter, the APWLD said the national government should stop the eviction plans and focus on helping urban poor families to develop their community. It also said the government should provide the residents with decent work or employment opportunities.