The struggle against homelessness
Earlier in July, the residents received eviction notices from the local government. The Makati City Urban Redevelopment and Housing Board whose members include the heads of key departments of the city government had passed July 19, 2012 a resolution approving demolition of urban poor houses.
The board said it had complied with requirements of the “Just and Humane Demolition and Eviction” prescribed under Section 28, Pre-location Phase of Republic Act 7279, or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.
The city government through the Makati Social Welfare Department earlier issued the residents three options in exchange for vacating Guatemala Street.
First was the voluntary relocation to a resettlement area in Calauan, Laguna; second was the financial assistance of P24,240 for those who agree to move elsewhere; and third, the free fare and baggage fees and three-day food assistance for those who opt to go back to their provinces.
Majority of the almost 300 families led by the Guatemala Neighborhood Association (GNA) turned down all options, saying they were not options at all. They explained they would rather stay in Makati where they had steady means of income, and where their children were already attending school. The P24,240 assistance, they said, was not enough. Rent alone for a small room costs at least P4,000, and the one month deposit, one-month advance requirement would mean an additional P8,000 which no one from the urban poor community could afford.
Most residents are vendors selling boiled peanuts, boiled corn, sliced pineapple and fish and squid balls. Others are pedicab and jeepney drivers. There are a few who work as employees in fastfood establishments and staff in business offices, but they are minimum wage earners or employed on a contractual basis.
Families have an average of five to six members, with some numbering up to 10 counting the grandparents. There are also many children as young as month-old babies in some families — third generation residents.
As of the last week of August this year, Makati city hall said there will no longer be any demolition in Guatemala St., even if the deadline for voluntary relocation had already lapsed. By September 19, however, news was rife that the demolition would push through.
Fighting off the city government’s demolition, violence, deception
In various media reports, Makati City spokesman Joey Salgado was quoted as saying the city government was saddened by the violence that accompanied the demolition. He alleged that many of those who resisted the demolition were actually just transients while majority of the long-time residents had already agreed to voluntary relocation.
Salgado’s allegation was countered immediately by residents like Mrs. Luisa Abrogar who had lived in Guatemala St. since 1979.
“It’s not true that many of us here are transients. Most of my neighbors are like me who came from Samar and other far provinces and settled here in the late 1970s or early 80s. I met my husband here, and raised our children and even grandchildren here,” she said.
The same I true for Mrs. Maritess Leona, whose husband and eldest son were arrested after the pre-demolition skirmish. She and her husband had lived at Guatemala St. for 25 years and their three children aged 21, 11 and nine had known no other home.
Mrs. Abrogar said she and her husband decided to stay and defy the eviction order of the Makati City hall because they had no choice.
“We had no choice but to stay here and take our chances against the demolition team. We knew that there was no hope for us in the relocation site offered by the city hall in Calauan, Laguna. As for the P24,000 monetary assistance, the handful of our neighbors who agreed to take it did not receive it at all after the first time city hall offered it,” she said.
Mrs. Leona said she had initially wanted to move out after the eviction notice was served in June, but after studying their financial means, there was no way they could survive on P24,000, rent an apartment and still send the two youngest children to school. Her husband was a jeepney driver; she was a homemaker.
In interviews with the media, representatives from Makati City hall said that residents who opted to relocate to Laguna were entitled to free lots measuring 40 to 60 square meters each, food assistance for three days, and access to various income-generating programs like the cash-for-work, food-for-work, capability-building and livelihood programs.
But according to Kadamay NCR, there are already more than 900 families in the Laguna relocation site. Majority of them live in makeshift houses little more than shanties or tents.
While Republic Act 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 allows the eviction or demolition of houses occupying danger areas such as esteros, railroad tracks and waterways, the law also states that resettlement areas for displaced citizens should consider “the degree of availability of basic services and facilities, their accessibility and proximity to job sites and other economic opportunities.”
Former Guatemala St. residents who moved to Calauan have reportedly regretted their decision because they found themselves “on the brink of starvation” in Calauan. There were no employment opportunities. “No houses, no jobs, no food and no future,” is how they described their experience in the site.
Condemnation for the demolition
Cause-oriented and human rights groups immediately condemned the brutality of the demolition, saying the government of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino has little or no solution for the urban poor.
“President Aquino fails to acknowledge the real plight of the millions of underpaid, underworked or jobless urban poor in the country,” said Kadamay secretary-general Gloria Arellano. She also slammed the newly-appointed secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Mar Roxas for failing to come to the aid of the residents of Guatemala Street.
“These life and death issue of demolition operations are what Roxas should be focusing on, instead of attending trade expos in China that will lead to more anti-poor economic projects.”
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Rafael Mariano supported the call of various urban poor groups urging Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on all demolitions in the National Capital Region (NCR) following the Guatemala St. demolition.
The lawmaker urged Sereno to act favorably on the ‘Petition for Prohibition and Mandamus under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court,” filed by the Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon (AKD) last March. Urban poor groups want SC to declare as unconstitutional several provisions of UDHA which Mariano described as the “government’s blueprint for forced evictions and violent demolitions.”
“These violent demolitions must be stopped immediately. UDHA effectively ‘legalized’ violent demolitions and eviction of informal settlers. This law violated significant aspects of the people’s right to adequate housing as reflected in various international documents and in the Philippine Constitution,” said the solon who also authored House Bill 5443 seeking to repeal RA 7279.
“Informal settlers resist demolition and forced eviction because of prevailing profit-driven socialized housing projects promoted by the government. They also resist the absence of basic social and economic services and lack of employment opportunities in resettlement and relocation areas.”
Mariano also called for an investigation on the conduct of the demolition, to determine whether rules of engagement and the human rights of residents had been violated.
In the meantime, Kadamay records state that some 16,000 families have already been rendered homeless due to demolition operations in Aquino government’s first two years. There have also been 10 urban poor residents and urban poor group leaders who fell victims to extrajuducial killings linked to issues of demolition and urban poor concerns.
Former DILG secretary Jesse Robredo had previously ordered a stop to demolition operations, first after the violent December 2010 demolition in North Triangle Quezon City; and the second time after the Silverio Compound demolitions in April this year where a 19-year old resident was shot to death.
As of this writing, many of the former residents of Guatemala St. have taken temporary shelter at a covered basketball court owned by the Brgy. San Isidro Catholic church. Most gave the same bleak answer to queries as to where they will live. Some expressed hopes that relatives in nearby provinces would take them in; others, however, are still at a loss as to where they will move and if they can.
Families with school-attending children struggle to return to normal despite the abnormal circumstances. They get their children fed and dressed in time for school using the small bathroom and kitchen facilities of the church’ sports facility. They say it would be an even greater tragedy to have to pull out their children from school or worse, force them to drop out.
“We will survive this,” said Mrs. Luz Cabos. “There will be many sacrifices, but we’re determined to overcome all this. We will try to stay in Makati. We’re residents here after all, and have been for over 30 years. Our work is here, our entire lives are here. One other thing is also certain: we will not vote for Binay when he runs for re-election. He is clearly an enemy of the poor, and he did not show the least compassion for our children.”