“The January 27 demolition of homes of the urban poor in the North Triangle was “the most overkill” in the number of police forces deployed, teargas fired and high-powered rifles displayed.” – CTUHR
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Dennis Suarez, 28, is demanding justice for the danger his two-month-old daughter had to go through when she suffocated from the teargas fired by the police during the demolition in North Triangle yesterday, Jan. 27.
“I demand justice for my baby, justice for the livelihoods they destroyed and for our homes they demolished. We were not informed that something like this would happen,” Suarez told Bulatlat.com.
On Jan. 27, around 1,000 police, members of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and demolition team arrived in North Triangle in Quezon City to demolish homes to give way to the 11.3-road widening project along Agham Road.
Using the heaviest force since their first attempt to demolish the urban poor homes, the police broke their way into lines of resisting residents from 9:30 a.m., proceeding with the demolition of homes once they got through, and then restarting the use of force on the residents at 12:30 high noon. Residents fought the canisters of tear gas and warning shots fired by the police with stones and bottles.
Tadeo Palma, secretary to the Office of the Mayor, said in a Manila Standard Today report that about 81 houses were demolished yesterday, Jan. 27. About 100 more are expected to be removed.
Children not spared
Suarez said he brought his baby to a cousin’s house as their home was threatened with demolition. But the canister of teargas thrown by his cousin’s house suffocated his baby who was then sleeping in his cousin’s bedroom.
“My cousin panicked. My baby could not breathe and bubbles were already coming out of her mouth.” The baby was rushed to nearby Philippine Children Medical Center along Quezon Avenue. The baby now had skin rashes.
The baby was discharged from the hospital by 4:00 p.m. on the same day but Suarez was told future check-ups are required.
With Suarez’s two-month old baby, 13 other children were documented by human rights group Karapatan to have suffocated from the teargas. Three elderlies, a pregnant woman and two sick residents were also reported to have suffocated from the teargas.
Couple Brix Mercado and Peng Opable were among those injured after theywere hit by police in civilian clothes inside their house. Another resident was treated for head wounds. He told reporters he was only trying to secure his pedicab when a hurled rock hit his head.
As of 4:00 p.m. Jan. 27, Ghay Portajada of human rights group Karapatan said 13 were arrested during the scuffle, two of them are minors. They also documented 13 children who suffocated from teargas, three old people, a pregnant woman and two sick residents.
Suarez, a resident of North Triangle for nearly 15 years, is furious that their homes were being demolished.
“My other children were traumatized. They cry whenever they see a policeman,” he said.
The Children’s Rehabilitation Center said the violent demolition in North Triangle is traumatic to children.
CRC executive director Jacquiline Ruiz said “this kind of chaotic situation always resulted to trauma, insecurity and uncertainty among children and their families, especially when perpetrators are the person duty-bound to protect and ensure their welfare. The incident clearly points out that policemen have not only destroyed hundreds of houses but also raised terror among the residents, especially children.”
One of the children interviewed by CRC reportedly said, “We are very frightened when we saw the police destroying the houses, firing teargas and even aiming their guns at us.”
“As staunch advocate of children’s rights and welfare, we enjoined the residents of sitio San Roque in their fight to land and decent housing. We urge the government, both city and national, to temporarily halt the demolition and open the door for negotiation and consultation with the affected residents. We also demand the immediate release of the residents and minors illegally arrested and investigate the reported cases of brutality and abuses during the demolition,” Ruiz said.
Protest action barred
In a related development, members of progressive organizations who went to North Triangle on Jan. 28 to express solidarity for those who lost their homes were barred by the police from holding a program along Agham Road.
At around 1:21 p.m., protesters began their program in front of the Office of the Ombudsman but were shoved by the police until they were already in front of the Philippine Science High School. The police continued to advance and push protesters away despite pleas of urban poor leaders to allow them to hold a program.
“Don’t we have a right to freedom of expression anymore?” residents shouted at the police.
Protesters eventually managed to hold a brief program in front of the Philippine Science High School, but surrounded by 300 policemen.
Caloy Delos Santos, a member of the paralegal team documenting the human rights violations in the area, said they saw many policemen in plainclothes and even intelligence officers in the area.
“We identify them because they take lots of pictures of the residents and when asked who they are, they are evasive,” he added.
The demolition team, meanwhile, continued to destroy homes of residents along Agham Road.
The January 27 demolition of homes of the urban poor in the North Triangle was “the most overkill” in the number of police forces deployed, teargas fired and high-powered rifles displayed, said Armand Hernandez, head of the documentation team of Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR). Hernandez was at the area helping the legal team when the demolition was effected. He compared this week’s police force behavior to past demolition attempts to the urban poor community in North Triangle.
He personally witnessed how six burly armed men wearing the black uniform of SWAT, had barged into homes and with much shouting, finger-pointing and training of their high-powered rifles to the shaken residents, including the just awakened children, they drove them out of the house threatening to arrest them.
Hernandez reported that it appears all police departments in Metro Manila sent their police contingents to take part in the demolition. He noted also that all of the arrested were brought directly to Camp Karingal and not to the nearby police station.
Hernandez told Bulatlat.com that even some young activists who sympathized with the urban poor of North Triangle and who joined them for the first time were in tears. Hernandez said, “They can’t believe what they just saw, and that the police are capable of doing that.”