“The government keeps on talking about development. We demand that we be part of that development and not send us off to far-flung relocation sites where there are no livelihoods for us.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Nelly Cuntabay, 42, is worried how their family would move on from the demolition of their community that made them lose not just their home for more than two decades but also their livelihood.
Cuntabay is among the residents of a community along K-9th street in West Kamias who lost their homes to a demolition, supposedly to give way to a road-widening program of the barangay.
Their family owns a small store right in front of the community. They sell viands for a living.
“We sell two to three viands a day. We earn about P200 to P500 a day. It is not that much. But enough to send our children to school,” Cuntabay told Bulatlat.com.
During the wee hours of June 26, 2014, members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit of the Philippine National Police arrived in their community. Residents were told that they received intelligence reports that residents were keeping Molotov cocktail bombs.
Cuntabay said members of SWAT confiscated the bottles they collected.
“We were supposed to sell it that day to augment my children’s allowance. But they took it,” she said, adding that she sells six sacks full of empty bottles for P100.
At around 8:00 a.m. that same day, some 100 policemen and members of the Quezon City Control, Prevention and Removal of Illegal Structures and Squatting unit arrived in the community and forcibly demolished the homes of at least 70 families.
Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon said residents were presented an expired demolition order from the local government of Quezon City.
Cuntabay said there was a brief scuffle between the demolition team and the residents.
“We were informed that structures within three meters from the river would be demolished. That would mean half of my house would be demolished. But they demolished the entire house,” she said.
The demolition of homes in West Kamias is also part of the local government’s so-called Zero Informal Settler Program.
As of this writing, residents who lost their homes to the demolition are staying at the community’s basketball court.
Cuntabay said residents were offered a relocation site in Montalban, Rizal and in Bistekville in Payatas, Quezon City. But affected residents, she added quickly, did not accept the offer as it would bring them away from their sources of livelihood.
Most of the residents, she said, are working at Nepa Q Mart, a nearby market.
Those who earlier signed up for the relocation site in Montalban eventually returned to their community when, back in 2012, their homes were submerged in flood waters due to a strong monsoon rain, Cuntabay said.
Rey Eva, one of the leaders of the residents’ organization K-9 Brgy West Kamias Neighborhood Association, said there is a need to investigate the list of beneficiaries of government housing programs under the National Housing Authority.
The group, in a statement, said that the 40 people who supposedly availed of government housing projects in Bistekville in Payatas and the relocation sites in Rodriguez, Rizal “were not legitimate beneficiaries” as most are “relatives of former and incumbent barangay officials.”
“We have the evidence to back it up,” Eva said.
Cuntabay, for her part, said her family refused to accept the relocation in Rizal due to the reported flooding in the area.
Big funds involved
Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon, in a statement, said “Residents believe that the demolition of the community is in line with a P7.9 million road project of the Barangay Council for the construction of a road that will pass the side of the creek leading to the four-lane Cubao-Kalayaan access road.
In a separate statement, K-9 Brgy West Kamias Neighborhood Association found the proposed budget too big for the construction of the road that is less than a kilometer long.
Eva said the project would not only sweep away their community but would also bring millions of pesos worth of taxpayers’ money into a “potentially corruption-ridden project.”
In 2012, Eva said a report of the Commission on Audit has already asked their village officials to explain how the P5 million budget was spent.
Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon said the government should also be held to account for the P10-billion Informal Settler Fund, a budget released annually since the Aquino government announced its plan to relocate some 20,000 families residing along eight major waterways in Metro Manila back in 2012.
The Informal Settler Fund also figured in the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program. Despite the said funds, Bagasbas said, the government has yet to provide a decent and acceptable relocation program as it continues to offer off-city resettlement areas that are far from their livelihood.
Urban poor group Kadamay has already asked the Commission on Audit to investigate how the ISF was spent and the transaction between the government and construction firms involved in resettlement areas such as New San Jose Builders, owned by Gerry Acuzar, father-in-law of executive secretary Paquito Ochoa.
Cuntabay said residents would continue to demand for an on-site relocation.