“I would have never been an activist if the government did not tear down our homes.” — Estrelieta Bagasbas, chairwoman of September 23 Movement
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Estrelieta Bagasbas, a known community leader in North Triangle, recalled how she had a relatively better life before the series of demolitions wreaked havoc in her community.
On that fateful day, she was cooking a meal, which she sells in front of her house. The threat of demolition has been looming for days. She went out to check. And right before her very eyes was the advancing demolition team, hundreds of police anti-riot men, elements of the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat), and members of the Metro Manila Development Authority. Even as the residents put up barricades and tried to fight with stones, their houses were destroyed.
It was state violence against the poorest of the poor, Bagasbas said.
That scene, she said, has changed her in many ways.
“I would have never been an activist if the government did not tear down our homes,” Bagasbas said. She is now chair of the September 23 Movement and spokesperson of the Alyansa Kontra Demolisyon.
This Sept. 26, residents gathered in the afternoon to commemorate the fourth year of the violent demolition of their homes last Sept. 23, 2010. The documentary film Puso ng Lungsod was shown at the latter part of the program.
Since 2008, a series of demolitions of the homes of informal settlers has been paving the way for the Quezon City Central Business District (QCCBD) – a 256-hectare project between the government and giant real estate Ayala Land. The project, which would develop the area into a commercial and residential center, would, ironically, displace thousands of families living in the 30-hectare land, along with government offices. The nearby Philippine Children’s Medical Center is also threatened with eviction.
Bagasbas is one of the 4,000 families who are keeping their ground in North Triangle.
In the latest attempt to convince residents to leave North Triangle, a tarpaulin was posted in front of their community, saying that they may avail of a medium-rise condominium unit in Tandang Sora, Quezon City.
But residents doubt if such really exist as they have been offered various housing projects before — all of which seemed promising, at first.
“Is it for free? If not, can we afford it?” one resident asked.
Bagasbas said that for the past years, the government had offered the relocation site in Rodriguez, Rizal as safe and secure. But the heavy monsoon rains proved otherwise.
“We never experienced that kind of flooding here,” she said.
“They are always claiming that they have projects for our benefit. But have we ever benefited from these projects?” she said, adding that the Aquino government has yet to explain and account where the supposed Informal Settlers Fund was used.
Bagasbas has only the government to thank for the unexpected twist of fate in her life. The more repression she witnesses, the more she is convinced of the need to fight and be an activist.