“The demands of the residents are legitimate and the local government unit as well as the national agencies concerned with housing programs could have engaged the residents in a more extensive and comprehensive dialogue so that violence could have been prevented.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – “Armie,” 28 (name withheld upon request) has been living at the east bank road of Manggahan Floodway since she was three years old. She does not recall any disaster that has destroyed their community. She said their area has remained standing even after Typhoon Ondoy’s massive devastation in 2009. In fact, she said, other residents in nearby areas even evacuated to the Floodway. That is why, she said, they can attest that their community is not a danger zone.
The east and west embankments of the Manggahan Floodway were occupied by the urban poor for several years now, among them Armie and her family. After Typhoon Ondoy, she said, the local government offered relocation to the families occupying the Floodway because the area has been declared a danger zone. But prior to that, during the past administrations, there were socialized housing projects in the area, which required that the Floodway be cleared.
The residents are asking President Duterte to award the land they currently occupy. They said the relocation site offered to them in far-flung Calauan, Laguna is not suitable for them who have to struggle every day for a living.
Last Monday, Sept. 4, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, National Anti-Poverty Commission chairperson Liza Maza and Balikwas-Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) leader Rodrigo Villareal held a press conference in Sta. Lucia village, Floodway East Road Bank, Pasig where Maza received the letters of the residents for President Duterte.
Housing projects for whom?
Since the administration of President Fidel Ramos, the residents of Manggahan Floodway faced threats of eviction because of the government’s socialized housing projects.
In 1994, Ramos issued Proclamation No. 458 which reserved certain parcels of land situated along the Manggahan Floodway for socialized housing development. The ownership of the land was then transferred to the National Housing Authority (NHA) and declared that the land is open for disposition to the qualified beneficiaries of Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.
In 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation No. 1160, which also reserved 20 parcels of land, also in the same area. This was for the construction of a medium-rise, socialized and low-cost housing project for the benefit of some 6,700 urban poor families and the deserving landless-homeless employees of the Rizal provincial government.
As early as 2008, Bayan Muna partylist solons have already filed a House Resolution directing the Committee on Housing and urban Development to conduct an immediate inquiry into the proposed implementation of the housing project along the east and west embankments of the Manggahan Floodway. The project was called “Home Along the Floodway.”
The House Resolution cited the opposition of Ugnayan ng Maralita sa Manggahan Floodway (Umalma) to the construction of the project saying that it will displace the residents. There is also no program for relocation of the families that will be affected once the construction pushed through.
A few years later, the residents are again being driven away from their dwellings without proper relocation.
Rodrigo Villareal, leader of Balikwas-Kadamay in Pasig said the local government has been pushing to clear the Floodway to make way for the said projects. He said the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) issued a demolition order, which expired on Aug. 30, prompting them to barricade the road to stop the planned demolition.
He added that the Aug. 31 violent dispersal would not have happened if Pasig City Mayor Robert Eusebio have granted their request for a dialogue. But it was denied.
“If there is really no demolition that day, the mayor should have granted our request and told us that there will be no demolition. But he instead sent the police over to our community,” he told Bulatlat in an interview.
The housing crisis
Maza said the Floodway residents current condition reflects the past administrations failure to address mass housing woes. She said the onsite relocation that the residents clamor for should be heeded because their livelihood is located in the city.
She said houses in relocation sites, which are substandard, are mostly far from the city center, making livelihood difficult for them. She said relocation sites should not only be durable, but livelihood should also be accessible.
“That is why most of those who moved in the relocation sites keep on coming back to the city,” she said.
Armie, for one, returned to Floodway after her family relocated in Calauan, Laguna in 2010. She said the relocation is far from her school making it difficult for her parents to budget their income. She then decided to stay with her aunt in Binangonan, Rizal during the weekdays and come home to Laguna on weekends.
“It was difficult to commute back and forth,” she told Bulatlat in an interview.
They decided to move back to their old home in Floodway after her niece had an accident at home, injuring her head after falling down the stairs. They rushed her to a hospital which is also far from their house. However, the hospital also lacked equipment. She said they had no choice but to transport her niece to a hospital in the city.
“Yun ang mahirap kasi kung irerelocate nila yung mga tao dapat may i-ensure nila yung kabuhayan at hospital. Hindi yung malayo na pangkabuhayan mo wala pang hospital, balewala rin mamamatay din yung tao dun sa pinaglipatan,” she said. (They should ensure the livelihood and hospital in the relocation sites. It will be useless if sources of livelihood and hospitals are too far, we’ll die.)
Villareal also decried the substandard low-rise building along the Floodway area which was being offered to the residents. He said he had visited some units and saw that the walls are only made of cyclone wires stuffed with styrofoam and then given a smooth finish with cement.
“It’s more dangerous to live there,” he told Bulatlat.
Maza said someone has been raking profits in the relocation site. “They want to relocate the people in a place that is not safe to live in. It seems that someone is making money here,” she said during the press conference.
After the violent dispersal of the barricade last Aug. 31, Armie said, the police conducted a hot pursuit operation which lead to the arrest of more than 40 people, 10 of them, minors.
The 31 adults are detained at Eastern Police District Headquarters, while the minors are in Bahay Aruga youth home also in Pasig.
She said even days after the dispersal, barangay tanods (village patrols) still roamed the area. “We are worried they might grab anybody, just like what they did to those who were arrested,” she said.
Elago and Maza called for the release of the arrested, especially the minors who were reportedly beaten up inside the Bahay Aruga.
The relatives of the detained adults also reported inhumane treatment inside prison. A woman whose husband is among the detained complained of the takal system. She said visitors are being charged P50 ($1) per visit, and if they failed to pay, the jail guard strikes the detainee. She laments that she is now having difficulty putting food on the table because their sole breadwinner is currently detained, let alone spend money just to visit her husband.
Maza said those who were arrested should be immediately released since they are only fighting for their right to housing.
Villareal also vowed to fight for their right to housing and pointed out Duterte’s earlier pronouncement that there will be “no demolition without relocation.”
The Makabayan bloc has filed House Resolution 1265 to probe the violent dispersal by the Philippine National Police of the residents of Manggahan Floodway.
“The demands of the residents are legitimate and the local government unit as well as the national agencies concerned with housing programs could have engaged the residents in a more extensive and comprehensive dialogue so that violence could have been prevented,” the resolution read.