For casinos, urban poor community faces more threats

Photo by Jomari Alejandro III Herrera/Bulatlat

The occupants decried the government’s prioritization of commercial and business ventures instead of housing projects for the poor despite ongoing negotiations between the agencies and the community.

By JOMARI ALEJANDRO III HERRERA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Tensions have risen these past few weeks at the disputed Sitio San Roque as commercial interest claims portions of the 256 hectares of land of the urban poor residences.

Since 2008, reports of demolition, and deployment of private guards have been reported from the area. Harassment, threats, intimidation, and a number of controversial fire incidents have plagued the locals. Since then, members of the community have gathered into organizations, lobbied and dialogued with officials, tapped other organizations, and brought their demands to the streets and gates of government offices.

Photo by Jomari Alejandro III Herrera/Bulatlat

Last May, parents, children, elders, supporters, and community members of Sitio San Roque picketed in front of the Quezon City Hall while officials held a dialogue inside the compound with the representatives of the entire community. Local leaders are calling for their right to affordable housing, in-city development, and a stop to all forms of demolition in the area.

This is not their first engagement with the local government unit and national agencies.

For years, the residents of San Roque are living on high alert as the local government and private corporations eye their area located at the heart of the North Triangle where the Quezon City Central Business District (QCBD) is targeted to rise. The project is a joint venture of the National Housing Authority (NHA), the Quezon City Government, and the Ayala Corporation that aims to transform the area into condominiums and commercial and amusement establishments- all at the expense of those who reside at San Roque.

Photo by Jomari Alejandro III Herrera/Bulatlat

But as the informal settlers stand their ground on their right to affordable housing, presence of uniformed personnel and fear-mongering intensifies.

This time around, Sitio San Roque faces new problems as NHA sets up fences around Area J1 and J2, the zone where Ayala’s Solaire Casino is proposed to be established.

The NHA and hired guards allegedly set up these fences to keep the people from coming back to their already demolished homes.

The occupants decried the government’s prioritization of commercial and business ventures instead of housing projects for the poor despite ongoing negotiations between the agencies and the community.

The place has been pestered by private guards in recent months allegedly threatening the villagers. Some residents even claimed that the guards were seen illegally demolishing some of the houses despite the fact that demolitions are conducted only by government officials. Guards were also seen patrolling around the area to stop the residents from bringing in construction supplies to rebuild their houses.

Moreover, the residents also called for an end to the self-demolition scheme that the agencies have been using. San Roque residents are being offered P32,000 in exchange for leaving their houses with the promise of better housing. According to Estrelita Bagasbas, San Roque resident and vice chairperson of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), almost a thousand members of their community who accepted the offer got only P5,000 and houses in Pingkian with neither water nor electric supply. One of the villagers even reported through Save San Roque Alliance that her house was demolished last January a day after she received the notice for demolition.

Photo by Jomari Alejandro III Herrera/Bulatlat

“They should stop the threats of the guards. They have been offering P32,000, accompanied by threats that if we don’t accept it, they would give it to the police to demolish our homes and forcibly evict us. It hurts us that we are being shooed away like animals,” Bagasbas said.

Bagasbas said in a statement that the right to housing is a human right and the government agencies should not be against but rather support victims of demolition.

Most of the residents of Sitio San Roque are products of internal migration from poor and undeveloped agricultural areas in the countryside, pushing them to search for meager jobs in the city.

Currently, the residents along with supporters from the youth, artists, and professionals in Save San Roque Alliance have been forwarding a community development plan that they would forward to the Quezon City local government. The plan aims to incorporate the development of the area along with the welfare of the residents of Sitio San Roque.

They are also challenging Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte to fulfill her promise of in-city housing and her support for genuine community development, not forced eviction. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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