“We hope our politicians learn their lessons and look closely at the plight of the poor. We are Filipinos.”
By JOMARI ALEJANDRO A. HERRERA III
MANILA – At least 180 families have lost their homes to demolition yesterday, Oct. 10, on World Homeless Day, in an urban poor community in Pasay City.
At 8 a.m. yesterday, more than 30 personnel of the demolition team accompanied by police officers and a SWAT team with high-powered firearms, began demolishing the houses, reportedly per a court order from the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 46, Pasay City signed by Judge Eduardo Cruz Solangon Jr.
Bulatlat obtained a copy of the writ of demolition and the notice of relocation, all of which were dated last year. However, the residents said their own barangay officials, who signed the documents showed by the sheriff, told them nothing about the relocation nor about details of the case.
Houses were fenced by the demolition team to keep residents from returning for their belongings. At around 5 p.m. the demolition team began leaving the compound with the street filled with appliances, clothes, and pets and residents who have nowhere else to go.
Karla Bautista, a resident and local community leader of Ignacio St., Pasay City, said, “They showed us documents but they did not allow us to read it. Residents thought they were just trying to intimidate us. We never thought (they were going to demolish our homes) for real.”
Police officers were seen in the vicinity of the compound in the evening of Oct. 9, but residents assumed that they were just intimidating them into leaving their homes, which, by then, people of Ignacio St. are used to.
As of now, only 10 houses remain in the community. Some of the residents had hired trucks to bring their household materials to their nearby relatives, while some plan to remove the barricades and reclaim their houses once more.
This community sat in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Pasay City. The people’s collective memory reveals it has withstood at least two colonizers – American and Japanese. But yesterday’s demolition proved to be its biggest fight.
Residents said people have been occupying the land along the now-FB Harrison St. as early as the 1900s.
Japanese garrisons and industrial companies were once built near the community and its proximity with Manila Bay makes it a suitable place for people working in the capital, even before 1946.
Nowadays, the community is surrounded by an automobile showroom, manpower agencies, and religious institutions.
Demetrio Pascua Jr, one of the elders of the community, told Bulatlat that he and his family have been living along Ignacio St. since the 1950s. His family settled in the area immediately after the Second World War and already found people living in that part of Manila.
Demetrio said their eldest resident, 80-year-old Lilia Campos, has been residing in their community since the 1940s.
Residents said threats of demolition and even offers of relocation have been offered to the community. However, no housing program actually materialized for the people of Ignacio.
They were once again threatened to be removed from their residences as news of demolition started to spread last August. A private company filed an eviction case against the residents after it allegedly purchased the area in the barangay where the houses of at least 180 families were situated.
Negotiations between village officials and the private company Harmonic Seven Incorporated have apparently been ongoing since 2016. Residents, however, were not informed by the Barangay Council nor the Homeowners Association, abandoning the pleas and struggle of its residents.
“It all began in December 2016. (Barangay Captain Antonio Arguelles) told us not to accept any letters (concerning the land). It appeared that we never received the demand letters. It was in 2018 when they filed a case against us,” said Perlita Campos, resident of Ignacio since 1981.
On August 16, representatives of the Barangay Council, Homeowners Association, Urban Development and Housing Office (UDHO) of the local government, and the private company held a meeting agreeing to a 45-day deadline before demolition is to be implemented.
Mabel Bonifacio, a resident of Ignacio for 30 years, said the people panicked, wondering why they suddenly have a 45-day deadline.
Residents were only given until Sept. 27, the week of their barangay fiesta, to self-demolish their houses. This will supposedly entitle them to a P55,000-compensation.
But Campos added that the barangay will deduct P5,000 for “tax.”
Instead of conducting a public hearing to discuss the issue, village officials hired a demolition team, usually backed with police officers every time they are in the community, “even when the agreement was to “self-demolish,” Campos said.
The village officials’ apparent negligence pushed concerned residents to re-establish the Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Makakapitbahay, a neighborhood organization of Barangay 73, electing Bautista as the president.
They immediately sought help from the Public Attorney’s Office but the barangay did not issue a certificate of indigence, a requirement to avail of their free legal assistance.
Residents said village officials only released their certificate of indigence after they exposed their plight in a radio program.
Community continues to fight
The days leading to the demolition, where they were forced to endure daily threats and intimidations, had a toll on their mental wellness.
“We were so rattled. Our chickens were living way better than us. We could hardly sleep and eat. It was impossible not to be stressed about it,” said Bonifacio.
Even the children were affected.
“I overheard one kid say: let’s play now because we only have until September 27,” she said.
As the deadline drew near, the residents conducted series of activities to show their united stand. They turned their barangay fiesta, September 29, into a community project with the theme “#PyestaProtesta” with their banderitas as a symbol of their defiance to the demolition threats despite the absence of their local barangay officials. A picket protest was even held last September to show their firm and strong stand against demolition.
Residents also conducted a silent protest at the Pasay City Hall during a dialogue with the Office of the Mayor, where they were told that the local government could not lift a finger to help them, said Campos.
With the surprise demolition yesterday, people not only lost their homes but their income and even the education of their children as well.
“We were given P50,000. But where can that take us?” asked vendor Buda dela Cruz.
Local government officials, including those from the village, have remained mum on the issue.
The sheriff serving the court order told Bulatlat that case is “already way past the negotiation stage” and that the local government should be recognized for extending financial support.
Local community leaders remain hopeful that the local government unit will stand with its people.
Demetrio said, “we hope our politicians learn their lessons and look closely at the plight of the poor. We are Filipinos. We are not foreigners in our country. We will fight for our right to remain here.”