By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, residents of sitio Silangan in barangay Talaba VII, Bacoor, Cavite, have more pressing concerns.
Early Sunday, September 27, armed men wearing bonnets entered the community, which had been fighting off attempts of eviction and demolition for the better part of the year. The men approached the protest camp the residents built and removed placards and protest streamers.
This was only the latest attempt in an ongoing series of harassment and threats, which residents claim were being done by private contractors with the aid of police. Two companies are claiming ownership of sitio Silangan.
According to reports by local organization Bagong Silangan, residents have experienced no less than six instances of harassment in the month of September alone; the latest in a year-long struggle which began in October 2019.
On September 11, residents were successful in stopping armed guards from cordoning off a bypass road leading to the sitio, but failed in stopping the construction of a blockade on the main road. Another road on the other side of the sitio was manned by armed guards, who routinely harass residents going in and out of the area.
According to Bagong Silangan, none of the guards wore uniforms or IDs, but identified themselves as acting on orders of a certain Ana Marie G. Pagtakhan, who claims to be a representative of B. E. San Diego, Inc.
Another incident occurred on September 14, when armed guards were intimidating residents and taking pictures. Youth organization Anakbayan Cavite stated that the guards were also acting on Pagtakhan’s orders. Residents managed to drive out the guards from the community, and a protest camp was built.
On September 17, residents received notices of hearing from the Bacoor Municipal Trial Court. Pagtakhan, acting as representative of B. E. San Diego, Inc., charged the residents with estafa and other cases. Bagong Silangan asserts that as early as July 13, the office of the city prosecutor had found no probable cause for the charges.
B. E. San Diego, Inc. was not the only party with interests in Sitio Silangan. On September 21, residents reported two gunshots during a short program to commemorate the 48th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law and to protest the continuing blockade of Sitio Silangan. It was revealed that the guards who fired the shots were hired by a certain Amy Gawaran, representing JSGHM 88888, Inc.
More threats followed the September 21 incident. On September 26, police officers and armed guards made rounds in Sitio Silangan, intimidating residents. One resident was threatened with arrest and criminal charges should they join a protest. Another resident was accused of pushing drugs.
“These scenes only show the desperation these land-grabbers have,” Bangon Silangan said in a statement. “They seek only to harass and intimidate the residents to silence them on the illegal dealings here in Sitio Silangan.”
According to the group, neither Pagtakhan nor Gawaran have “legitimate proof that they were representatives of the corporations they represent.” They also noted that under Republic Act 7279, or the Urban Development and Housing Act, no demolition could occur without “adequate consultations on the matter of resettlement with the duly designated representatives of the families to be resettled and the affected communities in the areas where they are to be relocated”, and without “adequate relocation, whether temporary or permanent.”
Despite the threats, residents of Sitio Silangan are still adamant in asserting their right to land and housing. “We know that we, residents of Sitio Silangan, just like the other residents of Lupang Cuenca in Bacoor and the friar lands in Cavite, have a right to the lands that we cultivated,” read a statement from Bagong Silangan.
Sitio Silangan was part of Lupang Cuenca, a 97-hectare estate which covered most of Bacoor, and was part of Hacienda de Imus, a large friar estate which were owned by the Recollect Franciscans prior to the 1896 Revolution. Brief independence and American colonization dissolved the friar lands, and local families and corporations have since plunged themselves in a legal battle to claim ownership.
Currently, B. E. San Diego, Inc. has made attempts to evict residents from the area. JSGHM 88888 has also stated that they have bought the land from B. E. San Diego, though Bagong Silangan states that neither corporation has “any proof that the Supreme Court awarded them the land.”
The land covered by Sitio Silangan falls under Bacoor’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which aims to transform the area into an “urban redevelopment and heritage preservation area.” Bagong Silangan stated that “Bacoor’s CLUP is the reason why so many people would want to claim Lupang Cuenca and other lands in the city.”