(Report for Bulatlat.com)
Residents of the Sitio San Roque II in North Triangle in Quezon City continue to face harassment from the National Housing Authority (NHA).
Last March 26, a security officer sent by the NHA threatened residents and fired a gun after residents asserted their rights against the deployment of armed guards in the community. Though no one was hurt, seven residents, including the community leader, were forced to consider themselves as having surrendered to police authorities when the security agent filed “alarm and scandal,” and “ illegal trespassing on government property” charges against them.
San Roque resident and September 23 president Mrs. Estrelita R. Bagasbas told Bulatlat.com that since the beginning of the month, security guards with long and short fire-arms have converted a partially-demolished chapel in the area into their headquarters. When questioned by the residents, the guards who initially numbering 30 then gradually reduced to 10 said that they were sent by the NHA.“Of course we do not want armed security guards in our area; we have children, we want peace; the NHA should not have deployed guards in our community,” she said.
Residents grew increasingly wary and worried regarding the guards’ presence, so they mounted a campaign to evict the guards.
NHA Security Guard Fires Gun
On the morning of March 26, community residents along with their supporters from organizations Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) and Anakbayan went to the guards’ “headquarters” and negotiated with the guards, politely but firmly asking them to vacate the premises and the community. When the guards refused, the residents calmly and carefully began to take the scant furniture and the guards’ personal belongings outside the partially destroyed structure.
The guards were reportedly nonplussed and unable to do anything because of the big number of residents and supporters who stood witness to the eviction. One of them, however, called their officer-in-charge, the security agent from the NHA Shaikram Abdulgar.
As the residents and their supporters went on with their impromptu program, singing songs and playing the guitar, Abdulgar arrived. The man was visibly angry, and immediately began berating the guards and the residents.
Kadamay secretary-general Bea Arellano related that she walked up to Abdulgar and tried to explain why he and the rest of his unit must leave, but the man merely continued shouting.
“I tried to explain to him that all their furniture, all their belongings were right there, all accounted for, but he kicked at his own table until it nearly broke. Later he accused the residents of destroying it,” she said.
Abdulgar reportedly began pushing the residents and their supporters, exhorting the other guards to do the same until a small skirmish erupted. As the residents defended themselves by pushing back, Abdulgar pulled out a gun and fired at the air.
“It was deafening. I was standing only some five feet away and my ears rang until I thought I would go deaf,” said Bagasbas.
Some of the residents ran to the nearby precinct, Masambong Precint 2. A few policemen then arrived and escorted Abdulgar to the station. Community residents including Bagasbas also went to the station and declared their intent to file charges.
“The police did not really arrest Abdulgar — he fired a gun in the presence of many witnesses and he could have killed one of us, but the police did not even handcuff him,” Bagasbas said. She added that the gun the security agent fired was not the same gun he surrendered.
“I do not know what kind of gun he fired, but I saw that it was a different gun that he gave to the police,” she said.
When they arrived at the station, Bagasbas said the police did not even make Abdulgar undergo a paraffin test to determine if he did fire a gun.
“We were able to secure the bullet shell from his gun and we gave it to the police, but they did not store it properly considering that it was evidence. They did not even take pictures of the scene of the shooting,” said the urban poor leader.
To make matters worse, when the residents said they were filing charges of illegal discharge of firearm, Bagasbas said he was also filing counter-charges; but he only gave his statement hours after the incident that took place around noon.
“He told the police that he was waiting for the NHA to send someone to vouch for him. When the man from the NHA arrived, that was when he said he was filing counter-charges against us. The police told us that since we were also being charged, we had to stay or else be considered as evading charges,” she said indignant.
Because it was a Saturday and not a workday, there was no way to process the legal documents necessary to file the charges and they all had to stay in the precinct overnight and until Monday morning when an assistant prosecutor from City Hall was able to process the papers.
“We were the ones who were threatened, the ones who were inconvenienced, but we were also the ones who were charged with violations that should have been settled at the level of village authorities,” said Bagasbas. When asked why she and the seven others did not leave the precinct, she said they did not want any legal complications to add to their problems.
“We want to be able to focus on our rights to remain in San Roque and to fight the demolition; if we left the precinct, our opponents might have had another weapon against us,” she said.
Early Monday morning as they all left the precinct, Bagasbas said, one of her companions heard Abdulgar issue a threat.
“He told him that he would kill all of us first before he leaves San Roque,” she said.
A Business District to Displace Thousands
On September 23, 2010, the NHA sent a demolition team to San Roque and began dismantling the houses of residents. The residents fought back and violence ensued. No one was killed but scores of residents were hurt and bloodied. The day after, President Benigno Aquino III directed Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. to put on hold the relocation of thousands of residents in the area.
The NHA and the Ayala Corporation, is eyeing San Roque to become the location of a so-called ‘Q.C Central Business District’ or QCBD, the city’s version of the Makati Business District. The QCBD is a 256-hectare project that aims to attract global investment and business interests.
Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the executive order no. 670 “Rationalizing and Speeding Up the Development of the East and North Triangles, and the Veterans Memorial Area of Quezon City” in May 2007, and the NHA has been at the forefront of operations to drive away the residents in the areas targeted for the business hub project.
According to business reports, the joint venture between the Ayala Land Incorporated (ALI) and the NHA has an estimated cost of P22 billion ($506 million). Ali said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange that the P22-billion budget includes future development costs and the current value of the property which ALI and the NHA will contribute as their respective equity share in the joint venture.
For their part, the group Kadamay say that over 6000 families will be rendered homeless if the project is carried out. Most of the residents are factory workers, small vendors and public utility drivers. They have been offered P1,000 to P6,000 ($23 to $138) by the NHA to demolish their own houses and move to Montalban, Rizal where the NHA has a resettlement project.
According to Kadamay’s Arellano, the residents who opted for relocation to Montalban reportedly regret their decision because the housing project there does not have electricity service and there is poor access to potable water. Plumbing is also said to be poor, and the area itself is prone to flooding.
In the meantime, the agency in charge remains determined to destroy the communities. Quite telling of its orientation is how it describes itself: though it’s a government agency. The NHA considers itself a business entity. In its website, its descriptions of how it was established is under the heading “corporate profile.”
Under EO 195 dated December 31, 1999, the NHA was ordered to focus on socialized housing supposedly through the development and implementation of a comprehensive housing development and resettlement program.
It was tasked to “fasttrack” the determination and development of government lands suitable for housing; and to “ ensure the sustainability of socialized housing funds by improving its collection efficiency, among others.”
“Whatever its declared mandate is, all we know is that the NHA is not providing good houses for the poor, but instead it’s demolishing communities for business interests,” said Bagasbas.
Defending their Humble Houses
Bagasbas, twice-widowed and a former overseas worker in Yemen, is 56 years old. She said she and her two teenaged daughters have nowhere else to go and they do not want to go to Montalban. After being elected president of the September 23 Movement which the San Roque residents formed after the brutal demolition operations last year, she has been unable to work and has instead relied on the support of neighbors and supporters.
According to her the members of the September 23 Movement are determined to put up a fight, and this is why they support her. She and other officials of the group mount continuing efforts to defend their right to live in San Roque and protect their homes.
“If the government wants us to leave, then it should first provide us with decent houses where there’s working electricity and water, and where we can find employment and income. We have been living all this time without the help of the government, but here it comes trying to drive us out of our houses, humble as they are. They say they want progress – well, we also want progress, but should progress come at the expense of the poor? What kind of progress is it that worsens the poverty of all the already neglected and oppressed?” she said.#