By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — At least 57 urban poor residents of Apollo street, Tandang Sora, Quezon City, were arrested and detained at the Quezon City Police Department headquarters in Camp Karingal in the afternoon of April 3, after they attempted to enter their former homes where they were violently demolished on June 16, 2016.
Among those arrested were 17 minors and eight elderly. The minors were later released to the Department of Social Work and Development.
Today, April 4, members of the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) trooped to Camp Karingal to condemn the arrest and call for the release of the 41 who remain in detention. Police charged 41 out of the 57 with trespassing and grave coercion in an inquest proceeding held today.
On Sunday, April 2, community leaders of Apollo, together with Kadamay, led the residents in reclaiming the 2,000 square meter-land in Tandang Sora. The land was being claimed by a Reynaldo Guiab, whose complaints had already been twice dismissed by the courts. The Quezon City government classified the land as fire hazard, but residents attest that not one incident of fire has been recorded in their community in the past 30 years.
The group also said several people tried to claim the land but not one showed proof of ownership.
Kadamay national chairperson Gloria Arellano said some of the residents who were evicted from Apollo were offered relocation in Cagayan Valley, north of the Philippines, but many did not get any offer at all. Evicted residents have lived on the streets for nine months, and were recently threatened again of eviction, this time by the Metro Manila Development Authority. This made the residents decide to reoccupy their houses on Apollo street.
Arellano said nothing is being constructed in their community; the houses were only padlocked while others were destroyed. She said at least 80 families live in the streets near their community.
“Siyam na buwan nang naninirahan sa lansangan, walang relokasyon, walang anumang ayuda at ngayon na binawi nila ang dapat sa kanila, ituturing na kriminal? (They have lived in the streets for nine months, with no relocation or aid, and now that they are reclaiming what is rightfully theirs, they are being treated like criminals?),” Arellano said.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr. condemned the mass arrest and questioned the basis for the charges.
Elmer Labog, Kilusang Mayo Uno chairperson also expressed their condemnation: “Their assertion of their basic right to shelter is just, as they were left homeless for almost a year after being unjustly demolished to give way to big business interests.”
‘UDHA give license to demolish’
Kadamay secretary general Carlito Badion, meanwhile, blamed the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) of 1992 which allows arbitrary declaration of communities as danger areas.
Section 28 of UDHA states that eviction or demolition may be allowed in situations “when persons or entities occupy danger areas, such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways and other public places such as sidewalks, roads, parks and playgrounds.”
“Because of laws like the UDHA, many local governments are given license to mediate and implement widespread evictions nationwide. The supposed safeguards provided are rarely executed and urban poor Filipinos are routinely tricked with promises of financial assistance in relocation,” said Badion.
Even of national government committed to complete the 5.5 million housing backlog in the country, Kadamay said “it has failed to account for the growing number of homeless and evicted Filipinos.”
At least 1.4 million Filipinos were displaced by demolitions under the administration of President Benigno Aquino. Under President Rodrigo Duterte, some 4,209 families were already evicted in Metro Manila alone.
“Ang panawagan naming ay on-site development. Manatili sa komunidad at tumugon ang pamahalaan sa batayang karapatan at pangangailangan ng mga maralitang residente (Our call is on-site development. Let the community stay and the government respond to the urban poor’s needs and right to basic social services),” Badion said.
Arellano also slammed Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista for forced eviction and demolitions of urban poor in the city.
“Poor citizens are a large chunk of Quezon City and this typifies how the administration policies handle the case of the poor – it is one of fascism and violence. We demand the immediate release of all who were illegally arrested and that the community of Apollo be rightfully granted to its residents,” said Arellano.
She added that Baustista’s participation in the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and National Democratic Front of the Philippines is an insult to the peace process and the Filipino people.
“The negotiations are set to tackle and should agree on housing rights for the poor. Meanwhile, the mayor himself is carrying out violence and repression to the citizens struggling for community rights,” Arellano said.