“Pushing through with the demolition will only add to the number of homeless.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Urban poor residents of Sitio (subvillage) San Roque in North Triangle village, Quezon City are back on the alert this past week. In the past nine years, the sitio’s thousands of informal settlers have decreased, with some relocated outside Metro Manila, while others settled for money and left. But those who remain are adamant to stand their ground against demolition, for which a new notice was delivered to them last month.
Sitio San Roque is part of the Quezon City Central Business District (QCBD), a joint venture between the National Housing Authority (NHA) and Ayala Corporation. The QCCBD will cover a total of 256 hectares of land to be turned into a “mixed-use community” for residential and commercial use.
Since 2008, a series of demolitions took place in the area to make way for the project. While some parts of the area near Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (Edsa) were cleared of informal settlers, there are still residents at the back-end along Agham Road who are keeping the fight for their right to housing.
Led by the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), the remaining residents vow to resist government demolition and push for on-site development.
In a dialogue, NHA officials gave sitio San Roque residents three options, so as to give way to the Ayala Corporation project: 1) To receive P100,000 ($2,000) in cash and leave, reportedly funded by the Ayala Corporation; 2) to be relocated to Graceville in Bulacan and be charged the full amount of amortization, which is around P400,000 ($8,000) and 3) to move their dwellings inward to make room for the project, with costs to be shouldered by each household.
Kadamay slammed the NHA, for all the options will “deprive urban poor Filipinos of their inherent right to housing and to stay put in their community which has been public for decades.” The group added that it also undermines the principle of on-site development, which is stated in the law.
Estrelita Bagasbas, Kadamay vice chairperson and resident of Sitio San Roque, said 700 families on the side of the Edsa will be displaced once the project pushes through.
She said the residents, who are mostly renters, will not leave their homes as long as their demand for on-site development is not heeded by the government.
On-site development for informal settlers
Sitio San Roque is strategically located, being easy accessible to many schools and workplace. “Everything you need is within reach,” as the advertisement flaunts about the rising condominiums in the area, targeted for the middle and upper classes. It is, indeed, true for the poor residents who are low-wage workers or in the informal sector, and it means spending less for transportation.
Angie Daquiado, 31, said her husband works as a construction worker in Quezon City. To be relocated outside Manila means transportation fare would be costly. She said her husband’s income is just enough to support their family. They have three children, with the eldest only five years old. She said for now, her husband’s income can suffice for all their expenses. “But what about in the future?” she said. She said they cannot afford to live far away from the city.
Bagasbas said many residents who agreed to be relocated eventually returned to San Roque. Some who agreed to voluntary demolition in exchange for cash from the NHA have not left the area, because they had not been relocated. “They are left to fend on their own,” she told Bulatlat.
Kadamay asserts on-site development instead of driving the urban poor away from the communities they have built for the past years. “This means providing affordable services, instead of worsening the problem of homelessness and covering it up with band aid solutions,” said Gloria Arellano, Kadamay chairperson.
Recognize renters, sharers
Bagasbas said some residents were not being recognized by the NHA in their data gathering. Renters, sharers and those who were not covered by the NHA survey in 2009 – thus, automatically disqualified – cannot avail of NHA housing, said Bagasbas.
“Sweet,” (name withheld on request) a renter in Samanaka street in San Roque, said they were disqualified because they were not surveyed by the NHA in 2009. She found it absurd that she only found out she was disqualified when she received a demolition notice in December 2016. She said she submitted requirements in the NHA few years back. When she asked the NHA what happened to her papers, she was told that her documents went missing after the turnover of NHA administration last year.
She now lives in uncertainty, with the looming demolition. She and some residents had agreed with the NHA that they will move inward to give way for the project, but they can never be assured that no demolition will take place. “Where will we go?” she said, adding that Ayala is determined to get rid of the community.
Kadamay said that the NHA should cater to all who are homeless and underprivileged. The group asserts that the NHA recognizes all affected residents.
‘Look for solutions, not problems’
Arellano said demolishing houses is never a solution to the longtime problem of homelessness in the country. She said at this point, after the occupation of thousands of urban poor in Pandi, Bulacan, the government should be looking for solutions and not aggravate the problem.
“Pushing through with the demolition will only add to the number of homeless,” she said.
Arellano said the demolition of San Roque contradicts President Rodigo Duterte’s pledge that there will be no demolition without relocation.
Kadamay will always fight for the people’s right to housing and vow to resist, together with the residents of San Roque the demolition, Arellano said.
“Kadamay believes that free mass housing should encompass all urban poor Filipinos, especially those who need it most. This entails the right to adequate shelter under this time of extreme poverty. It also means that existing urban poor communities should be respected and ushered into greater community development, not torn down,” she said.