“Tinanggal na ang mga bahay namin. Wala na kaming dangal! (Our homes are already destroyed. We don’t have dignity anymore!),” half-naked Marites Escoto shouted as she, together with other women, stripped their clothes off as they defended their homes from forced demolition in Sarmiento Street in Sta. Mesa, Manila on Monday (June 29).
Almost 50 police and SWAT team were deployed, aside from the demolition team consisting of around 20 men, to force their way in to the community and enforce the demolition of houses.
One resident was hurt after falling from a two-storey house while removing his things during the demolition.
Residents formed a human barricade, but were unable to stop the second wave of demolition in Sarmiento. Several houses were already destroyed last June 16, where more than 90 families were left homeless. Some of them have been staying in Sarmiento covered court since then.
“Dinaan kami sa police power, pananakot. Kaya nabuwag ang hanay namin. Biruin niyo, kung hindi raw kami tatabi, dadamputin daw kami. Nasa’n po ang karapatan du’n? Na’san po ang makataong proseso du’n?” said Erwin Tagnong, treasurer of Sarmiento Neighborhood Association.
(“They used police power to threaten us. That’s why our formation got disrupted. Imagine, they said that if we will not step aside, they will arrest us. Where is our right then? Where is the process of being humane in there?”)
Tagnong and his family have been living in Sarmiento since 1973. He said the demolition did not undergo due process as they still have a pending case in court. He also said that no eviction notice was issued to them.
However, Manila Police District legal officer Dennis Wagas said in a negotiation that the demolition can still push through because residents were unable to get a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) from the court.
Manila City Engineer Joseph Bulano said the demolition will pave way for a drainage project and road upgrading. However, residents believe that the real reason behind it is the extension of G-Liner terminal next to their community.
“Hindi naman talaga kailangan ng drainage improvement dito. Kung may gagawin man, pwede naman sa gitna. Bakit kailangan sirain ang mga bahay? Ever since hindi kami binabaha dito, sabi ko nga dumating ang Habagat at Ondoy, hindi po kami binaha dito,” said Barangay Chairman Rocky Penilla. He said their pathway is around 8 meters, enough for a drainage system.
(“We really don’t need a drainage improvement here. But if it has to be done, they can do it in the pathway. Why do they have to destroy our houses? Ever since, we don’t experience flooding here. Like what I said, Habagat and Ondoy hit us, but we did not experience flood.”)
Manila Today tried to verify facts on the possible G-Liner extension by asking the security guard of the gated compound right next to the community, but the security guard told us that no one was available to be interviewed. Neither did he confirm if the compound belongs to G-Liner.
Tagnong said the land was granted to them by the National Housing Authority (NHA) in 1987. Before, they rented their houses from a certain Angela Tuazon, who privately owned the area.
Marissa Buenaventura, 50, who has been living in Sarmiento since she was born in 1965, said she will continue defending her neighbors’ houses even though her house has already been demolished last June 16.
“Dahil pinaglalaban namin na dahil may kaso nga ito, nasa korte na, at may pinanghahawakan kami na Certificate of Award kaya naniniwala po kami na hindi po kami dapat ma-demolish dito dahil dun sa award ng NHA,” Buenaventura said.
(“We are fighting because we know that we have an on-going case in the court. We also have a Certificate of Award that’s why we believe that we shouldn’t be demolished because the land was awarded by the NHA.”)
Buenaventura has been staying in the covered court for 13 days already after her house was destroyed. She said she has only been relying to her neighbors for her food, as her small food business got affected. Buenaventura used to sell various kinds of merienda, like pancit, in front of her house.
Buenaventura was also saddened how young children have to witness and experience such situation.
“‘Yung mga pamangkin ko, nadamay din dito sa demolisyon. Dinatnat nila yung bahay (galing eskuwelahan) wala na silang uuwian. Sa court nalang sila,” she added.
(“My nieces and nephews were also affected by the demolition. They came back home from school without their homes anymore. They have only been staying at the court.”)
Buenaventura is public relations officer of Sarmiento Neighborhood Association and also a member of barangay council.
Government officials said a relocation site in Trece Martires was offered to affected residents. But residents said the relocation is too far from their livelihood.
Part of bigger problem
Kadamay-Manila Chair Waston Venejas believe that the demolition is only part of the Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) being implemented by the Aquino government, where government-owned lands are turned into business districts.
“Itong mga pagde-demolish na ‘to sa Kamaynilaan ay isa ‘to sa mga, simula’t simula palang ng pag-upo ni PNoy (President Noynoy Aquino), ‘yung PPP projects. Hindi lang naman itong area na ‘to ang dine-demolish nila,” he said.
(“The demolitions in Manila, since the beginning of PNoy’s term, are part of PPP projects. This is not the only area being demolished.”)
242 cases of demolition were reported in the first three years of President Aquino’s term from 2010-2013, according to the data of Urban Poor Associates.