It was early in the evening in Sitio 6, Barangay Catmon, Malabon on November 16 when a deafening shot was heard just beside Kalipunang Damayang Mahihirap’s (KADAMAY) office. The four people inside the office immediately dropped down, closed the lights and listened for any movements outside.
Jose Brondial of KADAMAY peeped outside from a hole inside the office and saw three men. One was holding a gun. They identified one of the men as Rogelio Senobio, who lives just a house away from the KADAMAY office. Senobio was known to be associated with leaders promoting the Community Mortgage Program (CMP), according to KADAMAY. A few moments later, someone attempted to force open the door from the outside while Jeremy Ediza and Edison Flores, both members of Anakbayan Malabon, pushed the door back and hold the door knob to prevent the door from opening. When Rechel Bañola of Gabriela called on the phone for help from the local organizations, the perpetrators left upon hearing the call being made. Fortunately, no one was hurt during the incident.
The KADAMAY office is a small house inside the community, loaned to the organization by one of its members. Residents regularly visit the house for meetings, discussions, and consultations. KADAMAY is a national alliance of the urban poor sector, known for their campaigns against demolitions, for secure livelihood and for the interests of who the government calls “informal settlers.”
Members of local organizations immediately responded to the harassment victims’ distress call and reported the incident to the barangay and police.
When all were calm, Madeline Cahipong’s neighbor reported that two men riding a black motorcycle were looking for her at her house just a few moments after she left to respond to the shooting incident at the KADAMAY office. Cahipong is president of Sandigan ng Maralitang Nagkakaisa ng Dumpsite Catmon, one of KADAMAY’s member organizations in barangay Catmon.
At around 1:00 AM, Cahipong’s daughter observed that a man wearing a jacket was standing near their house who seems to be surveilling the area.
The next day when the police came, Leticia Quilla, a resident of barangay Catmon, saw and heard the children playing outside the office telling the police that they saw that Senobio was among the men who fired at the KADAMAY office. She said the police did not pay attention to the children.
Bañola suspects that the shooting incident is related to the land dispute in the community.
“We believe that the motive of the harassment is because we are known organizers in this community and many residents of the other organizations promoting the CMP are transferring their membership to KADAMAY’s member organizations,” said Bañola.
The other organizations in barangay Catmon referred are United People’s Democratic Organization of Malabon, Dumpsite People’s Organization and Peoples of Teacher’s Village Democratic Organization that have more than 1,000 member families from Sitio 6, barangay Catmon.
Bañola added that their campaign in the community to advance the residents’ rights to housing security and electricity connection have drawn residents to join the campaign and sign up for their organizations. This results to fewer followers for those pushing for the CMP and the electricity’s common connection, from which the CMP peddlers are bound to lose income, she alleged.
According to Bañola, among those promoting the CMP are Green Meadow Homeowners Association President Anabel Cuevas (who is also a member of barangay Catmon’s Lupong Tagapamayapa), Catmon Ville President Leonie Macalinsang, Dimsun Homeowners Association President Danila Basiwa, Solid Bisig Homeowners Association President Milagros Masalio, and barangay councilor Adela Agudon and an alias “Morallos”.
Bañola also believes that the CMP promoters are protected by the barangay and local government.
“We are being harassed because we are fighting the CMP promoters’ anomalous business where the residents of Catmon are victimized,” said Bañola.
Cahipong recalls that since 1986 when she started living near the dumpsite area in Catmon, they have rejected the CMP.
“The CMP will not succeed in our community because the residents cannot afford it, most of the residents in our side of the Sitio 6 are only garbage pickers who earn a meager amount daily,” said Cahipong.
Cahipong added that a neighbour who is under the CMP reported that they have been paying for 16 years but when another claimant of the land came, their payments were reset to zero as if they have not paid a centavo and they had to pay all over again.
“When we educate the residents here about the failure of the CMP, they realize that we are right and they join our organization, that is one reason why we are being harassed,” said Cahipong.
The group is also pushing for individual connection of electricity.
Currently, the electricity in the community’s houses are connected to a main source controlled by the same people leading the CMP in Catmon, according to Cahipong.
“In 2014, I was able to get an electricity connection but I have to pay P25,000 to the CMP leaders to get the connection, because we were prohibited to apply for a direct connection. Aside from that, I have to pay their association P12,800,” said Cahipong.
According to Cahipong, many are forced to go with that kind of system because that was the only choice presented to them lest they chose to suffer living in the dark.
When Cahipong’s group went to Meralco to inquire how to get a direct connection for her home, Cahipong said they were surprised to learn that they only need to shell out around P1,500 for the application. The Meralco representative also vowed to lobby the waiver of the fees for the requirements from the City Hall.
“Our insistence in having the residents their direct electrical connection is possibly another motive for the harassment because those who control the main electrical connection will lose income if the houses here will have their own connection,” said Bañola.
Cahipong also suspects that the harassment is related to the killing of Ernesto “Ka Erning” Gulfo in 2012. Gulfo was a known community organizer in barangay Catmon who fought against the CMP and alleged corruption. He was killed by unidentified assailants while he was in his junk shop.
As of press time, the assailants in the harassment incident have not been apprehended and the residents who reported the harassment said the shooting incident remains unresolved.
Continue the fight
“If we will not help the residents here in Catmon, who will help them? As long as we can remember, there have been many associations here, but they have never truly advanced the interest of the people and only make a living out of our situation here,” said a tearful Cahipong.
The community leader only wished that the land where their houses stand will be freely awarded to them and that provisions for basic utilities like electricity and water be made available to them. She also hoped that they can have their own electricity before Christmas.
“While the unity of the residents here become stronger, we cannot avoid these incidents of harassment. That is why we should remain vigilant and not be cowed by these dirty tactics,” said Bañola.