By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — For urban poor communities, a threat of a demolition is a threat to their lives and their livelihood. Naturally, they would fight it, by all means possible and whatever is at hand, including picking up rocks, bottles, and, in other circumstances, “t-bombs” (or plastic bags filled with human feces), and fire it to those who dare quell their resistance.
Usually news reports covering demolition of urban poor communities highlight the violent confrontations between the residents and the demolition teams. This normally elicits negative reactions from the public. Were the residents ignorant of the law? Were they too poor to pay for legal services? Or, worse, are they simply uneducated? Why are they fighting for something that is not theirs?
There is a law, actually, that supposedly ensures the welfare of poor families living in communities: Republic Act No. 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) of 1992. It was passed to supposedly “uplift the conditions of the underprivileged and homeless citizens in urban areas and in resettlement areas” through the provision of “decent housing at [an] affordable cost, basic services, and employment opportunities. Its program, as stipulated in the law, covers “all lands in urban and urbanizable areas,” which includes existing “priority development sites” and those which the local government identifies as “suitable for socialized housing.”
But urban poor groups and advocates said that for the past 18 years, the UDHA “did not serve the interest of the poor but that of capitalists,” said Bea Arellano of urban poor group Kadamay. Projects like building a Central Business District that drives away the Filipino masses from their homes, she added, would only protect and serve the interest of the few ruling classes.
Arellano added that the UDHA only reiterates the “steps on how to drive away poor families from their homes.” Worse, in a consultation between the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and urban poor groups, they have confirmed what they have long suspected: there is a big disparity between what is stipulated in the law and what is being implemented on the ground.
Section 28 of the law stipulates that “eviction or demolition as a practice shall be discouraged.” It also provided that only under the following situations would the eviction or demolition of communities would be allowed. These are:
(1.) 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;
(2) When government infrastructure projects with available funding are about to be implemented; or
(3) When there is a court order for eviction and demolition.
“But who should define which places are to be considered as ‘danger areas’ when the City Engineering office is usually one of the culprits behind a demolition?” Arellano said during their consultation with NUPL lawyers.
Cortez told Bulatlat.com that the word “danger areas” is to the disadvantage of the residents because it is “vague” and could be twisted to reflect the position of the local government.
In an urban poor community in Kadiwa, Navotas City for instance, there were no threats of demolition until a fire razed their community. The following day, instead of receiving relief goods from the local government, the residents received a letter ordering them to “voluntarily leave” their community due to “structural hazards,” reasoning that the houses that were destroyed by the fire were no longer suitable for the residents.
The letter read, in Filipino, “The concrete portions of the houses that were burned had become unstable and could crumble anytime. The City Government will not be held liable for any deaths or damages to properties as a result of your failure to heed our call.”
Suspicions that the fire was ignited on purpose started to spread in their community, and such news became all the more convincing when the negotiations with the local government unit revealed that their community will be turned into a tenement.
As for court orders, Kadamay vice chair Carlito Badion said that in their experience, no court order is ever presented to the residents of urban poor communities during a demolition or eviction. During two separate demolitions in North Triangle, Quezon City and in Corazon de Jesus, San Juan City, community leaders presented papers supporting their claim to the land to the police. They were looking for court orders, which, no one from the local government team could present to them.
The law, moreover, provided a list of prerequisites that must be fulfilled before any eviction or demolition would take place, which, in effect, says NUPL’s Ephraim Cortez, has only “legalized demolition.” These are:
(1) Notice upon the effected persons or entities at least thirty (30) days prior to the date of eviction or demolition;
(2) Adequate consultations on the matter of settlement with the duly designated representatives of the families to be resettled and the affected communities in the areas where they are to be relocated;
(3) Presence of local government officials or their representatives during eviction or demolition;
(4) Proper identification of all persons taking part in the demolition;
(5) Execution of eviction or demolition only during regular office hours from Mondays to Fridays and during good weather, unless the affected families consent otherwise;
(6) No use of heavy equipment for demolition except for structures that are permanent and of concrete materials;
(7) Proper uniforms for members of the Philippine National Police who shall occupy the first line of law enforcement and observe proper disturbance control procedures; and
(8) Adequate relocation, whether temporary or permanent: Provided, however, that in cases of eviction and demolition pursuant to a court order involving underprivileged and homeless citizens, relocation shall be undertaken by the local government unit concerned and the National Housing Authority with the assistance of other government agencies within forty-five days from service of notice of final judgment by the court, after which period the said order shall be executed: Provided, further, that should relocation not be possible within the said period, financial assistance in the amount equivalent to the prevailing minimum daily wage multiplied by sixty days shall be extended to the affected families by the local government unit concerned.
Badion said that though UDHA supposedly “discourages” demolition, these provisions, once fulfilled, gives way to “legalizing demolition.” He added that while UDHA stipulates that the minimum daily wage multiplied by 60 days is the total amount extended to affected families while awaiting for their resettlement, “In most of the cases we have dealt with the residents were made to choose between the two.”
“Evacuation, evacuation, evacuation,” as Bobby Homo, brother of slain urban poor leader Antonio Homo, from Kadiwa puts it. He said that the local government has not even laid out a concrete plan regarding where they would be resettled.
Community mortgage program, a trap
Cortez said since UDHA is the urban poor’s version of the peasants’ Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, it is “designed to fail.”
UDHA’s Community Mortage Program (CMP), a housing program for the relocatees where a piece of land is awarded to the residents’ association, Arellano said, holds a dim future. She said that the residents could hardly pay for the monthly amortization as most of them do not have a steady source of income.
There are also instances, she added, where the leaders of the community association did not remit their payment resulting in their eviction. Residents of a CMP in Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City have been paying for their amortization for the past six years but “they did not know that their president ran away with their money. The interest piled up and they only learned about it when they received a notice of eviction.”
“CMP is not the answer to homelessness. Providing jobs with decent pay is needed for a genuine housing program to be effective,” Arellano said, “Because if there are no jobs available, how will the residents pay for the amortization?”
“The government knows that 80 percent of the residents do not have a stable income and would not have the capacity to pay for the amortization. If they will still push through with the CMP, it would only reflect that they are not serious in providing a housing program because they know that from the very start, it would fail,” Arellano said, adding that it is nothing but a trap to keep on driving the poor away from urban areas.
UDHA only delays demolition
“The law’s intent is only to delay the demolition but never to put a stop to it,” he said. “It is a stop-gap measure.
What needs to be done, he said, is for urban poor groups to continue what they are doing: organizing.
For instance, an urban poor community in Corazon de Jesus, San Juan City, faced yet another threat of demolition last May 23 to 24. “But the people were able to gain victory as the demolition team backed off. The local government could never deny that it was the peoples unity in barricading their community that made them change their mind,” Paulo Quiza of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-NCR told Bulatlat.com.
Quiza added that the residents also refused to participate in the “staged”consultation that is being held by the the local government because they are “only doing it to comply with UDHA” and, even if they were present, “the demolition would still push through.”