These killings are also happening outside Metro Manila. In San Roque, Tarlac City, 14-year-old John Cali Lagrimas was killed on Oct. 2. He is a resident of San Francisco village in Tarlac City and was reported to be helping residents of San Roque whose homes were about to be demolished.
“Cali was only a boy; I don’t understand why they had to shoot and kill him. He was only there to help the residents keep their houses,” ten-year-old Jojie Martinez said. He and Lagrimas are members of youth group Samahan ng Demokratiko sa Hacienda Luisita.
Residents defended their homes by putting up a barricade. Minutes later, however, Lagrimas was directly shot by an unidentified gunman standing near the barricade. In a report by Akap Bata partylist, a children’s group, residents said the gunshot came from the demolition team, which included 20 members of SWAT and about a hundred police.
Criminalization of urban poor struggle
Residents are being arrested and jailed for putting up resistance to demolition teams. Every after demolition, the police would search the community and arrest anyone they suspect of having hurled stones at them.
During the violent demolition of Silverio Compound on April 23 alone, 33 residents were arrested, of which eight were minors and two were women. They were initially charged with resisting arrest and disobedience to lawful order.
Eight months since the demolition, ten residents of Silverio Compound continue to languish in jail. According to Shella Bernal, a community leader, the court has yet to hear their petition for bail. “It seems they are delaying their release,” she said, “Every month they would ask the hearing to be moved to another date. Their next hearing is on January 24. Clearly, they would not be able to spend their Christmas at home.”
“It is unfortunate they arrested the wrong people, who have small children and are breadwinners of their families,” Bernal said.
Mylene, whose husband is one of the ten Silverio residents jailed, said life has been very difficult for her and their two children. Every day, she needs to go to their relatives to ask money to buy food. Before he was arrested and jailed, her husband Vicente was a construction worker earning only P1,500 (US$36.41) per week.
“Sometimes they would give us P20 or P50 (US$0.49 to US$1.21) a day. And I have to stretch that to cover our meals for the whole day,” she said, adding that she could not find work because no one would look after her two children, aged four and two.
Mylene asks money from their relatives to buy food since husband Vicente Tiongson was imprisoned. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
With this, Mylene said she could hardly visit her husband in jail because they need money for it. “Whenever I go there, I have to bring food and toiletries like soap, shampoo and detergent.”
Mylene said she got news that her husband and the rest of the Silverio 10, as they are collectively called, would be freed if a different mayor wins in the next elections. Or that they could be released as “peace offering” during the campaign period. But everything, as of press time, remains as hearsay.
In Corazon de Jesus, an urban poor community in San Juan City, several residents were also jailed after the demolition on Jan. 11. There were 17 residents who were jailed that day, including Mark Louie Aquino, 26, spokesman and second nominee of Kabataan Parylist, who, according to the local government, are among the “non-residents” who instigated the chaos.
In a previous interview with Bulatlat.com, Aquino said, “I was there as a mass leader” and did not join the residents in throwing stones, bottles and even molotov bombs to protect their homes.
He was, however, not just arrested but also beaten up by the police. “I was kicked, beaten up and hit,” he said. This incident was also caught on camera, posted by alternative media group Tudla Productions.
Another Corazon de Jesus resident and community leader Marites Bacolod was arrested on Nov. 29 – even if there was no demolition. “I was in the barangay office to get clearance when two police officers went inside and invited me to the precinct,” Bacolod, a resident of Corazon de Jesus for 37 years, said.
Bacolod was told she has a warrant of arrest for a case of “simple disobedience to an agent of a person in authority” and needed to be “interviewed” at the police precinct. “I was very noisy while they were trying to arrest me. But I am also happy they could not answer me when I resisted on the grounds of the (lack of) legality of my arrest.”
The police interrogated her about the whereabouts of other community leaders. She told them, “That’s your job! You should do it!”
During the protest action in front of the DOJ, Bacolod said police interrogated her even in the middle of the night. “They really wanted to know where Arnold is,” she said referring to Arnold Repique, president of Samana – Corazon de Jesus.
“They also want to know when and where we are going to hold our rally,” Bacolod said. President Aquino visited the Pinaglabanan Shrine, a historical monument, the following day in time for the commemoration of Bonifacio Day.
Bacolod was released after one week.
Earlier, Bacolod and nine other leaders and residents of Corazon de Jesus were charged with illegal assembly after the violent eviction on January 11. The case was already dismissed.
Just before the year ended, Roy Velez, chairman of Bayan and Kilusang Mayo Uno-NCR and Amelita Gamara, deputy secretary general of KMU-NCR and founding member of Defend Job Philippines, were issued warrants of arrest for murder. They were tagged as members of the New People’s Army.
“Why do they want them arrested? There are lots of criminals out there. Not them,” Mylene, a resident of Silverio compound, said. Both Velez and Gamara are active in helping Silverio residents in their fight for their homes.
Prospect for 2013
Demolition Watch, a non-government organization, has monitored around 20 urban poor communities in Metro Manila facing threats of demolition under the Aquino administration. This translates to no less than 16,000 affected families. This includes communities of Corazon de Jesus, Silverio Compound and Guatemala in Makati City.
20 communities are facing demolition under President Aquino. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)
Aside from demolitions that took place in 2012, urban poor groups also became wary of incidents of fire in various communities. Richard Chong, chairman of Anakbayan-North Triangle, said fire is used by the government as the “most effective” way to demolish homes. He said that after a fire razed their community in Quezon City, residents received a notice of demolition.
On May 12, fire razed homes of urban poor dwellers in Isla Puting Bato. Luzviminda Sulayao, president of local group Ahon Isla, said she is skeptical if the fire was truly an accident. She told Bulatlat.com that three days after the incident, they found three men pouring gasoline on one of the houses.
“The three men ran toward the sea where a boat was waiting for them,” Sulayao said.
Many residents like of Eunila Borito, 52, were not able to save anything. “I just grabbed my two kids and my shoulder bag. My husband panicked and was worried about us so he only managed to grab our two pails and his bike,” she told Bulatlat.com a few days after the incident, “Besides, we do not own that much. We do not have a television set or other appliances to save.”
Other residents who lost their homes to the fire stayed at the Delpan Sports Complex for months. Families were offered relocation at Kasiglahan Village, which is located in Rodriguez, Rizal. Sulayao estimated that about 200 out of the 1,300 affected residents agreed to be relocated. Most of them, she said, decided to stay because their livelihoods are in Tondo.
Unfortunately, those who moved to Kasiglahan Village became victims of flood a few months after their relocation. Gemma Lasala, 30, was interviewed by Bulatlat.com a few days after the heavy monsoon rains that poured in Metro Manila in August. She and her three children had to brave through the deep flood water to live.
“We walked a little bit and it was already knee-deep. We walked a little bit more and it was waist-deep. That was how fast the water rose,” Lasala said. Her husband Gerry said he wants to go back to Tondo.
Glenda, Arnel’s mother, is often told by her other children and their other relatives not to join rallies. “They said I am up against rich people. I may never know if I die and they would make it appear as if it is an accident. Nonoy’s (Arnel) death is already too much,” she said, “But I told them that I will not quit this fight — no matter how rich they are.”
The year 2012 highlighted the government’s lack of a comprehensive, humane plan for the urban poor. They are being displaced from their homes; those who resisted were either killed or arrested. Those who have seemingly followed the government’s advice to them are brought to a far more dangerous if not deadlier place to live.